By Joe Montero
It seems the Australian parliament is set to pass a law, which is supposed to be aimed against donations that aim at political interference by governments of other countries, but is in reality something entirely different.
The use of money and muscle to influence politicians and political processes in Australia by foreigners cannot be justified on any account. Neither should a faint towards a new McCarthyism, to be used to collectively vilify and punish a section of the community. This is exactly where we are heading here, in the shape of tilting at the Chinese bogey.
This fits in with a deliberate fanning of anti-Chinese feeling. Make no mistake, this is a racist campaign. Although the main target is the Chinese nation, it also affects our own Chinese community. Overseas and local Chinese are being blamed for everything from the cost of housing, to the loss of Australian ownership and the corruption of politicians. And the main conduit for these allegations has been the tabloid media.
It would be ridiculous to say that there are no wrongdoers in this community. But let’s get this into perspective. No other race or ethnic group is being collectively tarred with the same brush and in the same way. Even where there is substance to an allegation, it is usually exaggerated out of all proportion.
In reality, most of the problem of money and corruption lies elsewhere.
When the First Fleet colonised what became known as Australia, direct foreign interference was applied through military and economic means, and the indigenous society and economy were decimated. The tradition of foreign interference had begun.
Australia has remained captive to and dependent of foreign investment. First from the United Kingdom and after World War two increasingly from the United States. Today, foreign investors own the controlling shares in just about every major listed and non listed company in the country. It is the core of big business here. Foreign investors are the backbone of the banks and the rest of the financial industry.As we know, they are not exactly clean skins. In comparison to all of this, the level of Chinese investment is minuscule. On top of this, a significant part of it does not come from China but the broader Chinese diaspora. Focusing on the Chinese hides the big players. Perhaps this is one of the purposes.
Power over the money and economy means the power to exercise political influence. After all, we still have a foreign monarch as our official head of state and a foreign flag imposed on our national flag. The only surprise is, that the other part has not taken up with the stars and stripes. No country that truly asserts its independence as a sovereign nation should tolerate this.
These anachronisms are just the tip of the ongoing political influence, which inevitably extends to outright corruption, and it is no surprise that we are witnessing a conga line of departing politicians and former politicians caught up in scandals. Few of them involve a Chinese connection. Nevertheless, our tabloids have comparatively little to say about this.
Going back three quarters of a century, the Curtin government had planned post war economic construction based on greater independence, but a combination of political opposition and pressure brought on, in relation to the signing of the Breton Woods agreementt and gaining access to international credit, meant that what we got was largely American owned industrialisation. The corporations that benefited form this did very nicely for a time and then took off.
We know that over the years, these corporations received generous handouts and other benefits. How often the proverbial brown paper bag was involved we don’t know. But we do know that a succession of political leaders and other politicians were treated very well in their subsequent lives, by the corporations that they had given a bit of a helping hand. One of the most common rewards is a senior position or a place on the board of directors of the company.
Corporations under the control of foreign investors have all along systematically, directly and through third entities, poured money into Australian political parties. The Liberal and National parties are especially dependent on this patronage.
Whitlam’s “by back the farm,” and range of additional policies, came together as an attempt to assert greater Australian independence and control over resources and political decision making. It led to pressure from Washington. There is significant evidence about CIA involvement in the events that led up to the 1975 Dismissal. Political interference by a foreign government cannot go much further than this.
The tilt against China fits in with the Trump trade war policy. Thus, the foreign investment law, has a direct connection to Australian participation in big power politics, as deputy sheriff to the United States in the Pacific. Part of this is to undermine trade and political relationships with China. An issue is built over Chinese influence, and Australia is used as a surrogate to and maintain the region as an Anglo-American protectorate. Ultimately, this is about protecting the interests of the big investors.
The other reason for the legislation is to block domestic criticism of government policies, by restricting money coming into charities and community groups and silence journalists and lawyers. The belief that this part has been watered down and made acceptable is an illusion. The new version still requires that a “foreign agent” notify the public register, under an extremely broad definition, which includes acting on behalf of a foreign government, a foreign entity, foreign political organisations or foreign government directed individuals.
Who determines who fits into one of these definitions? The Attorney General’s department, that’s who. Decisions will be politically motivated, and the accused will be regarded as guilty, unless they can prove otherwise. Under the broad categorisations this might prove difficult.
It opens to selective application of the law.
This is backed by the fact that foreign companies and investors have been deliberately excluded. They and those who benefit from their generosity can only be held to account, if the case against them is proved first. Here it is. A transparently different way of dealing with some, which should, once and for all, convince any doubter, that this law is selective and that those behind most of the money changing hands for deals, are going to be ignored.
Foreign interference should be put a stop to. But it must be applied in the same way to all, and this is not what is happening here.