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Undermining our democracy: Foreign corporate influence through the Australian mining lobby

September 07, 2017

Undermining our democracy: Foreign corporate influence through the Australian mining lobby

Australia’s mining industry is 86% foreign owned and has spent over $541 million in the last ten years on lobbying Australian governments through its peak lobby groups, which are dominated by foreign interests. Spending on lobbying by individual mining companies is not public information, but would bring this number up significantly. 

This report finds that: 

  • Total revenue of mining lobby groups over the last 10 years is $541,275,884, with the Minerals Council of Australia accounting for $203,594,120 of this 
  • Mining lobby groups are dominated by foreign interests, with foreign companies holding 10 out of 14 position on both the Minerals Council board and the Queensland Resources Council board 
  • Mining industry spending on lobbying has cost taxpayers at least $162.4 million over the decade 
  • Mining lobby group revenue is increasing over time, and peaked in 2011-12 at $90.4 million, coinciding with the Minerals Resource Rent Tax debate 

Importantly, these figures only cover spending by the mining industry on its peak lobbying groups. It does not include spending by individual companies on third party lobbyists and in-house lobbyists, which would bring this number up significantly. 

The $541 million of revenue to the mining lobby is financed by company membership fees to these lobby groups. Membership of these groups is dominated by foreign owned companies, including companies such as Peabody, Anglo American, BHP, Rio Tinto, Glencore and Adani Mining. 

A 2011 report estimated 83% of mine production in Australia was attributable to foreign owners, including BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto. Although many think of these as Australian companies, BHP is 76% foreign owned, and Rio Tinto is 83%. Between them they constitute 70% of listed mining company resources. This level of foreign ownership means ‘…BHP under our laws is a foreign corporation, as is Rio Tinto’.1 A 2016 Treasury paper on Foreign Investment in Australia stated that less than 10% of mining projects currently underway is solely owned by Australian owned companies, while over 90% have some level of foreign ownership. The paper states that foreign investment accounts for 86% share of ownership of major mining projects, including 26% from the US and 27% from the UK.2 

In addition, the decision-making bodies of industry lobby groups are dominated by representatives from foreign owned companies. The boards of the Minerals Council of Australia and the Queensland Resources Council are dominated by foreign interests. The Minerals Council of Australia has 10 positions out of 14 occupied by representatives from foreign owned companies. The Queensland Resources Council also has 10 out of 14 positions occupied by representatives from foreign owned companies, giving foreign interests the majority in decisions about lobbying activities of the industry.