Rinehart turns up in support of Joyce

Nick Butterly and Andrew TillettThe West Australian
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Mining billionaire Gina Rinehart has made a surprise appearance in Federal Parliament to witness the maiden speech of friend and new Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce.

Mrs Rinehart used her trip to Canberra to lunch with Speaker Bronwyn Bishop and meet Liberal senators Cory Bernardi and WA's Michaelia Cash.

Australia's richest person appeared briefly in the public gallery yesterday morning as Mr Joyce spoke for the first time.

She is thought to have flown into Canberra on Wednesday night to host drinks for a select group of coalition MPs in her hotel suite.

Mrs Rinehart has long been friendly with Mr Joyce and has closely followed his political career.

In June 2011, she flew Mr Joyce, deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop and Liberal MP Teresa Gambaro in a private jet to India for the wedding of a business partner's granddaughter.

Mr Joyce also intervened in the Rinehart family feud in September 2011. He emailed the mining magnate's daughter Hope Welker, urging her to stop legal action against her mother.

This year, Labor accused the coalition of taking policy inspiration from Mrs Rinehart when a document surfaced showing the then opposition was considering a policy of giving northern parts of Australia tax breaks.

Last year, Mrs Rinehart proposed a zonal taxation system for northern Australia. During the Federal election campaign Kevin Rudd shocked many of his colleagues by proposing a zonal taxation system for northern Australia - a plan since dumped by Labor.

Mr Joyce switched from the Senate to the Lower House at the election after winning the seat of New England.

The Agriculture Minister's speech focused on the joys of growing up in the country.

He also poked fun at life in Federal politics, saying that in Canberra "you gain weight and you lose touch".

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