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08/05/2001 - Dick Smith's article published in The Australian 3 May 01 in response to Dennis Shanahan's article

Following an article by Dennis Shanahan that appeared in The Australian on 27 April 2001 attacking Dick Smith for trying to create a balance between foreign-owned companies and Australian-owned companies operating here, Dick has written an article in response, which was published in The Australian on 3 May 2001. Unfortunately some major points were deleted, including the most important point, which is:

Even so, I accept that globalisation is here to stay. Unfortunately, although the advantages of globalisation get glowing coverage from some journalists, there's no rational discussion about some of its disadvantages and how they should be handled. It is impossible to discuss these issues rationally when people such as Dennis Shanahan take such an extreme position.

Following is the article in full and we have highlighted in red the parts that have been deleted from the article for your information. It should be noted that News Limited is basically a foreign-owned company as it is controlled by Rupert Murdoch, who is now an American.

Why we need balance
By Dick Smith

A number of articles have appeared recently, including two by Dennis Shanahan in this newspaper, accusing me of the most extraordinary sins. I have been denounced for misusing patriotism to sell products and stirring up everything from paranoia and jingoism to outright xenophobia in the Australian public.

Unfortunately, the writers of these articles have all made the same fundamental error. They have failed to understand my overriding goal ever since I started Dick Smith Foods. That goal has been simply to achieve balance. As the publicity material said over 12 months ago, at the time of the company's launch, "I am determined to back our farmers and fight back for a fair balance of Australian ownership in our food industry." 

Because originally I made money from importing electronic components from overseas, some journalists criticise me for pushing the advantages of buying goods produced in Australia by Australian-owned companies. However, I am not being hypocritical; I am being totally consistent. My attitude has always been, and still is, that you buy the best and sell the best. You never accept mediocrity. When I was a spokesman for the “Australian Made” campaign I clearly stated that you should only buy Australian “when it’s as good”.

Australia makes few electronic components, and it does not necessarily make the best. On the other hand Asian countries - principally Japan - make the best. So that's where I went in search of products for Dick Smith Electronics. 

Now, when it comes to food, I believe Australia grows the best in the world. So it shocked me to discover that 85 per cent of the food in a typical supermarket trolley is either imported or comes from foreign-owned companies. I'm a strong supporter of free trade as it will assist third world countries to raise their standard of living and I accept globalisation as a fact of life. But here we get back to the issue of balance. I firmly believe that we should strive for a balance in our trade, with roughly the same quantities of goods, services and profits coming into Australia as are going out. We have nothing like that kind of balance at the moment. Every day $100 million more leaves the country than comes in.

Another of the sins I'm accused of committing is of only employing a small number of people at Dick Smith Foods. However, my accusers fail to mention the hundreds of extra people who have been taken on by canneries and Australian-owned food producers around the country as a result of my company's activities. 

I believe there are distinct advantages of local ownership of companies as the profits are most likely to be re-invested in Australia creating further wealth. This is why I have always believed that Australian made is good, but Australian made by an Australian owned company is even better.

Not that I have anything against foreign companies operating in Australia. Quite the opposite: I have stressed this from the moment Dick Smith Foods was launched. 

To accuse me of being against foreign ownership is like saying that an Australian who barracked for Australian swimmers at the Olympic games must be against foreign swimmers. Of course that's not the case. It's simply a case of supporting the home team. Dick Smith Foods is waving the flag for Australia and Australian companies. 

But having said that, I should add that I prefer the old ways of foreign investment, by which companies would take the risk of creating a new business here and actually generating jobs. Good examples of this are General Motors and Ford. These days foreign companies tend to come in, buy up existing successful Aussie companies at bargain-basement prices (because of the Australian dollar's low value), “down size” (ie sack staff), put up prices and then repatriate all the profits out of the country. The Australian funeral industry has been particularly hard hit in this way. Once entirely Australian-owned and mainly family-run, it is now in the hands of a large American funeral conglomerate. I simply cannot see the advantage for Australia of this type of foreign ownership.

I believe this is one of the downsides of globalisation. Another is that as companies become huge they tend to stop competing with one another because they operate and think in the same way. These mega companies also result in the situation where it’s virtually impossible for a new entrepreneur to start up in competition. Without strong and new competition I believe our proven successful system of free enterprise could be doomed.

Even so, I accept that globalisation is here to stay. Unfortunately, although the advantages of globalisation get glowing coverage from some journalists, there's no rational discussion about some of its disadvantages and how they should be handled. It is impossible to discuss these issues rationally when people such as Dennis Shanahan take such an extreme position. 

As well as contributing to the creation of hundreds of jobs, Dick Smith Foods is enabling me to use my marketing skills to help Australian businesses that lack those skills. A company like Kraft can spend millions of dollars marketing peanut butter. Through its network of international contacts, it can call on the skills of very best – and highest-paid - marketing people in the world. Small Australian business simply can't do this. So I'm putting my skills at their disposal, and I'm getting tremendous satisfaction out of giving them a boost.

Experience has taught me that it would have taken me 10 or 15 years to create even one manufacturing facility for a food company from scratch. I feel that by doing things the way I have done them with Dick Smith Foods I can help Australian farmers and food producers a lot more simply - and a lot more quickly. 

We are also supporting Australian charities. This is not something that writers such as Dennis Shanahan and television commentators such as Stuart Littlemore can bring themselves to mention. They haven't told their audiences about the $600,000 that we have given so far to charities such as the Salvation Army. 

Of course, I give money away purely for selfish reasons - it gives me immense satisfaction. I am also well off so I don’t need any more money.

I understand that most foreign companies give the majority of their charitable support in their home countries. This is logical, but just another disadvantage of the lack of balance of foreign and local ownership in this country. 

I believe it’s sad that Dennis Shanahan and a small number of journalists have taken such an extreme position in attacking me. With over $80 million of sales of our products in the last 12 months, it is obvious that the marketplace has shown that many Australians agree that there needs to be a fairer balance between Australian and foreign ownership.

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© 2001 Dick Smith Foods Pty Ltd

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