Proposal preview

Foreign Multinational Enterprises in Australia

Multinational enterprises (MNEs) have had a long and important history in Australia. For nearly two centuries, they have arrived in waves on Australia’s shores from Britain, USA, Continental Europe, Japan, South Korea and, most recently, China covering many sectors of the economy. Today, they account for more than a third of Australia’s top 2000 firms and possess A$1.1 trillion of assets. Their impacts on the Australian economy are a major area of government policy and a central topic of public debate.

Surprisingly little has been written about MNEs in Australia despite their importance and the fact that the history of international business is a thriving field of research in other nations. The session is part of a larger project that seeks to understand: the magnitude of, and motives for, multinational investment in Australia; the place of Australia in the global strategy of some of the largest world corporations; and to achieve a more informed and policy relevant understanding of their broad impact.

Three innovative aspects of the project are: 1) analysing the impact of MNEs on a successful resource-based economy, thus departing from the more common focus on developing primary producer or developed industrial nations; 2) following the complete history of firms in the country, including the nature of their exit/divestment; and 3) combining FDI measurements, common in economic history analysis, with the firm level perspectives of business historians.

The session comprises a team of outstanding researchers who have worked together and provide complementary expertise. Consistent with the aims of the second call for papers, this session complements sessions already in place. In particular, it complements, ‘Multinationals and the Transformation of the World Economy’ whose purpose is an, ‘understanding of the role of multinational enterprises in the transformation of the world economy from the mid-to-late nineteenth century until the present’. Australia had one of the highest levels of GDP per capita at the turn of the twentieth century and continues to be highly internationalised in terms of investment, labour, and trade. Therefore, an investigation of MNEs in Australia is a highly significant part of the analysis of their global impact. The proposed session is pertinent to several other round 1 sessions: ‘Business History in the Age of Modern Globalization’; ‘Multiple Futures for Business History: Building on Recent Debates and Suggestions’ and ‘Transnational business encounters in the twentieth century: informal company networks, cartels and business interest associations compared’. Between them, participants will analyse most major nations that sent firms to Australia, investigate a number of key industries, and estimate the size of inward foreign direct investment.


  • Simon Ville, University of Wollongong,, Australia
  • David Merrett, University of Melbourne,, Australia

Session members

  • Monica Keneley, Deakin University,
  • Geoff Jones, Harvard Business School,
  • Jock Given, Swinburne University,
  • Pierre Van der Eng, Australian National University,
  • Andre Sammartino, University of Melboourne,
  • Claire Wright, University of Wollongong,

Proposed discussant(s)

  • Mira Wilkins, Florida International University,
  • Keetie Sluyterman, Utrecht University,

This panel has Call for Papers open.
If you are interested in participating, please contact the panel organizer(s) to submit a proposal.

  • Simon Ville, University of Wollongong,, Australia
  • David Merrett, University of Melbourne,, Australia