Fortescue Metals is spending thousands of dollars to defend the reputation of its billionaire owner Andrew Forrest after Treasurer Wayne Swan's attack on mining magnates.
The war of words between Mr Swan and mining barons has intensified, with Fortescue today taking out full-page advertisements in major newspapers, including The West Australian, and Queensland mining magnate Clive Palmer accusing the Treasurer of not knowing how the economy works.
In an essay published in the Monthly magazine on Friday, Mr Swan said wealthy vested interests were undermining democracy and poisoning public policy at the expense of the middle class.
He highlighted how Australia's richest woman, Gina Rinehart, had lifted her stake in Fairfax Media, reportedly to influence public opinion, and said Mr Forrest "wails about high company taxes and then admits to not paying any". But Fortescue's board has hit back, justifying the expenditure of shareholders' money on a public relations blitz because it viewed the attack on its founder as an attack on the entire company.
The advertisement, published under the name of deputy chair Herb Elliott, lauds Mr Forrest for the hundreds of millions of dollars he has donated to charitable causes, claiming he had "never sought public attention for this generosity".
The advertisement also insists Fortescue does pay tax, with a $1 billion bill this year in taxes, royalties and other government charges, rising to $2 billion next year.
"For Mr Swan to demonise Andrew Forrest . . . for not paying taxes when there was no taxable income is an act of cynical hypocrisy," the advertisement states.
Mr Palmer said Mr Swan did not understand the economy. "He's got to rely on the faceless men in the ALP," he said. "They all send him faxes and texts, tell him what to do and if he doesn't know he can call his department."
The Treasurer said he was pleased his essay had sparked debate. "Of course there have been the predictable reactions from the predictable quarters," he said.
A spokesman for Mr Swan said buying advertisements to print a PR release "devoid of critical analysis" helped prove the point about vested interests using the media to push their own barrows.
He said Mr Palmer was a big donor and supporter of the Liberals.