Foreign investment:

Kirstie Wallace writes: Re. “Foreign investment: are Australians xenophobic?” (yesterday, item 10). Essential’s research conducted on attitudes of Australians towards foreign investment as well as Bernard Keane’s analysis would glean far more insight if the question was ever asked “what kind of investment do you oppose or approve of” in the relevant industries?

Having recently read and heard various viewpoints on radio and in the press on foreign investment in agriculture in Australia, I have yet to hear of a journalist ever asking an advocate of foreign investment of agriculture to quantify or give an example of exactly what type of foreign investment they would like to see in agriculture (other than some lip-service being paid to the purchasing of agricultural land by foreigners, which as we have seen is actually minimal).

For example, are we talking new canneries or products developed for export in fruit-growing areas, new feedlots or meat processing facilities, agriculture research and development institutes being set up, introduction of foreign owned rural retailers? What exactly?

I believe that the results indicate that Australians separate “foreign investment” into the two main categories — investment in new projects/businesses versus the purchase of an existing Australian business, both of which bring in foreign capital and are deemed “foreign investment”. So for areas such as film and mining, there is much more favour as usually the media coverage is talking about new film or mining projects whereas in areas such as banking and agriculture, it is hard for them to see what will be new or advantageous to Australia as we are never given examples.

In the region where my family has been involved in cattle farming for many years (the Manning Valley), there has been considerable Japanese “investment” in terms of the second stage processing of meat and dairy. But the form this has taken has been the full purchase of the existing Wingham Abattoirs by Nippon Meat Packers and the dairy farmers quota when Dairy Farmers were bought out by Kirin Holdings.

From experience and feedback, it has largely been business as usual for the locals with some advantages and some disadvantages to the takeovers, but there has been zero major impact or expansion seen that would make anyone living in the area go “oh gee wow, let’s get lots more of this type of investment in our region!” However if there was a new foreign business or industry that was introduced and employed lots more locals, then I am sure that would garner support and change attitudes.

I also don’t think media coverage of Chinese hacking of Australian politicians’ phones and email accounts in Australia has done much to make Australians excited about Chinese government owned investment.

The Dandy:

Ray Edmondson writes: Re. “Richard Farmer’s chunky bits” (yesterday, item 11). Like Richard Farmer, I grew up with The Dandy and all the other now vanished British comic titles of the golden 1950s and 1960s. For reasons best known to themselves, the publishers in recent years have constantly fiddled with The Dandy’s formula, leaving nothing of any merit or continuity for new or old readers to hang on to. Even Desperate Dan, who has been with the comic since its very first issue, has been grotesquely transmogrified into a character his creator, the great Dudley Watkins, would never recognise. The Dandy‘s stablemate, The Beano, is apparently in much better shape — perhaps because it has retained much of its time-honoured formula, style and  characters.

I suspect that The Dandy‘s circulation figures have had a boost in the last 24 hours, as former readers booked in short-term subscriptions so they could at least secure the final issue when it appears in the next few weeks. It will be an instant collector’s item.

I was first introduced to what is now Australia’s most venerable comic book, The Phantom, when back numbers turned up in the sample bags one purchased at Sydney’s Royal Easter Show in the 1950s. Those copies, if I had kept them, would worth a tidy sum on today’s collectors’ market. That aside, The Phantom comic book still appears fortnightly on the newsagents’ shelves. Now a sprightly 64-year-old,  it is the sole survivor of its black-and-white era,  having evolved subtly over the years to meet the changing times. Yet it is still essentially the same product it was when it first appeared in 1948, and it is evident, from its occasional letters column, that its current readers are drawn from a wide age demographic.

Perhaps the Ghost Who Walks, like The Beano‘s Dennis the Menace,  remains a fixed point in the changing age.


Gavin R. Putland writes: Re. “Tips and rumours” (yesterday, item 6). When prisons are privatised, the operators collectively stand to maximize their profits through:

  1. The highest possible incidence of crime;
  2. The widest possible definition of crime;
  3. The lowest possible standard of proof for obtaining convictions, assisted by the highest possible incidence of, and the weakest possible safeguards against, prosecutorial malpractice, and;
  4. The longest possible sentences for persons so convicted of crimes so defined.

It might be said that the same perverse outcomes maximise the job security of employees of state-run prison systems. That’s true. But the same is true of employees of private prison systems. The difference is that when prisons are privatised, there are corporate entities that stand to gain from perverse outcomes.

From the viewpoint of the state, prisons are cost centres, not profit centres. So if the only corporate entity running prisons is the state itself, that entity has a budgetary incentive to minimise the prison population. To privatise prisons is to introduce other corporate entities that want to maximise the prison population, and whose lobbying and PR budgets will be mobilised to that end.

Needless to say, outcomes (2) to (4) represent out-of-control big government in the service of private rent-seekers, while outcome (1) represents a failed state. Those who believe in small government under the rule of law should therefore be leading the campaign against prison privatisation.

If an industry is profitable and contestable, then of course it should be private so that consumers can benefit from the competition. The prison industry, in contrast, ultimately operates at a loss that must be borne by taxpayers. If such an industry is privatised, the taxpayers’ loss becomes the industry’s gain, and the industry will do all in its power to grow at taxpayers’ expense. In the case of the prison industry, the threat to the taxpayers is not only to their wealth, but also to their freedom and their good names.

The Houston panel:

Neil James, executive director, Australia Defence Association, writes:  Re. “The moral calculus of exemplary detention” (yesterday, item 1). Despite the Houston panel clinically removing most party-political controversy out of public debate, it is disappointing to see much subsequent discussion is still bogged down in false assumptions, single-issue perspectives and mis-aimed (local only) compassion.

Bernard Keane’s article does hit some marks but also appears to base most of his criticism on the assumption that asylum and refugee matters are essentially a domestic policy issue. Whereas they remain primarily a strategic issue with domestic ramifications and are best solved with that focus across the full range of strategic, legal and humanitarian outcomes. The prime strategic and humanitarian purpose of the Refugee Convention is to bolster the regional collective security provisions of Chapter VIII of the UN Charter.

The convention was a designed, and needs to remain focused, on encouraging neighbouring countries to a conflict to solve it, so refugees are not created in the first place or so they can return home directly, swiftly and safely. But many countries now refuse to accede to the convention or otherwise meet their strategic, legal and humanitarian responsibilities. And there is little and diminishing international pressure for them to do so.

While convention take-up among Third-World states in central Africa, South America, central Asia and the Caribbean is good, the opposite is particularly true across our near and wider region. Most Australians ignore the geo-political ramifications in their fixation on the domestic party politics. Only one out of 35-odd countries between Australia and Greece is a genuine convention signatory.

Across north Africa, the Middle East, and west, south and south-east Asia little or nothing is done to resolve conflicts, nor the consequent misery and danger suffered by the bulk of the refugees thereby marooned by such conflicts in seeming perpetuity.

Globalisation and modern transport further encourages and complicates such strategic and moral bludging. Not least by mixing up economic migration and bogus asylum seeking flows to the detriment of genuine refugees. Across these areas neighbouring states to conflict can simply export the most troublesome or exploitable refugees extra-regionally to countries of mass immigration that are convention signatories.

In the Asia-Pacific, Australia’s strategic situation is that virtually all our near and further neighbours regard refugees as Australia’s problem alone, not a shared humanitarian or strategic responsibility, and exploit us accordingly. Any debate on the issue needs to start from this geo-political reality, not ignore or downplay it, by dwelling on only domestic policy aspects.

Any discussion of neighbouring countries, for example, needs to start with asking how they can refuse to accede to the convention and how do they supposedly justify their perpetual buck-passing to Australia. This is why TPVs are right in principle. The only things that failed last time were in their administration. They reinforce the integrity of the Refugee Convention internationally by emphasising the principle that accession means the responsibility to provide protection for as long as it is needed, not permanent resettlement and citizenship as a migration outcome.

TPVs meet all our moral, legal and practical obligations domestically without encouraging large-scale immigration fraud and commensurate community unease about the whole immigration program. They also better distinguish and protect genuine refugees by not confusing them in the public mind with bogus asylum seekers and illegal immigrants generally.