Date: Fri, 06 Feb 1998 09:45:59 +1000
From: "Michael C. Watts" <MWatts@zoology.uq.oz.au>
Subject: Kenneth Davidson Article in The Age (Thur 5 Feb)
Australia's selfhood vanishes in the market
By Kenneth Davidson,
in The Age
5 February 1998
Is the Constitutional Convention a serious attempt to formalise
Australia's status as an independent nation by replacing the British
Queen with an Australian head of state? Or is it a collective spasm
of cognitive dissonance as our leaders avoid facing the accelerating
erosion of Australia's economic sovereignty?
Ironically, some leaders of the republican movement and the push for
a new flag, are, in their professional lives, often the agents of
foreign interests who still need Australian compradores to give them
a local edge and a degree of respectability as they acquire
Australian assets. (Compradores were Chinese nationals who opened
the door for foreign interests in the Chinese treaty ports at the
turn of the century.)
Malcolm Turnbull, who believes the constitutional monarchy is an
affront to Australian sovereignty, was one of the leading locals in
the 1991 push to get the Fairfax Group of papers (which includes
_The Age_) into the hands of the Canadian and British media baron
Conrad Black - even though most of the other daily capital city
newspapers outside Perth and Canberra were in the hands of another
foreigner, Rupert Murdoch.
Nick Greiner is opposed to the Union Jack in the Australian flag and
is one of the organisers of the new flag competition. He is also a
director of the Australian offshoot of the privatised British water
utility, Northwest Water. The utility has been criticised in Britain
for using its massive domestic profits for overseas investments and
privatisations, rather than repairing its own antiquated
As far as Australia is concerned, the Queen can do nothing unless it
is on the advice of her Australian ministers. The same cannot be
said for directors of foreign companies with Australian operations.
We can be certain that foreign-owned businesses operating here will
be run in the interests of their foreign owners. We hope that their
interests coincide with Australia's.
The present system continues to give us a choice. Democratically
elected Australian governments can choose to sell off public assets
to foreigners, or they can put restrictions on such sales in favour
of local interests. Australian governments can decide to put
conditions on the sale of public or private enterprises to
foreigners that might not apply to local owners.
Australian governments can also impose conditions on new, direct
foreign investment. Such conditions may or may not be in the public
interest. But the right to impose them is an essential precondition
of economic and cultural sovereignty. The right to impose local
content rules on broadcasters is an important example of this.
But for how much longer? While the nation has become distracted by
the largely symbolic issue of the republic, Treasury officials are
secretly negotiating the Multilateral Agreement on Investment under
the auspices of the OECD. The agreement is designed to prevent
signatory governments discriminating against foreign investment
within their borders.
With the ending of the Cold War, the Paris-based OECD has joined the
World Trade Organisation, the International Monetary Fund and the
World Bank as extensions of the power of the United States. The
Multilateral Agreement on Investment aims to break open direct
investment markets to complement the opening of national financial
markets via financial deregulation.
Seventy per cent of world trade is intra-industry or intra-firm, and
the agreement reflects this. Forty per cent of US trade is between
US multinationals. It is multinationals that are the driving force
behind the agreement.
Wolfgang Reinicke, a senior scholar in the Washington-based
Brookings institute, supports the agreement. Writing in the
November/December issue of _Foreign Affairs_, he says that
governments must strive to avoid the 'pitfalls of territoriality.
Forming global government is unrealistic... it would require states
to abdicate their sovereignty... *in a formal sense* (my emphasis).
A more promising strategy differentiates governance and government.
Governance, a social function crucial for the operations of any
market economy, does not have to be equated with government?'
He predicts that: 'The nation-state as an externally sovereign actor
in the international system will become a thing of the past... this
requires policy elites to dissociate themselves to some degree from
territory and create more dynamic and responsive institutions of
governance... the nation state is a relatively recent form of
governance and it has no claim to perpetuity.'
If democratic government must give way to multinational enterprise,
democracy is decaying. Is this what we are already seeing? As our
elites go about their real business of globalising the Australian
economy, will the rest of us be happily distracted by the promise of
our own head of state? A head of state who will only survive in his
or her exalted position - like the rest of us in our less exalted
positions - by the grace and favour of the multinational juggernauts
that just happen to be mainly US-based and controlled?
Australian Democrats, Ryan Branch & UQ Democrats
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