Chapter 26......The Lions Den
Whatever else may be said of the flamboyant entrepreneurs of the eighties, lack of vision, was not one of them. Sure they built sand-castles with other peoples money, but if those who lent the money were not on the same gravy-train, then they would not have gotten their fingers burned. After all those who sought the high-rate of return on short term investment, knew the risks. Those managers who sought to invest others peoples money, exposing it to dangers that were not known to the prudent investor, were the real culprits of pain inflicted upon the small Australian.
Perhaps the entrepreneurs, vision did not canvas the possibility of a financial collapse, otherwise the manifestation of those visions would not have resulted in bricks and mortar. One such dreamer was the Gold Coasts one time car dealer, the flamboyant Michael Gore. Mike as he was popularly known flew over an expanse of seemingly unsightly mangrove swamp one day and dreamed a dream. He took this dream to the enigmatic Premier of Queensland and together they gave it form. It can be argued, that rules were bent, that expediency pushed aside some public opinion, but it cannot be denied that out of the ugly duckling, a magnificent swan was created. That swan of course was Sanctuary Cove.
As one who was engaged in the building industry at the time of this creation I heard many stories of small contractors who were left out in the cold, when it came to settling accounts for ‘work completed’. Many of course were simply victims of their own lack of expertise when it came to ‘contracting’. In an area that has at the best of times an itinerant population, the chance of being, left holding the baby is always on the cards. Sanctuary Cove, probably attracted more than it’s share of these; but with so much work on offer, little attention was paid to the contractual obligations that normally are tied up before work commences. Whilst the party raged, few cared; an attitude indicative of the times. All this culminated with Gore moving on to bigger and better things.
Across the Tasman, one time tennis ace Bruce Judge, the driving force behind Ariadne, relieved Gore of ‘his’ pride and joy. Sometime later the October ‘87, stock market crash, began to have serious ramification for the new owners and Sanctuary Cove went onto the market.
Speculation was rife for sometime, with a Japanese company EIE putting in a complex bid of $500 million for the combined Ariadne assets of Sanctuary Cove and the motor vehicle spare parts company REPCO. The deal simmered and then came to nothing. On the day Sanctuary Cove went to auction, it was being touted that an Australian company would seize the jewel in the Queensland property market. AMP was one company that was reputed to be in the race. Valued at something in the order of $190 million, Sanctuary Cove passed into Japanese hands as Australian bidders were simply left in their wake.
If ever the thrust of what I had been trying to tellAustralians, was to be demonstrated, then this auction provided the lesson. All the Japanese needed was money; all they had to do was wait until their Australian friends had exhausted their supply and they would pounce.
And pounce they did. In truth, EIE, should have picked up Sanctuary Cove, for around $215 million, but for the advent for another significant Japanese player, Suntory. Suntory, Japan’s largest brewer is no slug when it comes to lucrative investment. In 1987, they formed a consortium with C.Itoh, the giant trading conglomerate and Tokyo Broadcasting Systems to venture into the film industry in Hollywood. Suntory were in the scheme of things far bigger heavyweights than EIE, who by comparison, were infinitely dwarfing the Australians investment contingent. Suntory and EIE, simply went on a bidding binge that had no rhyme or reason other than that of possession. In the wash-up EIE, got the nod, but paid a record $341 million for the privilege of owning Sanctuary Cove.
What Australians failed to appreciate, was that whilst this large amount of capital ‘helped our foreign debt’, the buzz phrase that justified selling, it also impacted upon ordinary Australians who resided in the region, with valuations now being assessed on not $215 million, but $341 million. Great news for those selling this sort of real estate, great news for the councils who would not only cream off additional rates, but reap the harvest from new valuations, and better still for the planners and developers.
Now that EIE had put its stamp of authority upon the Queensland property market, it’s dynamic chief, a man who ‘only kicked tyres, Dr Bungo Ishizaki, became something of a household name.
Later he was to join Alan Bond, to give the University, that Bond gave birth to, a large injection of necessary funds. Today, some six years later, the University exists largely through the fiscal prudence of the Japanese banks. Both Bond and Ishizaki’s chief Hunouri Takahashi, simply over-reached. At the time both were riding the crest of the financial boom and not the least among Alan Bonds assets was the Channel Nine Network. In the ranks of Alan Bonds myriad of workers was one Stuart Goodman. Goodman’s name can be seen in small script at the bottom of the frame that introduces Richard Carleton's contribution to Sixty Minutes. Goodman is Carleton’s producer. One morning Goodman rang me. It was now becoming a familiar format. Goodman like Walsh before him was in the process of putting a program together. The subject matter was to be about foreign investment, although in this case the matter of foreigners ‘purchasing Australian real-estate” was going to be the pivotal point. The format of the program was going to be a debate between those who favoured foreign investment and those who did not. Richard Carleton would chair the meeting. Those who favoured foreign investment would have a Japanese component and as I had been approached it would be left to me to put the ‘anti-investment’, case. I found myself again trying to enlighten those forever chasing me on this thread, that I was neither ‘anti-foreign investment or specifically anti-Japanese investment’. I don’t think it ever suited their cause to see it any different, but I had to tell Goodman that as much as I would like to take part in this programme, I would not on this understanding. Perhaps Goodman thought I was unduly testy, but as the program was in the early stages of being put together, there was room to accommodate my request. Essentially what was going to be at the centre of discussion was Japanese involvement and since I had raised the whole question of whether we should be selling land to the Japanese, then I would be at the pivotal point of this program.
All this action and attention had emanated from the meeting that we had called at the Miami Great Hall on Feb 7 1989. For the second time during meetings at this hall we had a power blackout, which gave rise to one speaker ad -libbing and another straying so far from the original script that had been presented to me, that he virtually scuttled the credibility of our campaign. In hindsight , it was a lesson I was slow to learn. I knew what my goals were, others tried to hitch their arguments to conspiratorial theories, that cut no ice. I had enemies among my friends, albeit, they did not realise that they were not helping our cause. Sixty Minutes, had wanted to tap this source of unrest and continued public interest in the meetings I had called. Now it seemed that my concern would finally be given the opportunity to reach a wider Australian audience, something that it had already done in Japan, some ten months earlier.
In all, Channel Nine contacted me five times over this program. We had agreed in principle to go ahead along the lines roughly outlined and the following day we would confirm a concrete format. That day was Feb 17 and the positives of Goodman's proposition were now falling into place. On one side would be a ‘Japanese businessman’ along with a Australian counterpart. At this point I suggested to Goodman, that he might include someone who shared similar concerns to my own, to balance the act. This he was not prepared to do. We argued over this facet of disagreement and finally he asked me if I would be agreeable to discussing the whole topic of foreign land ownership and the question of Japanese involvement with this Japanese businessman.
What has to be realised, is that at the time, the subject matter was of the utmost concern and preoccupation in my mind. If I had really stopped to give consideration to what I was in for I may well have backed off. Although at the time I asked who ‘the Japanese businessman’ was, I was not told. When Goodman had the format more-or-less ready to proceed, we agreed that ‘a Japanese businessman and I’ would debate the subject with Richard Carleton, chairing the meeting.
With that Goodman, took his leave and said he would leave it to his secretary to arrange the flight and tickets, which she would confirm ‘tomorrow’.
To this point, nothing had been mentioned about Cairns. I had assumed that the Sixty Minutes program was going to take place on the Gold Coast, which to me seemed the logical place to hold it. It left me with an uneasy sense of ‘contrivance’, and during the next three calls I made it a point of reaffirming the original program format. By the time I was on the plane on the Saturday, I had no reason to believe that Sixty Minutes, did not intend to honour their word.
If anything the element of surprise, should have come in a shock of different proportions. That it did not was as a result of a phone call from Zita Pobucky, a Polish-German, naturalised Australian, who was leading a similar campaign, against the Japanese buy-up of land in Cairns. Zita laughed in that infectious way, “Oh they (Sixty Minutes) have been busy here all the week, vetting people for the audience”.
“Vetting people?”, I queried
“Yes,” she replied, bemused by the fact that I did not have much knowledge of what was going on in Cairns. “The whole town is abuzz and talking about it”.
“All I know is that I will be debating a Japanese businessman and that Richard Carleton will be chairing the meeting. “ Zita laughed again, “Do you know who he is?”
“I haven’t any idea”,
“He’s your good friend Doctor Bungo!”
“Shit,” it came out involuntarily.
“Why are you so surprised,” Zita was amazed that I simply did not know.
“It just never occurred to me. Ishizaki, of all people.” I can still hear the admonishment in her voice, “Don’t underestimate the impact you are having. These bastards are scared stiff of how all this is affecting them.”
“But Zita,” I interrupted, “by bringing out Ishizaki, they are giving me the credibility that will reinforce the public perception, that I am right about this whole business.”
“You’re not scared of him,’
“No I’m not scared, but it puts a whole different complexion on the meeting . You see Zita, I know my limitations. I am not a public speaker and Dr Bungo Ishizaki, is not only a charming character in his own right, but a Harvard trained public relations graduate. “
“So what, you took on more than that on the Gold Coast”. “This is television. In a sense you come under a microscope and this would be an uneven battle. Ishizaki, assured, confident and articulate; Whiteside, sincere, unassured and probably very nervous. Irrespective of the seriousness of the subject matter, it could see me crucified.”
“I think I know what you are saying, but it is a risk you have to take.”
“The one thing that will be in my favour will be the spectacle of a ‘little Aussie battler’ taking on a Japanese giant. It may work. If the Aussies can forget the complete irrelevance that I am a New Zealander, then it might work. Yes I reckon that will be the perception, that I will have to inject.” “Then you won’t back off,” Zita almost in an attitude of begging.
If the doubts about the sincerity of Channel Nine to keep their promise in the ‘debate’ lingered, this development served to cement their lack of integrity.
On Feb 20, the Gold Coast BULLETIN, had a little fun at my expense. JAPANESE MOGUL PITS WITS WITH WHITESIDE....the headline read. ‘ Mr Whiteside, an ex-patriate New Zealander, has taken up an invitation to debate the highly-articulate, Yale University educated Dr Bungo Ishizaki, who is the chief investment advisor for the Japanese giant EIE Development”. Of course the ‘invitation’ had not been to debate Dr Bungo Ishizaki. The arrangement made with Channel Nine, was with ‘a Japanese businessman’. This had only come about because of some ‘fancy footwork’, however I had no intention of backing away. As reported I said “It was going to be a David and Goliath debate, but at least someone is getting up thereto represent the ordinary Aussie”.
Looking back, it had all the earmarks of a lamb going to the slaughter, but if I had the taint of innocence about me, I certainly did not consider backing off. Others it transpired, were a lot more scared than I. To find that out I had first to travel to Cairns, which I did at the expense of Alan Bonds Nine Network.