On the Watermelon Blog on Saturday, David Horton notes that when a recent Greens’ survey revealed that 83% of mining companies in Australian are owned overseas there was, in his words, “a swift and predictable response from one of the egregious right wing think tanks whose role is to protect corporations from criticism.” Foreign investment is good for Australia, they brayed, and we have plenty of land to sell. They then called up the spectre of xenophobia, more commonly hauled out in “don’t stop till blood is spilt and maybe not even then” arguments over asylum seekers arriving by boat.
Horton raises the crucial matter of where we should draw the line at foreign ownership, and what assets are we willing to relinquish to foreign control. “What happens,” he asks, “when push comes to shove in a financial crisis or a raw material crisis?” We would be naïve indeed to imagine that foreign corporations give a toss about our welfare and wellbeing. Heck, even our own corporations aren’t overly concerned about any of that soft stuff.
‘So how many asylum seekers do YOU think we should allow?” is the question frequently and usually aggressively hurled at supporters by the anti boat people faction, who express deep fears of being overtaken, of losing our culture and Australian way of life, and of losing control of our boundaries and sovereignty if we open the gates and let the refugees in.
The arguments used by corporate interests against those who oppose unbridled foreign ownership, and those used by the anti boat arrival faction against those who support their re-settlement, are ironically similar. In the absence of reliably specific demographic evidence, I’ll make an assumptive leap that there may well be those amongst the anti boat arrival group who would regard expanding foreign ownership as good for our country, while simultaneously railing about the catastrophic dangers posed to us by a few thousand boat arrivals. I have no proof of this – it’s a good subject for a poll.
In essence, it’s the same argument employed for very different purposes and by very different interests.
Wealthy foreigners in suits arriving first class by plane and bearing papers won’t want to live next door, and they won’t be a drain on the welfare system. That they might well be in a process of asset stripping the country is such an intangible that it can’t be seriously be raised to the level of a threat. As is frequently the case, the danger lies not in the obvious, and one doesn’t see it coming.
Those who struggle to bring the hidden danger into collective awareness are usually dismissed as a bunch of Cassandras, after the mythical woman blessed with foresight then doomed by Appollo to be mocked and disbelieved when she revealed her predictions.
The conflation of the topics of boat arrivals and foreign ownership usefully highlights where the danger to this country’s future really lies. It’s not in the few thousand foreign asylum seekers fetching up in boats on our shores. It’s a pretty safe bet that none of them are going to own the rights to our water in the future. We probably don’t need to worry that any of them are going to buy up our prime farming land for mining, leaving us more dependent on imported food supplies when we can’t produce our own. It’s not very likely that any re-settled boat person is going to end up owning our energy companies, our transport companies, our stock exchange, or any of the other assets Horton lists as at possible risk.
In spite of the Greens raising the issue of the dangers of foreign ownership for our future and ultimately our sovereignty there will not be, I predict, anything like the furore over foreign investment that there is over boat arrivals.
Other than what spews forth from the corporations who stand to benefit enormously, of course, and we can likely prepare ourselves for billion dollar advertising campaigns as soon as any serious rumbling starts up.
It’s undoubtedly in the interests of corporations and governments that xenophobic fears (apparently endemic in some human communities) of being invaded and conquered are channeled away from the issue of foreign ownership, and into something as petty as a couple of thousand boat arrivals.
- Qatar land grab angers bush (theage.com.au)