Chapter 24 ....Politics of Graft.
Tom Burns had just returned from a three week stint in Japan when he paid me a visit. “Mate”, he said “in Japan your names is on everybody’s lips. Your better known there than Bob Hawke. “Given that not too many Japanese were even aware of who Bob Hawke was in those days, I’m not so sure that Toms obvious delight was as much a compliment as he probably intended. I like Tom. He’s cast in the same mould as many of the Labour politicians that my late father grew up with. Men who were respected because they had a feeling, a rapport with those they represented. Like so many of the old Labour stalwarts of the past Tom has colour and a flair for the odd embellishment. On this occasion I thought he was gilding the lily a little. It was not exactly a social visit as he had been on the coast with Labor Party hopefuls for the forthcoming by-election. He was interested in what I was doing and I guess from Labors point of view it helped to know just exactly where I stood. Many were playing with the idea in the media that I would and should run on the issue. In fact the idea never really appealed to me because I could see that others within the political arena were only interested in milking the debate for possible mileage. If ever I nurtured hopes that a party might pick the concern up, that remote chance rested with Tom Burns and the influence that he might be able to wield. But I wasn’t so sure that Tom nearing the end of his political career, would win out against the young and up and coming. This was a fear that I held when Tom first rang me. Tom, like myself held a genuine concern, but had he appeared on stage in support of me that night in the Miami Great Hall, the Labour Party signature would have implanted on the issue and Bruce Whiteside would have been seen as a Labor Party activist. I think Tom probably understood this for he never took me to task for denying that opportunity to speak. For my part I often regret that was not able to accommodate him.
When Tom left my garage he would have had no doubt as to my commitment to the cause that I had embarked upon. The politics of the matter did not concern me nor for that matter the political party that may decide to run with it. Not that I really expected any of them to. Before I had even taken the speech into the public arena I had approached the only people I felt honest enough to handle it, the Australians Democrats. Perhaps, with hindsight I found them to be too honest, because, their reluctance to use the issue that I had raised, was largely governed by Macklin’s belief, that I would succeed, where they had failed. I would stress at this juncture, that the Democrats had, had the foreign ownership on their agenda for ten years, prior to my foray. Mackin’s brutal honesty, in refusing my request, coupled to his mild rebuke, for my believing that the Democrats, would succeed, where I could not, hurt. This remark more than any other caused me to rethink the whole business and from that time on I thought that the only way that we were going to get anywhere was if the message came directly from the people. As events turned out, instead of being stillborn, the message took on proportion that every politician in this country could not help but be envious of. The message that was called to arouse public apathy and indifference, on the Gold Coast sent stronger messages to the political hierarchy and business sector of Japan, than any one could have imagined. Readers, may ponder the tremendous responsibility, that that threw on an ordinary citizen, who only set out to arouse local awareness. Ten days before the August 20 by-election, I wrote to the three party leaders. In that letter I said “had any of you really heeded the warning and acted for genuine concern for the people’s concern, then I would not have been placed in the position, of having to run for parliament. Political ambition was not my forte, but I would not back away from the issue that they had refused to address. Having been virtually forced to ‘go into bat for the people, because the politicians were to bloody queasy to face the body-line bowling’, I was not surprised when Tom Burns paid me another visit. This time tagging along on his heels came Labor Party campaign director Wayne Swan. I was immediately antagonised by the charmed arrogance of the man. Hardly had Tom gone through the formalities of introduction, than Swan prevailed upon me.
“Who writes your material?”
A little bemused by his forthright approached ,I prompted, “Why?”
“We’d like to get hold of him. He’s the talk of George Street”, I laughed “Not much show of that”, to which Swan replied, “Oh, we’ll be the judge of that”.
It suddenly struck me that here was the way things were done. Because Swan was part of an organisation that had considerable clout, and resources, he saw it as a matter of inevitability that, this little battler would lose his script writer, in the interest of the party. They would grab him and move on. It angered me. It also alienated a long time Labour man, who would have under normal circumstances found considerable fulfilment from doing what Swan was angling at. “Oh no you won’t”, I fired back.
Burns by now sensing that Swan had got away to a bad start, looked slightly ill at ease.
“Because Wayne , I write it all myself’.
“Good heavens a politician who writes as well’. “No Wayne, wrong again. I’m not a politician, I just put pen to paper” With that, the momentary tension was broken. Swan and Burns, skirted the foreign land issue with artificial interest because the real thrust of their visit had everything to do with the allocating of preferences . Whilst their approach was lower key than others who followed, I could not help feel as though for pure political capitalisation, the Labor Party could have asked me to run for the seat of South Coast and possibly have taken the seat. Had Labor taken the bull by the horns and run with the issue, they would have had a fire-brand candidate, with Labour roots that go back to school days. Todays academics, have lost touch.
As if to underline this fact, a few days later, I had reason to go up to Dallas Watsons campaign office, on the Gold Coast Highway at Miami.
I was asked by the person in the office to go around the back of the building and I would find Dallas there. Apart from an old acquaintance, I knew no-one. One man sensing my position came up and introduced me to those present. It was good old fashioned courtesy, from the generation who grew up soiling their hands and keeping in touch with the common people. I had not met Nev Warburton before or since, but it was a gesture that I shall not forget. It was in marked contrast to Wayne Goss who completely ignored me as I passed him alone on an area barely six foot wide. Passing him on the way back, he repeated the performance, although the ABC journalist did speak to me by name. Goss it seemed preferred to remain aloof. Later on after I had written to him on the Foreign Land Ownership issue, he dismissed my in-depth letters, by thanking me for taking the time to write to him. He enclosed for my perusal, a copy of ‘his governments’, foreign investment policy.
Taken to task he replied to me a second time, enclosing yet
another copy of ‘his governments’ foreign investment policy. I
was never able to shake off the feeling that in Goss I had aperson who had a natural antagonism toward me, or more
particularly, toward what I was doing. That perception I believe was correct. Had I been responsible for his party having to hurriedly formulate a foreign investment policy? The document that Goss himself had forwarded to me, not once but twice, had its birth the day after the Miami Hall meeting. The opening paragraph to that document bears examination.
An upsurge in Japanese investment on the Gold Coast has led to public meetings condemning the entry of Japanese capital into Queensland with overtones of racism directed specifically against the Japanese.
Racism? Not only racism, apparently, but racism that was specifically targeting the Japanese.
I take issue with this, because as the person who fired this issue in the first place, it was an oblique swipe at me. Mr Goss himself had said that it was “not being racist to put your country first”. As I have said I couldn’t agree more, yet AFTER the storm broke, this party document that was part of their manifesto said;... ‘it is vital that the State Government lead the debate, rather than simply react to it.’ Given that it was the people who led the concern, something that our politicians had failed to do, they now presumed to don the cloak of Solomon. ‘Calm, logic and above all leadership are the attributes which government should be bringing to bear on this issue at this time. It is not in anybody’s interest for extremists or racists to dictate the political climate in which these issues are resolved’. This was nothing more than pious clap-trap, written by Swans minders. People had decided the issue and politicians are not some elevated standard of higher learning, they are simply people like the rest of us. To those who saw the Sixty Minute fiasco in Cairns, where Dr Bungo Ishizaki and Richard Carlton had their little game, a man whose contribution on the night was palpably pathetic, is today the treasurer. Keith deLacy, one of the architects of the Party, served only to remind those assembled that night, that their futures and their childrens future lay in the hands of weak men. The policy document, had been forced on the government; further more it had been drafted in desperation of the forthcoming Gold Coast by-election. Somehow the people had to be placated. Ahern along with Bill Gunn pushed through the totally ineffective Foreign Land Register after it had languished in the parliament since the earlier 1980’s. It was political expediency, of the most cynical type yet the media lauded the wisdom of the government. That the meeting might have been the catalyst for change was never mentioned. Now we had the Goss opposition, rushing to put in place policy, that addressed the issue. Perhaps I have a distorted view of my contribution to this whole issue of foreigners purchasing our soil, but it angers me, more than a little to think that the Labor Party, stung into action by the stand I had taken never had the nous to pay me the courtesy of finding out why I had taken it.
If we read again the introduction to the policy document Foreign Investment in Queensland, we will notice the implied reason for its existence. ‘An up surge in Japanese investment on the Gold Coast has led to public meetings.....’. We’ll stop there. Public meetings; the emphasis here being on the plural, meetings.
Lets examine this . As I recall, there were three public meetings that took place before the South Coast by-election. They were the initial meeting that attracted 1500 people at the Miami Great Hall on May 24, the Brian Shepherd event at the same venue on June 14 and the meeting that was called by the federal shadow minister for defence Peter White, at the Cultural Centre on June 16, that drew a crowd of two hundred and sixty. It would be stretching the bounds of credulity, to believe that any government, or potential government as the Labor Party was at that time, would be galvanised into action on a meeting that attracted a mere handful, in one instance and a partially filled theatre on the other. It just doesn’t happen. Not by any stretch of the imagination could the impact of the later two be compared to the initial meeting. This was the reason for the policy, not party planning or perception of the public mood. This was forced on Goss, and Swan, shrewd campaign director that he was responded immediately. In effect the people to whom Goss had branded ‘racist and extremist’ were so irrelevant, that he had to react. The party despite the grand rhetoric was not leading, but reacting . So why was it that those who had forced changed in both the halls of government and the ranks of the opposition too insignificant to consult, liaise or just show interest.? It is a good question given that the Labor Party, unwittingly included a dossier of ‘Japanese Ownership in Queensland’, that it quoted the source as being ‘The Australian, 28.5.88’. What the Labor Party was not aware of was that in an interview given over the phone to the Australian, immediately after the meeting of May 24, I had been asked if I could provide the paper with a list of Queensland property that the Japanese owned. This was a reasonable request given that at the time of the public outcry there had been no valid reason to keep a file. I told them I could do better than that and promptly faxed a list of all the properties that I knew of that had passed into Japanese hands both here and in New Zealand. It was from that list, that Labor policy writers obtained their information. I was not impressed, for not only had political expediency allowed this sort of information to go out unverified, but it came from the same source that Goss and his followers were quick to condemn as being uninformed. Perhaps the final twist of fate, that underscored the belief that it was public concern as a result of public meetings, that galvanised the government, thereby creating the illusions that Labor was addressing community concerns, sealed its capacity to mislead. There were no public meetings. Between May 24 and June 8, the date the document was completed, there was only one public meeting. Both Shepherds and Whites took place a week after ‘Foreign Investment Policy Under A Goss Government’, was printed. It has been said that you can fool some of the people all the time, all the people some of the time. I lost count of the hundreds of people who rang me convinced that if Labor came to power they would act to prevent the sale of land to foreigners, as a result of this document. Listen to this for sheer ambiguity. This mind you from the ‘positive and firm action’ of the would be government. Clause 4.6 reads;
In relation to the TITLE of all land purchased by foreigners, A Goss government will initiate discussions with the Foreign investment Review Board to access the impact of applying leasehold conditions to all land sold to foreigners.
Even before they came to power, they were puppets to Canberra. By deputy-leader Burns’ own action of sending out copies of the Aliens Act, the party knew full well that it was a State decision and it did not need Canberra’s seal of approval.
They simply lacked the will. In any case, they chose to act in total conformity with the O. E. C. D. Code of Liberalisation of Capital Movements. In reality, we were not masters of our own land, nor were we about to elect men who would champion our cause. The undertaking, to ‘initiate discussions’, was no more than that. Labor kept that promise, but thousand of Queenslander's, believed it meant to putting an end to foreign ownership.