Chapter 21......Where Angels Fear to Tread
. “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man , I put away childish things”. Those who are conversant with the Bible, will recognise this reading from First Corinthians 13.11. When I was 54, I was long passed the stage of childhood, yet the simplistic act of buying up Australian soil by foreigners seemed to me to be a threat that should not go unchallenged. Japanese money was literally pouring into real estate and nobody was saying a word. To deny that there was public concern, would be to varnish the truth. People were worried but not to the point of doing anything about it. Apathy, coupled to the long held fear of invoking issues that might be challenged by the bleeding hearts of our ethnic communities, which in turn could activate the bureaucratic machinery of government, were very real factors that inhibited action. Many expressed this fear to me saying that, they could be jailed for speaking out. In truth of course, they were inhibited by their own fear, but in a country that pays tremendous lip service to its sense of democracy, this of itself is a worrying thought. To the people that is; to the politicians it is a handy weapon to employ. If the people can be contained by implied fear, then so much the better. If the masses can be kept at bay, then the politicians can exercise power that would otherwise go unchallenged.
Our own apathy has allowed Australia, to be developed along lines that are often in conflict with the majority view, yet through our own “She’ll be right “ mentality we have opted to give our politicians almost total control over our destiny. Gold Coasters, put their own inhibitions behind them and challenged the political integrity of those we elected. By their very absence our political masters reinforced the perception that they live in a cocoon,, separated from reality and public opinion. If this is no more than a statement of fact, then its real potency lay in the lack of interest show by our politicians. This was not only political cowardice on the part of those who had undertaken to serve the interest of the people but it was as I said at the time a ‘total dereliction of duty’. I was often asked by the media and others, why I had not invited the political leaders along? My answer was simple; I shouldn’t have to. By the time the meeting was due to take place the interest was no confined to the Gold Coast, but had gone nationwide. All of the southern newspapers had covered the story, as well as many from New Zealand. After all had not Paul Keating and Clyde Holding joined the affray? There was simply no excuse. If fifteen hundred people had been attracted to a meeting that was addressed by an almost unknown Gold Coast citizen, on a topic that was of considerable concern to the community as a whole, then it does not wash that our politicians did not know.
The real reason for their none appearance was one of pure selfishness...self preservation. Whiteside had raised an issue that was political dynamite and to become embroiled was to court not only party censure, but also to run the gauntlet of public censure if the debate took on a racist theme. Better to stay out of the arena and remain neutral, thereby preserving their own skins , than to go into bat for Australia. In Whiteside they had a shield. If the debate was to turn nasty then they could afford to sit back and watch developments. Given the opportunity, they could then turn the moment to their political advantage . Australians all, they simply lacked the guts to get out there and fight. So why did they react this way? Self preservation.... first and foremost, hiding behind the sanctimonious veil of ‘trade relationships’.” Why”, said a Gold Coast businessmen, “ this fellow, will destroy our economy, if he is allowed to continue”. Not only that but he is “flouting the Race Relations Act”, said another. To those who sought to duck the issue these were comforting words. If the establishment, could cast Whiteside in the role of political agitator, then the thrust of what he was trying to convey might just be sufficiently negated to allow the furore to die a natural death. Politically that would not only be desirable but in the present climate of ‘investor confidence’, essential. The longer this public unease about Japanese ownership raged the more likely that the government would be drawn in. If the politicians had never been unified before then they were on this matter. Not only were they chicken livered at Federal level but the yellow streak permeated both State and local government as well.
If there were those in the community who sought to cut down this outspoken ex-patriot New Zealander, for having the daring to speak out in lieu of his silent cousins, the gazetteer of the day the Gold Coast Bulletin was not one of them. In one of the hardest hitting editorials in the archives of the local newspaper, the editor had this to say:
As that area of the country which not surprisingly appears the most enticing to foreigners with lots of money, in their land starved, currency-exchange-boosted portfolios, the Gold Coast is currently the catalyst of an Australia for Australians movement. The intensity of local feeling against foreign ownership of Australian soil …because that basically is the issue …must now be beyond doubt to all except those who can neither read, nor hear or for various reasons want to ignore the obvious.
Rarely is ever before, has a public meeting on the Gold Coast attracted an audience of 1500, as did the one in Miami on Tuesday.. Professional politicians, with their professional advisors, would have been happy for a fraction of that audience. The Miami meeting was organised by a novice in the field, Mr Bruce Whiteside; yet he managed to transmit to the general public his sincerity and dedication to the cause and thus ensure such a roll-up.
In addition there has been a profusion of opinion expressed in the Postbag columns of this newspaper (Gold Coast Bulletin), and other extensive media coverage. Such reaction, whether wholly informed or overly but understandably emotional, should surely cause those we vote into office to pause and take notice. If any were so moved, they did not make their presence known at Tuesday’s meeting. Mr Tom Burns, State Deputy Labor Leader, was there, but the areas politicians, Federal, State and local were conspicuous only by their silence.
Where were they, our MP’s and aldermen, to discuss, debate, even perhaps give guidance on this most vital but admittedly complicated issue?
The question unfortunately answers itself. The people we pay have shoved in the ‘Too Hard Basket’ and left if to Mr Whiteside to arouse the conscience of a nation.
This brilliant piece of journalism, was a damning indictment on the quality and calibre of those we trust to lead us . The difference between Whiteside and those who are admirably paid for their diligence to public service, was that the lone voice from the masses was in tune with public opinion. A mere novice, a man of 54 years long passed the aspirations of being a political anarchist, with no political barrow to push, was simply expressing what tens of thousands of Australians were thinking and yet not one Gold Coast politician had the stomach to attend. If ever the calibre of those we elect to office was put to the test, then this lot on the tourist strip, showed their true colours.
Only Tom Burns, who travelled from Brisbane... the doyen of anti-Japanese land ownership, was among the gathering that night. It did not surprise me. Tom must have smiled that night; as the Sydney Morning Herald quoted him as saying that after 15 years of ‘ranting and raving’ the public were finally in tune with what he had been trying to tell them . Burns walked away that night, perhaps satisfied that at last someone else had picked up the mantle, to fight this insidious takeover. In hindsight I firmly believe that Burns would have been a great ally, but the lingering doubt of whether the debate would have been high-jacked by the Queensland Labor Party, remains with me to this day. Burns was a man who had convictions, who had the strength to stand up, but when the sands of time ran out for the National Party, convictions were traded for convenience. Burns, the fire-brand of opposition was to be extinguished in the interest of the party. If anti-Japanese sentiment to land ownership was permissible in opposition, then the responsibility of Government carried with it the necessity to ‘be nice to the Japanese’. And so it was that the machinery of political intrigue was allowed to thwart the attempts of the people to have a say. As I said at the beginning of this chapter, I went into this whole affair as an innocent child. There were no hidden agendas, no racist vendettas, no personal mileage for an ordinary ‘Aussie battler’, albeit at the time a ‘foreigner’ by Aussie definition, ... all there was, was a genuine worry that the weight of foreign money would distort the property market and disadvantage the people who have been handed this land by the blood of their own kin, for their well-being. As a grandfather of 14, ten of whom are Australian born I make no apology for picking up the ‘arms of my Anzac’, fallen and fighting for what they gave their lives for. In an era when the age of majority was 21, many an innocent ‘child’ was sent of to the front line, before he had the opportunity to ‘give away childish things”. The price of innocence is sometimes a heavy price to pay.