The membership lists of some prominent business groups participating in public policy debates makes for interesting reading.

The renewed carbon debate has focused attention on the position of the Business Council of Australia, which under Graham Bradley has insisted it is in favour of a carbon price, but wants one so low it will have no effect. Both Prime Minister Gillard and Ross Garnaut have cruelly targeted the BCA’s incoherent contribution to the debate. Last week, Garnaut accused the Council of reverting to its 1980s form of opposing reform unless it could dictate the exact terms of it.

But whom the Business Council actually represents and how committed they are to Australia’s long-term interests is a good question: only half of the members of the Business Council of Australia are actually Australian companies, a check of the company’s member list shows.

Only 62 of the Council’s current 119 members are local companies; the rest are foreign companies or subsidiaries of foreign companies. The 62 Australian companies include BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto, both of whom are dual-listed transnationals — Rio Tinto is often described in the UK press as “UK based” and “the biggest British company”. 28 of the BCA’s 119 members are US companies.

The Minerals Council of Australia, loud and proud opponent of Labor, a carbon price and paying tax, has a heavier local representation — over 60% of its 51 members are Australian companies, although many have substantial levels of foreign ownership.

But another serial complainant about the carbon price, the Australian Food and Grocery Council, is a different story.

The AFGC, in addition to claiming that a carbon price would have a price effect on groceries many times that identified by Treasury modelling, has been running a nationalist campaign about food security (despite NZ being the biggest source of food imports by far) and the need to cut the level of food imports into Australia through tax breaks, “incentives” for R&D (more government handouts) and relaxing labelling requirements.

However, only 41 of the AFGC’s 100 members are local companies. Subsidiaries of the giant US food companies dominate the list of 28 US-based firms represented on the Council — companies like Campbell’s, Heinz, Colgate-Palmolive, Johnson and Johnson, Kellogg, Kraft, McDonald’s, Sara Lee, Wrigley and Yum Restaurants.

For the Business Council and particularly the Food and Grocery Council, the appellation “Australia” might be considered optimistic.