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Sometimes I look at the Greens and I think, “What a disappointment”. They could have been so much more. You listen to Greens supporters list the virtues of the Greens, and you almost wish they were in power. Greens voters are more likely to have graduate and postgraduate qualification, to be economically trained and more likely to have social consciences. The Greens, we are told, should be forces for good and progressive policies – to push for gay marriage, a fairer share of the pie for the poor etc.

That’s why Bob Brown’s decision to commission a report on the foreign ownership of Australia’s mining companies is so disappointing. He must have deliberately chosen to release it so as to coincide with his taking of the balance of power in the Senate and his major speech to the Press Club. This is what he wants to put at the top of his agenda, rather than a sustained assault on asylum seeker policy, a push for reform of the Murray-Darling basin, or another of the other worthy causes the Greens are meant to push for.

It’s disappointing because its just plain bad economics, leaving behind their constituents who are supposedly more economically aware.

It’s disappointing because it’s bad policy. The share of profits that flows out of Australia is dwarfed by the flow of foreign capital into Australia, in investment and in creating Australian jobs. $50bn leaving the country in dividends; $205bn entering the country in investment alone. Australia’s miners have always been mostly foreign owned, so why is it a problem now? The only answer can be that Bob Brown objects to the fact of foreign ownership itself, which is at best protectionist and at worst racist.

It’s disappointing because it’s regressive rather than progressive. It harks back to the economic debates before the Keating enlightenment in Australian politics. In fact, it harks back to the fears of Japanese investment in Australia during the 1980s. The Japanese, we were told, were buying up Australian properties and businesses. We would be bought out of our own country. If one can discern the patina of racism around asylum seeker policies, we can definitely see the Pauline Hanson spirit alive and well in this Green policy.

It’s disappointing because, as Twiggy Forest points out, affirming the mining tax will actually increase the share of foreign ownership in Australia’s mines. The structure of the mining tax favours the larger multinational companies (which is unsurprising given that they were the ones at the bargaining table), squeezing out Australian prospecting and start-ups.

What’s worse is that it fails a simple logic test. If the Japanese (or Chinese) are buying property, they are paying for it with money and that money is going to an Australian citizen. So the net wealth of Australians remains the same, assuming they didn’t get swindled on price.

And the Greens are trying to run the argument that this foreign investment is simply digging up our minerals faster, leaving nothing left for future generations. As the SMH’s minerals editor points out, this is (probably) factually wrong. The miners are investing using 50 year investment horizons. And the fact we’re digging it up faster now is a good thing. Iron prices won’t stay this high forever. Let’s sell whilst prices are high, and to do that, we need foreign investment.

I wouldn’t object to the Greens if they did what they claimed, which is tweaking government policies for the better in the Senate and pushing for progressive social policies. Instead, they’re taking a hardline approach to negotiations – forcing a massive structural change to climate policy, from an ETS to a carbon tax model; materially altering the mining tax so it covers gold and other non-iron metals and increasing the rate of the tax.

It’s just so frustrating to see such incompetents seizing power in the Senate. It’s just… disappointing.

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