With the decision by the President of the United States to impose punitive tariffs against Australian lamb imports, the whole folly of the bipartisan policy of globalisation is laid bare. It is somewhat ironical that, after being responsible for the trade portfolio in a period of unprecedented trade deficits, and actively promoting globalisation policies utterly destructive to Australia’s interests, National Party leader Tim Fischer will soon retire to the back benches and, ultimately, to a multimillion-dollar taxpayer funded superannuation package.
Mr. Clinton, at least, knows where his interests lie; no esoteric or fanciful theories for him. When faced with a decision to either act in a way that respected globalisation trade theories, or else protect the jobs of American lamb producers, he didn’t hesitate to act in the interests of his own country. That, of course, is nothing less than his job and it is the job of Australia’s politicians to act in the interests of Australians as well.
But while politicians of all stripes chant the mantra of free trade and removal of tariffs, Australia’s exporters face prohibitive tariffs in the markets of our trading partners. In Malaysia, for example, some Australian exports face 200% tariff barriers, while access to the Japanese rice market is limited to 4% of its domestic consumption, and even that never reaches the local market, being bought by government agencies and given away as foreign aid to third world countries.
Successive Australian Governments have sacrificed whole industries to the idol of free trade. It is now almost impossible to buy a shirt made in Australia. Pelaco, Gloweave, Van Heusen, Bisley; you name it; all are manufactured offshore, in places like Indonesia, Taiwan, China, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand. Try and buy an Australian made suit and you will be in deep trouble. David Jones now has its suits made in Korea, while Mr. Keating favoured suits made in Italy or Spain.
The textile, clothing and footwear industries in Australia are only one group of industries that have been totally destroyed at the altar of globalisation. South Australia was once a centre of manufacture for white goods, but no more. By lifting tariff barriers, governments have encouraged companies interested only in profits to transfer their operations offshore to Asian sweatshops. At the same time, they have imposed draconian industrial systems on employers in Australia, which has made it impossible to operate efficiently and competitively.
The rush to globalisation of the Australian economy was justified with rosy pictures of a prosperous nation with a diverse economic base. The National Farmers’ Federation, for example, mounted a campaign promoting tariff reduction, claiming that farmers would save $7,000 a year if tariffs were reduced. But, the opposite has happened. Australia today has a shrinking industrial base, as companies abandon the sinking ship and take jobs off shore where there are no unions, little taxation and anything goes. Farm costs have increased, while farm revenues have been decimated. With the decline in mineral commodity prices, together with the environmentalist barriers thrown up against mineral exploitation, Australia, more than ever, is dependent on primary production, with some tourism thrown in.
According to the theories of agricultural economists sitting in air conditioned offices in cities remote from the bush, all of the tariff elimination measures introduced into Australia would make a level playing field, thus allowing Australia’s farmers access to overseas markets for their agricultural products. But, as we have seen, that is not the case.
While Japan seeks self sufficiency in food, the European Economic Community’s Common Agricultural Policy pours enormous sums of money into preserving inefficient farms, keeping Australian produce off their markets. In the USA, farmers have always expected a continuous flow of government subsidies, ever since the Roosevelt New Deal. American farms are so overcapitalised now that they will only survive if those subsidies continue. Canada has always exercised tight controls on meat quotas.
But still the madness continues. The salaried elites have evidently decided to allow the Australian pork industry to be destroyed by allowing cheap Canadian imports. Cheaper Danish imports are now appearing. Thai chicken meat and Canadian salmon imports are making their impact on Australian producers. It is little wonder that over 200,000 farmers have left the farm in the last twenty years. The experts tell us that another 30,000 should go. We need larger economic production units, they say. Agricultural policy is now influenced by large agricultural corporations whose interests are not in farming, but in making profits.
While all this is going on, the Federal Government’s focus remains on its tax package, a measure that can have no impact whatsoever on the real underlying economic problems facing Australia. Changing the taxation system to make it easier for Governments to collect, and increase, revenue, does not address the blow-out in foreign debt, the collapse of Australia’s manufacturing industry, the economic and social decimation of rural Australia, the lack of infrastructure development, the destruction of the small business sector and the totally unacceptable levels of unemployment, particularly amongst young Australians.
As politicians serve time, and, accumulate considerable personal wealth for their retirement, the country is crying out for courageous leadership. But all we get are mindless bleatings about the global village and free trade, and how it is all going to be different soon.
The obsession politicians have with internationalist agendas means that they fail in their primary duty – to put Australia first.