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Monday, 2 April 2001
Page: 26218

Mr LATHAM (10:49 PM) —If there is one emotion which overrides a sense of logic and rationality, it is ultranationalism. It blinds people to the facts and the tools of analysis. Take, for example, this headline in Saturday's Sydney Morning Herald: `Global warning: we have entered an age of giga corporations, huge global companies with more economic power than most companies'. How does the Herald reach this conclusion? It takes the market capitalisation of the world's leading companies and compares it with the market capitalisation of domestic equities on national stock markets. This is of course an absurd comparison. It simply proves that in most cases global capital is larger than national capital. It is a bit like proving that Woolworths is larger than the local corner store. This type of reporting also perpetuates the myth that national power is synonymous with the size of national stock markets. Companies, whether national or global, are run in the interests of profits and shareholders, not necessarily in the public or national interest. Economic power is vested in the hands of corporate bosses rather than in the Australian nation. Take the example of the current controversy about Woodside and Shell. As a matter of competition policy there appear to be good reasons to block the takeover bid. As a matter of national sovereignty, however, the Woodside argument is absurd. Woodside is controlled by a small number of corporate bosses on its board in Perth. People in my electorate, like people in most parts of the country, exercise absolutely no sovereignty or control over this company and its resources.

The distinction between global and national capital is one of the great con jobs in Australian public life. It normally involves attempts by domestic capitalists to shield themselves from market competition, the very rationale and logic of capitalism itself. I have always expected right-wing politicians to fall for this strategy; they love cutting sweetheart deals at the top end of town. Why, however, some on the Left fall for the ultranationalist argument remains a mystery. Why should we make life cosier for corporations with subsidies and protection paid for by working-class consumers and taxpayers? I have always believed in making capital compete, in making these characters earn their keep, whether they come from Australia or overseas. A capitalist is a capitalist is a capitalist and should be treated accordingly by a Labor government. They should be made to compete against each other.

The real expression of Australia's national sovereignty now lies in the skills and insights of our people. Of course, every dollar of public money spent on industry welfare and protection is a dollar which cannot be spent on education and training. I am highly sceptical about these ultranationalist campaigns. The Big Kev commercials on television, for instance, involve the commercial exploitation of the Australian flag for private financial gain. Such a practice should be prohibited. Just as it is wrong to abuse the flag in political protests, I believe that it is wrong to abuse the flag through shonky commercialism.

One of the fascinating aspects of the campaign against globalisation involves the personal circumstances of the ultranationalists from all parts of the political spectrum. The campaign is being led by a group of disaffected millionaires. The media are full of them. From the Left of politics, there are the likes of Phillip Adams and Bob Ellis; from the Right, Pauline Hanson, Dick Smith and even Malcolm Fraser. This is a distinctly elite movement, the revolt of a unique group in our society—those who privately enjoy the comforts of capitalism, yet publicly voice its discontent. Of course, this unholy alliance of the extreme Left and extreme Right can afford to be disaffected. They have made their money from business ventures, property investments and highly paid roles in the media. The last thing they want is global competition—competition against their businesses and competition against their privileged positions in the arts industry. The financial motives underpinning cultural protectionism should never be underestimated.

Nor should we underestimate the damage caused to the tolerance and success of our society by ultranationalism. Economic nationalism and social racism are two sides of the same coin. Both encourage Australians to think poorly of people overseas, setting our interests against theirs. In fact, the real conflict of interest is between corporations. I say let them compete according to the ethos of market capitalism, within nations and across nations. In its final form, ultranationalism is just a smokescreen for the protection of vested financial interests. In practice, nothing could be further removed from a true understanding of Australia's national interests.