The trust was vested in his grandchildren’s names, with Mrs Rinehart acting as trustee until she later resigned under a cloud of misappropriation allegations by her oldest children.
Mrs Rinehart contends that “there is no controversy concerning the Plan of 1988 and the HMH trust”, with the trust only intended to hold shares in Hancock Prospecting.
The internal family battle is being slogged out in front of former WA chief justice Wayne Martin and others in confidential Federal Court arbitration.
In repeated attempts ending up in the NSW Supreme Court, Bianca – as new trustee – recently tried extracting legal documents from Mrs Rinehart and her company that could be used in the federal court dispute.
Mrs Rinehart complained to the court that her daughter had tried to subpoena the documents from Hancock Prospecting’s lawyers, Corrs Chambers Westgarth, as well as issuing “a notice to produce” to the company as well, before “constantly shifting” the grounds upon which she sought to claim the documents via court.
Mrs Rinehart argued her daughter was “piercing two corporate veils” over the trust’s investments company and the Hancock Family Memorial Foundation.
She also claimed if her daughter were successful in the NSW Supreme Court it would be an “abuse of process” that could alter the course of arguments in WA, where Bianca was seeking to own the lucrative Pilbara mine site and others.
She further argued that Bianca was seeking the documents as trustee for the “improper purpose” of furthering her personal claims against Mrs Rinehart and Hancock Prospecting.
Bianca countered that her mother was making a “very serious allegation [by] asserting a deliberate breach of fiduciary duty by a trustee” and she had “an obligation to investigate the manner in which the previous trustee conducted herself”, including obtaining documents “which might be relevant to misconduct by Gina”.
Ms Rinehart was seeking six transcripts of her mother’s testimony as trustee in public bankruptcy proceedings between September 1999 and February 2011.
The transcripts held by Hancock Prospecting, five of which were emailed by their lawyers, led to 89 pages of legal analysis that Bianca claimed was relevant to the trust and her as trustee.
She also sought legal files, known as the Sceales Files – particularly a letter sent to Gina in October 2006 by solicitor Robert Sceales, which covered advice given to Mrs Rinehart as trustee over “the affairs of [Hancock Prospecting]”.
The eight files covered the years between 1981 and just after 1992, including a folder named Hope Downs.
Mr Sceales’ firm provided legal advice about the removal of oldest son John as a trust beneficiary and the taxational fallout of doing so, but more pointedly “whether Gina could breach her duties as trustee of the HMH Trust if she were to execute the Hope Downs Deed”.
The Hope Downs deed was executed and has been a major point of contention between the family members in arbitration.
Last week, NSW Supreme Court Justice Julie Ward accepted in her findings that Ms Rinehart’s intentions were not “improper” as her mother claimed, but she was concerned about “the spectre” raised by providing the documents before the arbitration was settled.
Justice Ward only gave permission to Bianca to seek the transcripts in her mother’s possession as the former trustee but not from Hancock Prospecting.
They also could not be applied for until the outcome of the family arbitration was decided, which effectively prevented any temptation for the documents to be used outside Bianca’s role as trustee.
But Justice Ward did not support Gina’s application to prevent her daughter from seeking transcripts of 1995 hearings the family foundation brought against Lang’s former legal advisor Carnegie Fieldhouse, via WA’s Supreme Court.
“I will not presume to interfere with the jurisdiction of the court in that regard,” the judge said.
Mrs Rinehart and Hancock Prospecting both made separate legal arguments about why all the documents were the legal property of the company and no court should compel their release.
Bianca Rinehart has until the close of Thursday to appeal the decision.
Aja Styles is a digital culture editor for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.