Influence: Rinehart, Fairfax, IPA, United States of Tara

3 February 2012 – You never know what someone is up to behind closed doors. There you are reading a salacious article on how one of the world’s richest people is fighting her children in court and next thing you know she’s launched a bid to control Australia’s most important newspapers.

With 15 per cent of Fairfax costing only1 per cent her wealth Gina Rinehart only needs to spend 6.67 per cent of her money to own the lot. Or two per cent to own 30. Either way, what’s the difference?

Which brings us to the cloudy issue of power and influence.

The debate about whether Reinhardt can influence editorial policy at Fairfax if she gains a board seat is missing the point. As of this week, she already can. Influence is a subtle thing. Look at Murdoch. Hand on heart, his editors can swear he has never picked up the phone and tried to influence their editorial policy. He doesn’t have to. They already know what he thinks.

Board seat or no board seat, Rinehart has just catapulted herself to major influence. The editors and journalists of the best newspapers in the country can already feel her breathing down their necks.

Rinehart does not have to achieve a seat on the board unless she wants to change the business direction of the newspapers Fairfax owns. And that’s unlikely given that the business proposition of these mastheads doesn’t is hardly worth the bother.

Sitting quietly in the corner, surrounded by her minders, dolling out cheques to the growing army of climate deniers on her payroll is enough.

Which brings us to the amazing court challenge under way in the UK to find out who is funding the climate deniers in that country, which is led by Nigel Lawson.

Climate activist and author Clive Hamilton in Australia has called for the same for the Institute of Public Affairs, which seems to lurk behind all the anti climate action push in this country.

It would be no surprise to find it’s Rinehart.  Let’s not muck around. This woman is dangerous.

Victorian style
Speaking of the nuances of political influence, each new regime has its own cadres and favoured methods of executing the old.

In Victoria they take a leisurely 12-14 months to gather their thoughts, take a stroll, slowly turn down the oxygen supply.

With Sustainability Victoria, it was first put on hold for the traditional freeze in the run up to the election, then it lost its chief Anita Roper, then it was subjected to a review which we understand is completed but still “with cabinet”, a ministerial advisor has told us. Now a new chief  Steve Krpan has finally been appointed to the top job, and he’s just confirmed that top of his agenda for the SV team will be a pile of rubbish. Waste management. There, that should do away with all that silly transformational stuff the agency was trundling out for years.

Another recent victim of the Victorian style of influence was Victorian Building and Plumbing Commissioner Tony

In the case of Victorian Building and Plumbing Commissioner Tony Arnel too the method was the long one – a tortuous inquiry into the Building Commission. The media coverage was punishing. Heartwrenching stories of families left homeless by negligent shoddy builders. Questions to the minister about whether he would seek Arnel’s resignation.

On any slow news day in the country  any journalist worth their salt can find evidence of the most appalling behavior in the building game. Not just unfinished houses and appalling work but phoenix building companies that rip people off, declare bankrupt if anyone has the gall to chase them, then set up new companies.

The law seems to favour the numbers here – and that’s one or two consumers versus a very powerful building and housing lobby that viciously fights any efforts to make their members accountable under the normal normal meaning of the word (and any efforts to make their products more sustainable for that matter)

So what did the inquiry find? A poor legal framework skewed badly to one side? An industry that needs a complete overhaul and has an appalling culture? No. It found evidence of  poor documentation.

Whatever his sins as a building commissioner (and who would have that job?) Arnel has a long track record as a green reformer.  He has notched up long term role as chair of the Green Building Council of Australia, a role in which he was reconfirmed on Thursday for another term, and a recently resigned role as chair of the World GBC to which he’s added more than 80 member countries. This is influential work on a global stage with the potential to help members subtly side step political barriers and other roadblocks to achieve its own transformational work. Just as  the GBCA has done in Australia. (See our interview with chief executive Romilly Madew on this.)

But then, there is a regime change. To those that have the power go the boots. Even if they are suede.

The Tara factor
Victoria has long managed its multiple personality disorder with ease, providing refuge to remnant cells of the socialist left and right wing loonies in equal measure.  On the one hand is its leading art and intellectual scene and on the other a red neck culture to make a Louisiana banjo picker blush.

In recent years Melbourne has bedazzled Sydney with its better economy, better arts and more impressive sustainability gains, better seeded through the regular folk.

Sydney mayor Clover Moore has made no secret of her admiration and never fears to import a good idea: laneway life from Melbourne; walk-ability from Denmark. And it’s working.

But the recent noises coming out of Spring Street are a concern. Premier Ted Baillieu’s gaffe at a Premier’s sustainability award presentation last year that belittled the award (we heard) is a concern.

If  the Victorian regime change keeps dumbing down sustainability it will lose one of the most important economic and strategic advantages available. One that has put it on the global map as an amazing place to live. Not to mention the healthy economy that goes with that.

Tampering with this could soon see the Sydney-Melbourne tide turning. Tides have a habit of doing that.

Fast track housing
By contrast with Victoria, NSW’s play at policy changes is almost light relief. There was the sudden chop for Office of Environment and Heritage chief Lisa Corbyn one recent Friday afternoon.

And this week came the  entertaining news that the NSW Planning Minister Brad Hazzard had invited landowners  forward their land for fast track approvals. Most of which is outside the growth centres.

The promise was no pesky interference from local government other than the tedious consultation process and no cost to state governments,  So who pays for the infrastructure, given  developers  fierce lobbying to get rid of development levies. Local governments, we suppose.

Who is on this golden alchemist’s list? The minister refuses to say. He probably worries that revealing the names of owners will infuriate the voters and give them someone specific to ping. (Especially after the coalition helped whip up fierce anti development frenzy before the election.)

The interesting thing is that the same residents who fiercely attack development, sometimes don’t.

Here’s hope for the thinking man and woman’s developer: In conversation at a social event in Glebe one resident who had been strongly opposed to Mirvac’s redevelopment of the Harold Park site in the highly prized Glebe Point area decided to attend a presentation on the project.

With a touch of sardonic surprise, she confessed she was so charmed by the attractive design, the posters filled with happy people, farmers’ markets, and baskets full of fresh farm produce that she bought an apartment off the plan.

Resident action groups are scarred by years of poorly designed, insensitive development. Like war, it could take

It’s like a war it could take a few generations for such wounds to heal.

tperinotto@thefifthestate.com.au