The Greens party leader is spot on with his criticism of the Chinese farm-buying stampede on the Liverpool Plains of New South Wales – though Brown’s argument is an interesting example of being right, and wrong, at the same time.
He’s wrong in implying that Chinese investment in the Australian coal sector is unwelcome, but he’s right in raising the thorny issue of there being no separation between what is a Chinese company and what is the Chinese government.
Coal industry spokesmen, and the Australian government itself via Assistant Treasurer Bill Shorten, have defended the right of Shenhua Watermark Coal to spend an estimated $200 million on farms in the coal-rich region because the acquisitions comply with foreign investment rules.
But Liverpool Plains farm-buying ahead of a coal mine development has effectively made a large part of Australia an asset of a foreign country.
Mining Australian coal and selling it to China is an acceptable business. Owning the land is a totally different matter if the company concerned is an agent of the Chinese government.
Shorten’s defence of the Chinese farm-buying misses the point about the inseparable nature of commerce and government in China, and leads to two critical questions:
- How much Australian land does China want to buy? and;
- Can an Australian company buy the same amount of land in China?
Brown, as is his is style, has oversold his case against Shenhua Watermark, citing the need to keep the farms in production to feed a hungry world, a weak argument given that any future open cut mine will have a finite life with the land eventually returned to farming.
But, once you cut through Brown’s reading of the Greens party manifesto and dismiss his virulent anti-coal views, it is hard to not acknowledge that he has a point about the Chinese going too far and that this is not the first time they have stretched Australia’s welcome.
Back in 2008 the Chinese government, via another of its corporate arms, tried to snatch control of Rio Tinto when the company was under severe financial pressure.
China also tried to get a peep inside the Woomera weapons testing site with its acquisition of another troubled company, Oxiana.
Both the Rio Tinto and Oxiana issues were resolved, with the Chinese forced to walk away from its Rio raid and to cut free the asset it really wanted in Oxiana, the Prominent Hill copper mine.
The Liverpool Plains farm-buying is just the latest example of China going too far for most Australians and while the Australian government has backed the buying it would not surprise The Hog to see a revised opinion, and possible change to the law, fairly soon.
The core problem, and it is the equivalent of fitting a square peg in a round hole, is that the Chinese system of “state-owned everything” does not fit a democracy like Australia.
Brown has not gone down that road with his anti-coal, anti-Shenhua argument, but if he did he would be on a real winner – and one that most Australians would support, rather than his dinky keep-the-farms-operating-to-feed-the-world claptrap.
A similar example of right and wrong is the way in which Christopher Monckton has been howled down by climate change zealots.
Lord Monckton, as he likes to be called, has inflamed lots of people with his personal crusade against the true believers in man-made global warming.
But whether he is right or wrong is not the point. He is entitled to his view and he is prepared to stand up and argue his case – just as the climate change brigade is entitled to its collective view.
Where the debate goes off the rails is the attempt to silence Monckton because he has an unconventional view.
The most offensive aspect of what is happening is not the views of Monckton, or the views of the global warmsters, it is the attempt to muzzle the man because he is saying something provocative.
Worst of all, some of the people trying to suppress Monckton are university academics, the people allegedly in charge of Australia’s centres of free thought.
If you don’t like what Monckton is saying then stop listening, or refute his arguments, but to try and stop him speaking is an unspeakable act in itself.