Gina and her supporters need to take a look in the mirror

Jenna Price
Updated May 24 2024 - 10:43am, first published 5:30am

If I read one more complaint about Gina Rinehart's portrait, one more avalanche of words about how everyone hates their portraits when finished, I will have to start shouting.

WATCH: Mining magnate Gina Rinehart has pulled a $15 million sponsorship deal from the Australian Diamonds netball team, which could leave the sporting organisation on the brink of a financial crisis.

I do not give a toss about Gina Rinehart's portrait or whether she likes it. Sure, we are all susceptible to flattery and resistant to an image of us which does not match our mental self-portraits. But that is not the point, people. Portraits are not photos. Instead, they are meant to show people your soul.

The point is Rinehart's power and influence encouraged people to support her stance on the portrait. That is utterly revolting. Grasping.

I always thought that when you make a donation, you do it with expectations of nothing more than a tax deduction for charitable gift-giving, not for someone to come out and white knight for you.

The story so far. A couple of years back now, Gina Rinehart, still Australia's richest woman, bailed out Netball Australia through her company Hancock Prospecting, in a deal worth $15 million. A few weeks later, Rinehart withdrew the sponsorship because the incredibly brave Donnell Wallam, the first Indigenous player to be selected for the Diamonds squad in nearly 25 years, expressed her concerns over playing in a uniform with the Hancock Prospecting logo. Why? Rinehart's father, Lang Hancock, was a shocking racist who thought the Indigenous population should be sterilised. Think that should have been left in the past? Nah, mate. Racism is racism. At the end of 2022, Wallam was named the AIS's emerging athlete of the year.

But the furore didn't stop Rinehart donating money to all and sundry. If you look at her various benefactions, they include money for swimming, rowing, synchronised swimming and volleyball. HP is also supporting the Australian Olympic Team and spreads its wealth beyond sport to health and education, including, weirdly, NAIDOC and the Indigenous Emerging Business Forum. I guess you could call that blackwashing the racism of her father away.

Next minute we hear elite swimmers and their fellow travellers, who all benefit from the largesse of Hancock Prospecting, called up the National Gallery of Australia to ask director Nick Mitzevich to take down a portrait of Rinehart, painted by Vincent Namatjira, a descendant of Albert Namatjira.

Apparently it was unflattering. Swimming Queensland's chief executive Kevein Hasemann wrote: "Portraits should never cause unnecessary offence to those depicted, particularly in our view, those displayed in esteemed galleries."

Is he kidding me? What do we think galleries are? Halls of mirrors? They are precisely the place where we want to afflict the comfortable. The good news is Mitzevich and Ryan Stokes stood up to the billionaire and the others who protested, including Kyle Chalmers and other swimmers.

Surely they are just showing Mrs Rinehart their appreciation at her patronage. Why not support the woman who has supported the swimmers? That would at least be the thinking of Chalmers who, considering he has been swimming over half his life, has probably not had much time to pop into the National Gallery of Australia to see the Namatjira portrait.

Gina Rinehart, left, has been been left embarrassed by a portrait of her at the National Gallery of Australia by artist Vincent Namatjira, right. Pictures by AAP, Sitthixay Ditthavong
Gina Rinehart, left, has been been left embarrassed by a portrait of her at the National Gallery of Australia by artist Vincent Namatjira, right. Pictures by AAP, Sitthixay Ditthavong

He told the Sydney Morning Herald: "I think she just deserves to be praised and looked upon definitely a lot better than what the portraits have made her out to be. Without her sponsorship, we would actually have nothing."

So it's really the ethics of the thing, isn't it? What do we expect to get in return if we make a donation? I get emails from various organisations but mostly they want to sell me things. But I do receive one big benefit when I give money - and that's a tax deduction.

Surely that's enough. My understanding is that a donation for which a benefit is received would not ordinarily be tax-deductible. So I asked for tax advice from the bloke who knows more about charitable tax donations than anyone else in Australia - Matthew Harding, professor of law at the University of Melbourne.

He reminds us there are rules applied to ensure a transfer is genuinely a gift and not a quid pro quo: "The tax preferments apply only to gifts."

But as he points out, it's not just the law that matters. It's also the ethics of the thing. What motivates people to make charitable gifts? There's a view, says Harding, that people are motivated by the desire to be acclaimed for doing something perceived to be good or a desire to be accepted within a peer group.


But he also points me to other thinking around donations: no-one ever does anything without expecting something in return.

"What does the donor effectively purchase by making the gift?" he says.

Is it a warm inner glow or something more?

Harding says people are moved to make gifts for a variety of reasons.

"We live in a complex world and people have interests and commitments they care about and that influences their decisions about where they want to make their gifts," he says.

"But if everyone makes a gift because they want acclaim or expect some kind of quid pro quo, then the gift hasn't worked in the way it was intended."

I'm confident the swimmers felt compelled to come to the defence of their poor old patron who didn't like her portrait. I'm sure she didn't wake them from their beds and torture them to come to her defence. But it's not right or good. Donations should be selfless. I think that. The tax office thinks that.

I'm not entirely sure Hancock Prospecting agrees. Perhaps those involved should take a long look in the mirror. That portrait might end up being the better choice.

  • Jenna Price is a regular columnist and a visiting fellow at the Australian National University.
Jenna Price

Jenna Price is a Canberra Times columnist and a visiting fellow at the Australian National University.