A ‘tickle-my-tummy’ nation

When I read this description of my adopted nation, decades ago, I was tickled (so to speak). When I was employed in the Balance of Payments Branch of the Bureau of Statistics, I realised how dependent Australia is on foreign capital inflows; and that there is a price to be paid when the economy is kept afloat by foreigners seeking a substantial profit or some economic advantage.

I arrived in 1948 when the British Subject status of Australians was replaced by Australian citizenship. British by origin and heritage, Australians seemed unconcerned by remaining beholden to Britain; except in relation to defence. When attacked by Japan, Australia had placed itself under the protection of the USA. We have been subservient to the US ever since, rushing into wars behind our hoped-for protector.

Since Australia is not in Asia, and is also not of Asia, with its Western roots, it cannot avoid being part of the West – in every way. We are an integral part of the West.   American corporations also developed Australia in economic (and cultural) terms, allowing us to jump smoothly after World War Two from a consumer nation (riding on the sheep’s back) to an industrial nation – a path not normally available to a developing nation. In the Treasury I learnt that the Government did rely on market forces to take the economy forward.

Our Governments, not known (ever) to possess any long-term plans for development (not even a population policy), are ever so grateful to anyone who wishes to invest in the country. Until the 1970s, when tariff-protected uneconomic, and technically inefficient, industries were opened up to foreign competition, with support from arbitral authorities, the people ate well. Welfare now subsidises or supports those affected by either import competition or the exigencies of an open market. (In 1963, I was the first ‘free- trader’ in the then Tariff Board.)

Like other nations, Australia seeks international trade agreements. Concessions of an economic nature are made, the signatories seeking mutual benefit. There will be some losers in each participating nation.

An amazing feature of the Trans Pacific Partnership to be signed is the surrender of Australia’s sovereignty. Corporations in signatory nations will be able to sue the Australian government in a foreign court “when they believe a change in Australian laws are affecting their profits.” Refer Anna Patty’s article ‘TPP deal may expose legal risks’ in the 5 March 2018 issue of ‘The Sydney Morning Herald.’

Patty quotes academic Stuart Rosewarne as describing this provision as “quite scary because it effectively allows a foreign-owned company to have any Australian law, including enhanced labour laws that are considered to impose additional or onerous obligations on a company’s employment practices, to be set aside.

Tickle my tummy or not? How cheap is sovereignty?

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