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Jun 30, 2011

Rundle: Greens are outflanking both sides on foreign ownership

The Greens strategic path is obvious, and half-completed. To outflank Labor, march through the heartland, and connect to rural Australians increasingly disturbed by the conflict between farming and mining.


When the right starts to talk about Bob Brown’s national press club speech as “capital xenophobia”, you know he must be onto something.

Yes, the tragedy of it. All this money wants to come to our country and we is being discriminatory. Overseas money, with its different faces, and strange smells, is getting funny looks.

The smooth and sophisticated euro, denied entry because it eats horse and uses a bidet — denied entry! The respectful and family-oriented yen — denied entry! The … well you get the idea.

It’s nuts of course. It’s an extension of this weird roll-over process that began with the Malaysian solution with the Opposition being shocked that the government would send people to an overcrowded, rough justice country to languish — rather than a barely populated bankrupt desert afterthought like Nauru.

But, stupidity aside, it has much deeper roots. Various people, such as the ever-reliably dopey Chris Kenny, have been tweeting about the contradiction in Brown and the Greens wanting to accept whoever arrives here as a refugee, or a potential refugee, while being circumspect about who buys the country’s land and resources.

Yet of course that is exactly the right split. People should be extended the right to freedom of movement; things — and money is a thing — should be controlled, and subject to collective decisions about what sort of place we want to live in. That is something approaching democracy.

The opposite is the world we live in now, as administered by states and markets working in concert. People are sequestered in their nations, unable to move except when labour market needs require a transfer from one place to the other. Capital, which had been subject to control of a sort until the 1980s, is free to move around at will.

That disjuncture is at the core of neo-liberal neo-conservatism. Enormous effort goes into determining the effect of this or that shift in labour market size, and immigration is calibrated as a result. Almost nothing goes into studying the real effects of capital shift.

The disjuncture lowers the price of labour raises the cost of capital to the highest bidder. Sooner or later that split creates a crisis — as we can see in Greece at the moment, where people are being asked to take wage cuts below subsistence, so that the country can pay up to 20% interest on loans as set by the market.

The idea of “capital freedom” is the ultimate commitment to things rather than people, who are then regarded as merely a certain type of thing, i.e. human capital.

Both parties, especially Labor, are so committed to this that they have responded to Brown’s eminently sensible proposal that we should be getting a larger slice of the money they send offshore, to build something we can live on when they’ve dug everything up.

Amazingly, a country that has spent so much time talking about Nauru hasn’t learnt much from its history. Why do they think the place is so desperate to be our prison camp.

Labor’s rhetorical response is something close to panic. They know that a large section of their electorate is economically nationalist and always has been — and appears to have been so when the dominant foreign investment source was the US rather than China or Japan (remember Japan?), suggesting that it is not first and foremost a racist preoccupation.

But Labor, under the grim tutelage of doctrinaire free-marketeers such as Craig Emerson and Michael Costa has given itself over so full to the markets — and under the command of dimwits such as Karl Bitar, becoming so supine — that it can now be ambushed by the Greens not merely in its inner-urban miority electorate, but in its outer-suburban heartlands.

Faced with the shocking argument that we should have an idea of, and be getting more from, large scale foreign ownership of our basic resources, Labor’s only response is to make that free-market supinity a policy position — if we assert ourselves, capital will take advantage of its freedom (and our lack of such), and leave. Appease them! Shhhhhh Don’t mention the ore!

The Greens strategic path is obvious, and half-completed. To outflank Labor, march through the heartland, and connect to rural Australians increasingly disturbed by the conflict between farming and mining — especially broad deep cut mines which swallow whole towns and areas.

The ultimate goal would be some form of green-rural compact on a mix of economic/land-care issues, ideally with a couple more independents replacing the few remaining nationals. Impossible? Yeah, like the Greens holding the balance of power was. Perhaps that is why the economic Hansonism charge is not being played so wide against Brown — people realise it’s a recruiting call, for a whole new tranche of disaffected Labor voters. 25% primary vote anyone?


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20 thoughts on “Rundle: Greens are outflanking both sides on foreign ownership

  1. Gavin Moodie

    Yes, of course.

    It would be interesting to construct a table of things which the left and right think should move freely between and within countries. For example, who believes in the free transfer of ideas including apostasy; of expression including blasphemy, flag burning and sedition; of information including information on euthanasia; images including porn; copyright material; services including gambling and prostitution, etc?

  2. Delerious

    Well it is nice to see the Greens are catching onto a good idea. I tweeted a couple of months ago that if the Greens were clever they could go after the rural vote. The Nationals (ie Barnaby Joyce) are in the pockets of mining companies and haven’t represented rural people for ages.

  3. Scott

    If the Greens keep this sort of stuff up, they will be lost as a political force. That report was rubbish (to understand the errors, just read the front page of the business section in just about every news paper from News to Fairfax)
    The Greens now hold the balance of power in the senate and will be held to a higher standard; by the press as well as the electorate. If Bob Brown becomes Dick Smith (lite), then, much like the Democrats before them, the Greens will be in the Senate for a good time but not a long one.

  4. david

    Posted Thursday, 30 June 2011 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    If the Greens keep this sort of stuff up, they will be lost as a political force.]

    Scott I will reserve judgement until the people have spoken at the next General Election. Then we will know if your crystal ball gazing is yay or nay.
    Incidentally I would expect News Ltd to attack the Greens report, they have an agenda as they have made very clear.
    Barry FitzGerald in the SMH said.. “Hocus pocus in support of a political push for a tougher mining tax or a factual representation of the high level of foreign ownership in the booming resources industry?
    The report on foreign ownership relied on yesterday by Greens leader Bob Brown in his push for a harder hitting mining tax was a mixture of both. Flawed and perhaps deliberately naive in parts, it got the facts on foreign ownership pretty right, to a point anyway”……. hardly rubbishing the report.
    The same article appeared in the Age.
    A poll in the Fairfax press today, not scientific of course but for interest sake….

    Poll: Do you support calls for the mining tax to be expanded?



    Not sure


  5. nicolino

    Good article Guy. Of course Bob Brown is right to point this out. As you said once the miners have dug everything up they’re not exactly renowned for land restoration. We’ll be left with lots of holes and not much else. Our farming land is under threat in both NSW(Liverpool Plains) and Queensland(Darling Downs) with the blessing of both the majors. Exactly why I have voted Green for such a long time now and will continue to do so.
    Labor and Liberal don’t seem to be bothered about “our” country or long term welfare and security.

  6. william magnusson

    this guy bob browns’ green party will hold the balance of power in the senate as of today, gives a speech at the national press club and guess what , not one of the commercial TV stations has this as a story on their nightly bulletins …mmmmm wonder if lord monctun will get a look in ???

  7. CarlitosM

    Most importantly: two old ideologies that those two old parties Libs and Labs used to represent are only parallel parts of the same old coin: Capital.
    Not only are both the spent shadows of what they used to stand for, but they do it badly!
    And worst of all, they are both in the pocket of big $$$, be it big mining, big retail, big banks, big telecoms, big media, etc. Let’s compare the public interest versus those sectors’ private profit interests: no brainer.
    The old parties certainly make The Greens look good!

  8. zut alors

    This is not only a genuine concern the Greens’ have raised but a clever wedge to both parties.

    Abbott can’t trot out his usual auto-pilot mantra and brand it as ‘a great big new tax’. Selling off the farm is never going to be supported electorally.

  9. CarlitosM

    With this current mob, it really DOES NOT MATTER who is in power, in either state or federal levels. Both Libs and Labs are just too chicken $hit to do anything to upset the donors, beyond the occasional stouch like taking on big tobacco. It’s the exception that proves the rule.

    Other than those old decrepit parties, you got the real crazies: science denialists, bible bashers, Bananaby and the Mad Monk.
    Honestly, it’s not hard for anyone to look good.

    Especially easy to do, if like The Greens, you do have some kind of consistent focus: long-term thinking, independence, sustainability, and Democracy for real people (not just banks or corporations).

    For all the bs talk of globalisation, how about we do start acting and thinking also in those terms, but with our priorities first. Big mining and big banks do, already.
    Far-away crises already affect us more than ever. And it’s actually the only effective way to tackle Climate Change, Trade, Economic Crises, Refugees, Wars. The Greens understand that.

    The old parties just don’t get it: just look at the talk about the NBN. Libs just carry on like they are living in another century, while the ALP does one good thing and then they screw it right up, plus try to filter the interwebs, censor video games, selling off assets to buy them right back (Telstra). Wtf?!

    Please, don’t get me started on “Free-Trade” agreements that gave away our Intellectual Property and ability to legislate (ie: finance, tobacco packaging, etc). All this for the chance to sell sugar and beef…

  10. michael crook

    Of just as much concern as the mining ownership with all of its “goldrush” menatlity is the movement of US food processing corporations into our farmlands and factories. These guys have controlled our meat processing industry for decades, but are now moving into a complete takeover of Australian food processing, this does not bode well both from a food safety point of view, (a la FOOD INC) but, just as importantly from an industrial realtions point of view. These guys only do slavery.


    “Don’t mention the ore”!


  12. tunemaqi1

    Great article and ‘ onya Bob’ for telling it like it seems to be.

    My question is are labor stupid or what? Why do they do such badly thought out things. Can one or two peopl like Carl Bitar really have that much influence? Is it just stay in power and if that’s true what about Abbot the boxing scholarship monk or Barnaby Joyce. Unless it is not, as it seems that they are very thick WHY are they being so un Austrayn such traitors elected by donkeys. Are they all on the take because that would at least be a logical reason for selling the country off at bargain basement prices.?

    Please explain Crikey what is the cause of their madness ? Once we know we can slip the anti biotic into their Chardonay (apologies to other Chardonay makers and drinkers).

    Oh by the way Scott can you get my son a part time job with your masters he is interested in writing fiction.

    Keep up the good work Crikey.

  13. AR

    Had to lurve Mitch Hooke repeating, robotically, “capital xenophobia, capital xenophobia” whether outside the Press Club, APH, in a studio etc. I was only surprised that he didn’t start claiming that it was racism as did one of the shoutback jocks.
    As GR opines, money is treated as a thing it & of itself rather than as a metaphor for value, intrinsically as worth/valueless as the paper upon which it is printed, “cash” was originally scrip given to chinese coolies for day labour exchangeable for the bare necessities.
    However, now money is actually being traded like any other product/resource which is an extra step/leap beyond risible, approaching blasphemy.
    Had the Greens, way back when (70/80s) sought to align themselves with the rural base, as natural a fit as could be dreamed of, this country wouldn’t be in the atomised condition we now see.
    The more the BigEnd vapours & fulminates, and its lickspittles in Parliament grovel & posture, the more correct St Bob Brown & this article are shown to be.

  14. Holden Back

    You mean the Greens could harvest voters from the Right? Bring it on.

  15. zut alors


    Not as bizarre as it sounds. Recall Cousin Jethro (aka Barnaby Joyce) railing against Chinalco’s bid for Rio Tinto and Minmetals’ for Ozmetals a couple years ago? He appeared in TV commercials bankrolled by a Melbournian, Ian Melrose.

    Wonderfully ironic to know Barnaby’s at one with Bob Brown on this. And what of Katter…?

  16. joanjett

    May I suggest to those who vote Green to consider joining the party? You actually get a say in their policy formation; true grassroots democracy.

  17. John Bennetts

    What a good, purposeful article this has been. Thanks, Guy.

  18. davidk

    Fabulous article. I watched Bob’s inspired address at the press club on wednesday and noted how much more comfortable he looks compared to Tony and Julia. Everyone seems a little rattled by the Greens just now and rightly so. Suck it up ALP and LIB. Ask not for whom the bell tolls.
    @ joanjett
    I agree.

  19. Venise Alstergren

    Australians could do a lot worse than studying Latin American history-although the mining industry and the rural industries might not be able to master the finer points of the English language. What is happening right now, in Oz, is a rerun of the American domination of Latin America. Regrettably the uneducated members of the National Country Party care only for the here and now, and urge their fellow members to go on strike and protest about everything they don’t understand.

    Paul Keating knew what was happening. He was the one who called us a banana republic.

  20. michael crook

    Venise, good comment.


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