Chapter 23......More Meetings
As a boy I recall reading about the piranha fish of the Amazon. So ferocious are these little fish, that if a horse or cow happened to fall into the river, they were virtually devoured in minutes. Over the next few weeks I was to be reminded of his story often. The piranha of the media were always lusting for stories, every little angle it seemed was reason for more copy. I should have been grateful, but so much of it was politically motivated, that I always felt a pang of betrayal. Many times the gap between the manna of the interview and the printed story, was so wide that it made me quite sick. It was at times like this that articles like that written by respected journalist Buzz Kennedy, of the Australian, lifted me. A week after the meeting that attracted international attention, Kennedy wrote:
“Even expressing disquiet ....
....to unscramble the eggs.
If revered and respected journalist were pitted against mainstream reporters, so too were the nations editors. Act now on Japanese Investment, said the Brisbane Sun. ‘The organised protests cannot be dismissed as the rantings of racists.......’, although it went on to say that there had been elements of racism present at the meeting and went as far as to suggest that racist elements existed in the movement, ‘Heart of a Nation’. This in fact was nonsense because the poem read by the Australian lass was done so in her capacity as an ordinary citizen. Neither Jenny Craft or the other speaker Errol Inwood , were members of the organisation. If any blame was to be levelled at all, it was to myself, for at the time Heart of a Nation, did not exist, but the idea did. The editorial went on to say ;
It is illogical and unfair to hold the present generation of Japanese responsible for the sins of their fathers ....and added for good measure that ‘in 1988 it was blessedly unthinkable to prejudge a person because of race or color or his skin’. As the architect directly responsible for the ‘people’s rage’, I don’t recall that race or color had anything to do with the outcry. If there was a preference for race or color, then it was it was exhibited by those lusting Australians who saw a financial killing in targeting the japanese and the color of their money.
On the other side of town Queensland Newspapers ~Sunday Mail’, went in to bat for ‘common-sense’, slamming the masses for their hysterical outbursts. It concluded ‘The Japanese of today, deserve their place in the sun. We should welcome the chance to share it with them.’
This patronising, condescending attitude to the japanese never ceased to annoy me. It was not bourne out of any great humanitarian love of these people, rather it had its origins in the belief that if we were seen to offend then in our characteristic style then, they the Japanese would simply feel as though they were no longer welcome in this country and would cease coming. Their fear was driven by our own ineptitude in handling our own economy, which depended so much on Japanese input.
I know from speaking with many Japanese, that this attitude adopted by many Australians, was seen as weak and an insight to the character of those they did business with. On one occasion Prime Minister Bob Hawke, adopted the same approach to Japanese businessman Shuji Yokoyama. “Let me say”, Mr Hawke is reported as saying, “unequivocally as Prime Minister of this country, to you Mr Yokoyama, that as far as I am concerned and the overwhelming majority of Australians are concerned, that you are welcome, your people are welcome and so is your investment and involvement.’.
As Hawke’s absence from the State of Queensland, during the reign of the Bjelke-Petersen Government had been noticeably conspicuous this excursion into ‘enemy territory’ had been a something of a novelty. Hawke could hardly have been more cumbersome in his ill-chosen eulogies to his host. Had he been more inclined toward the concerns of his oft quoted ‘fellow Australians’ and less disposed toward ‘piddling in Yokoyama’s pocket , he might have made himself aware of the fact that, Daikyo, had just taken the unprecedented step of spending $50000, to conduct a survey as to why Japanese investment and Daikyo in particular were the subject (as they perceived it) of public hostility.
In labelling the Prime Minister a ‘crawler’ which prompted a four column spread headline in the GCⅲulletin, I was accused by John Chegwyn, deputy-chairman of the tourist development company Pacific Rim Leisure, as being ‘a dangerous man swaying public opinion,’ He went on to say “that as far as I am concerned, he’s a New Zealander and we don’t need guys like that telling us which way to go after they’ve stuffed up their own country.’ Chegwyn’s outburst, completely irrelevant, only served to underscore the that self interest should deem that I was quote “a dangerous man”. Was not this mans interest centered around the tourist opportunities in the Asia region? It was an all to apparent response to what I was saying. Personal interest over-rode, that of the nation. The nation when all said and done existed for all and not those who sought to exploit the ignorance of the masses.
These sort of comments served the purpose of drawing into the debate the people I have described as the ‘gutless politicians.’If that seems a trifle harsh, bare in mind that this was a condemnation. It was the sort of language that the man in the street understood, the sort of language that he related to. He understood that he elected these people to look after our interests. He paid them well from the public purse and when he was made aware that his land was being sold off to the very people who forty years previously had tried to take it at the point of a gun, he expected action. What he did not need was a nation of self-seeking, self esteemed, self opinionated people who were not prepared to preserve the interest of Australians. If Whiteside had labeled them as ‘gutless’, then he was better qualified than most to judge. He at least was taking into the public arena, the very issues that they were being paid to address.
The columns of Postbag, ran hot with public fallout created by the Foreign Land Ownership meeting, with some Australians actually being ashamed that it had taken a New Zealander to fight ‘their’ battle. Others, and they were few used the same fact to ‘belt me around the ears’. Lionel Hurst, editor of the Gold Coast SUN, squared off on those who used this totally irrelevant accident of birth, to put the critics in their place.
“There is so little difference between Aussies and Kiwi’s that it is almost culturally impossible to label the other as ‘foreigners’.If there is a difference, then it is the courage of Kiwis to stand up for what they see as being right. Remember it was New Zealand that stood its ground against the United States and maintained its ban on nuclear warships. It was the Kiwi’s who exposed the French government for sponsoring murder and sabotage in the Pacific through the sinking of Greenpeace. Now we have a Kiwi, in Mr Whiteside daring to stand up and state publicly what millions of Australians have been whispering about for many years”. Hurst went on that last weeks revelation (Gold Coast Bulletin May 26.88) that 70% of the resort land on the tourist strip was controlled from Tokyo, showed the responsibility of Mr Whiteside’s concern.
Brian Shepherd colorful Gold Coast identity, who was yet again a candidate for election in the forthcoming by-election, announced that he would chair a public meeting. Texan Charles Brooks also wanted a platform, to lead a ‘counter-revolt’and offered his services if they were required. Despite this mans obvious talent, and rhetorical genius for stringing together colourful words that escape the man in the street, nobody took up his offer. Yet another Anthony DuPont, challenged to debate me on the subject. DuPont who claimed on the night of the meeting, that his family had been movers and shakers in the Snowy River Hydro-electric Scheme, would have been an able input to the debate , but the question of who was going to sponsor such an act, remained unanswered. Whilst ex-minister Don Lane bought into the argument, to be promptly admonished by Liberal Party Leader Angus McInnes, Wayne Goss was having two bob both ways. Whilst slamming those ‘extremist and ‘racists’, he qualified his remarks by saying that it was not being extremist or racist to put your own country first, an observation that I heartily concur with. He also said there was a need to look at the old Aliens Act, with a view to upgrading it, to prevent this present situation from arising again. One man who did put a meeting together was Federal Shadow Minister for Defence Peter White , the former member for McPherson. White was concerned that the debate was tearing the Gold Coast apart. He is reported as having said that; “The debate now contains strong elements of misinformation, hysteria and racism ...all dangerous factors which prevent any rational discussion or decision.”
This was an amazing statement, coming from Peter White. Here was a Federal politician better able than most, who could have contributed much to the Miami great Hall meeting, to address those elements within the debate that now concerned him ... and where was he. The Gold Coast Bulletin asked the question and so did I. White of course was of the ‘establishment’. He was able to put together a public meeting in the closer confines of the Cultural Centre. He was able to second those with University degrees, to pontificate on the nuances of that ‘dreaded foreign investment’, that Whiteside was hammering. Local developer and planner, a man who probably more than any other had good reason to see this Japanese business hosed down, Geoff Burchill, was leading the group the Gold Coast Economic Planning Committee and by no means least Colin Greatorex, who had made some pretty unfavourable comments about the Miami meeting, even though at the time he had been overseas. It seemed to me that even, the elite, were no better qualified to dealt with this thorny question . Emotionalism and irrationalism was not confined to the man in the street; when it came to the point, it was no more than a human failing. To assume as White did, that their station in life made them better qualified to ‘speak’ was an assumption that was horribly out of place.
Within a space of two days Shepherd who had hired the Miami Great Hall, had the mortification of addressing ‘a sparse crowd of 50 people including ten from the media’.Putting on a brave front the indomitable ‘Shep’ said rather uncharitably “Mr Whiteside and his Jap bashers had been put to rest forever.” Small as the meeting was the National Party pre-selection hopeful did not escape unscathed. One speaker Samuel Marshall attacked Shepherds attitude and as if to rub salt into the wound was actually applauded as he sat down. Shepherd had simply jumped on the bandwagon, for no other reason than political expediency. White on the other hand, I believe tried to ‘level the ship’. His motivation was in my opinion sincere enough, but when Peter White rang me to take part in that meeting I declined. When he rang again I was not so gracious. I simply told him to ‘bugger off’. Peter had felt a compunction to call a public meeting then it should have been him leading the public concern in the first place. Now here he was playing the good samaritan, after I had virtually been fed to the political lions. I wasn’t having any of it and said so. This was no reflection on Peter White the man, it was anger at White the politician.
Mayor Lex Bell gave the establishment seal of approval by gracing the meeting with his presence. In the solemnity of a high court the ‘learned judges decreed that ...the lack of control of foreign land ownership and not foreign capital ...was isolated as that area of concern.”
In essence the gift wrapped charade of concern by the city dignitaries, has come to the conclusion identical to those who had spearheaded the public concern in the first place. These side show circuses did nothing to alleviate the pressure that was caused by the national and international exposure to the original meeting. Although many tried hard to discredit me for what I had done in awakening awareness as to what was happening, they failed. The meeting had ramifications that reach far into the future and it was achieved, not as a result of one mans effort alone, but rather through the unified force of the peoples voice.
Four years after the events I write about here I came across a book called SELLINGⅥUT. The cover proclaimed that the USA was allowing Japan to buy its land, industries, financial institutions and future.
What I found on page 273, brought tears to my eyes. Here is why;
On the evening of March 28, 1988, about 150 people gathered in a grade school gymnasium in a middle-class neighbourhood on the outskirts of Honolulu . They were just ordinary people, no great statesmen or brilliant economists.. They had come together that night to debate the problem of foreign investment in its most personal and elementary form. They were scared that they and their children would no longer be able to afford their own homes. They were worried about the quality of life in the face of an unprecedented onslaught of foreign money.’
On the Gold Coast we were oblivious to all this, yet some of those who led that meeting went on to be elected to parliament. That meeting made the local newspaper, yet when we went down the same road six weeks later, we internationalised the tragedy of unrestricted foreign ownership. I could name two high powered Japanese entrepreneurs, who have told me personally, that had I been Japanese, I would have been lauded as a hero in their country. “My people admire4 strength , courage and loyalty to country. They respect you my friend.” I am not one for all this business of back-slapping and adulation, but these comments do say something about how we as a people are perceived by some of our Asian neighbours. If we are not seen to be fit and proper custodians of this country, because of our indifference to what we own , then I have been given to understand, that others will view this land with increasing interest. It gives me no great joy to be reassured by Asian people that my warnings have more than a degree of validity.
In the final question time in the old house of parliament, the curtain fell as Former Arts and Heritage Minister Barry Cohen, called on the Prime Minister to ‘denounce the unsavoury and anti-Japanese leaders on the Gold Coast for their covert racism hiding beneath the cloak of protecting Australia from foreign ownership.’
Australia’s greatest threat comes from within. She does not have to import ‘traitors’ she has more than enough of her own.