Let me kick off by saying that I am no kind of protectionist. I firmly believe that foreign trade is the basis of the wealth of nations in general, and of the wealth of Australia in particular. It is one of the core duties of government to encourage and facilitate trade as far as is consistent with the national interest.
And there’s the nub. As far as is consistent with the national interest. Not the party interest, or the donor interest – the national interest.
And with this national focus in mind, we can see that the idea of Australian made and owned goes far beyond our individual choices in the supermarket. It has to do with how we regulate the sale of key assets, how we juggle the need to encourage foreign investment with the duty to control foreign ownership, how we reconcile competing demands between jobs growth, national security and wealth creation and how we regulate the spending of one of the biggest consumers in the country – the government.
It’s my firm belief that the following ideas are neither regressive nor radical. They’re just sensible.
- Australian government procurement should prioritize tenders from Australian companies, where available.
- The sale of key assets to foreign governments and corporations should be strictly controlled both by law and by other measures that make it more profitable and attractive to sell within Australia.
- The sale of large government assets in the pursuit of short term capital gain is generally a terrible idea, especially if we’re selling those assets overseas.
- The current rush to sell off our ports, dairies, mines and infrastructure is underpinned by ideology far more than it is by economics, and is setting our feet firmly on the road to significant future pain.
On a smaller but no less important scale, Australian businesses selling good quality products at reasonable prices should not have to compete with foreign conglomerates dumping shonky goods onto our markets at prices well below the benchmark. With a market as relatively small as ours, product dumping is a real threat, and it is the government’s job to be alert to it. It can be of little consolation to the failed Australian business to know that it was edged out of the market in order to sweeten a deal with a major party donor’s multinational company.
I believe in the free market. I really do. But what I do not have is a cultish belief in the mystical ability of laissez faire capitalism to self-level in a way that is automatically equitable.
Or, to put it another way – free markets are not automatically fair markets, and it’s government’s job to ensure that they are both.