Chapter 31......The ABC of politics
Funny how sometimes the obvious can stare you in the face and you don’t see it. The ABC, never one to chase up comments from me during the Foreign Land Ownership debate came to my home to seek my response to an issue of the day. I have forgotten what it was, but that is not important. The young lady with the microphone was as capable as any that I have come across. For reasons that are now obscure, I was reflecting upon a question that she asked, when the ‘penny dropped’. Without thinking I instinctively put two and two together and as she opened the door of the vehicle to sit in the back seat I asked a leading question to get a response. Her action was curt and signalled that even as a reporter of the ABC, she was never the less her fathers daughter. The lady concerned was Marie -Louise Schubert, better known these days as Thiele, the evening news face of Channel Ten
In the halcyon days of the late eighties, reporters and journalists were on your doorstep at the drop of a hat. In my case that was often, for like it or nor, aware of it or not I was making news. Foreign Land Ownership, or as the press in their ultimate wisdom kept branding it ‘anti-foreign investment’, made for good copy. Marie -Lousie was one of a number of very competent young ladies who made it from the role of roving journalists to window front news presenters. Most of them I found utterly delightful to work with and unlike their male counterparts, had a more sympathetic understanding to what I was saying. That is not to say that the interviews did not become distorted in the 30 second grabs, they did; but then that is the way television works. News is always secondary to ratings.
The ABC’s television current affairs program, in those days came under Alan Hogan’s jurisdiction. Hogan a reporter who had seen time overseas was no novice reporter. If my memory serves me right I believe that he carried out some fairly risky assignments in the Vietnam theatre. He succeeded a man I always believed was to far to the left of politics, that he must have walked with a distinct limp. Hogan was a man to whom I had written on the issue that I pursued and said that he would be interested in looking at the issue ‘one of these days’. They never did of course. The Seven Thirty Report, creates and survives on political controversy. In fact that is the sickening aspect of all media in this country, without politics they would have little of interest to report. The ABC will deny it, but it is so biasedly Labor that it must be considered part of the mechanism that keeps incompetent administrators in power. Only days previous, they had ‘tried to get Hawke’ to discuss the ‘Four Seasons Fiasco, with me, yet had ‘failed’. Now in the light of the ‘big misunderstanding with Wayne Goss’, Daikyo’s new public relations face Dr Bungo Ishizaki, not only had access to the national broadcaster, but was granted the distinction of being accorded a 7.30 Report lunch, to ‘gloss over the events of the last few weeks’. One of the reporters, who interviewed the affable doctor, was also now the ABC’s frontline newsreader. Immediately I drew certain conclusions and wrote a confidential letter to the chief executive officer of the ABC, Mr David Hill. What transpired will give readers some insight as to how the system, in Australia works. I believe it is frightening and the reason that it continues to survive is because people are simply scared to speak out.
Dr Bungo Ishizaki is a charmer. When he spoke at the 7.30 Report Business Lunch, he not only spoke to an attentive audience, interested to hear how brilliant ‘Yokoyama, san ‘was in convincing ‘Wayne, no sorry, your Premier, that it was all his (Yokoyama’s) fault; simply because he did not understand the fine print’, but he had them absolutely mesmerized. They hung on his every word, fascinated, amused and to some of the women assembled even ‘courted’ by his apparent innocent persona. Even hard bitten reporters, mellowed into sanguine repartee over this particular performance. Perhaps the audience were not aware of the significance of this speech, which tended to ‘wash over’ the real point of the dinner. Doctor Bungo Ishizaki, behind that ‘friendly facade’ is first and foremost a Japanese businessman. Not only is he astutely competent at ‘buying foreign real estate’ at bargain basement prices, but he is also a an articulate public relations officer, with degrees, acquired at Yale University, to substantiate that post. Bungo did not participate in a public sector dinner with access to the national news network, simply because he wished to weave his particular charm over a tentative audience. They were simply the backdrop to the show and it was the national broadcaster that stepped in to fill the bill.
This was more than a simple news item, that Daikyo and the Queensland State Government, had ‘settled their differences’. After all had not this company ‘threatened’ to uplift its $800 million expenditure programme, if it could no longer do business the way that it wanted? Now we had the spectre of the high profile charismatic Bungo Ishizaki handling the role that the company’s chief executive , apparently ‘stuffed up’. Ishizaki, the ‘peacemaker’, soothing the path to closer understanding with the State Government. With a day at the races and a round of golf, all had been forgiven. The man who had ‘stood tall, defiant to the inroads of Japanese dominance, that was upsetting the community’, simply acquiesced and became putty in the hands of shrewd Japanese know-how . Goss had ‘gone to water’. So why did the role of ‘squaring off with the people’, fall to the lot of the ABC? It was a question to which I sought answers; it was a question, that to this day has not been answered, it was a question, that raised more questions, by the sequence of events, than ever received straight answers. One of the reporters employed by the ABC at the time, covered such stories. Of more recent times she had been filling the vacant spots when the ‘regular’ readers were absent for one reason or another. This had lead to ‘promotion’ to frontline news reading. Without wishing to debate the rights or wrongs of rapid promotion, I for one thought Marie Louise Schubert to be thoroughly competent, professional and capable. This rapid rise had not escaped my notice, but it had also raised doubts in my mind about the ‘credibility of the ABC’. Was the ABC being used as a political tool, not only by the government, but also by private enterprise, legitimising the foray, behind the skirt of news? Were the Schubert connections, being compromised, given that Daikyo’s Australian chief executive’s daughter was employed by the ABC? It was I believe a legitimate question and it was a question that I addressed in ‘confidential mail’ to the man who should be able to supply the answer. That man was the ABC’s chief executive officer Mr David Hill.
Under normal circumstances, that letter would not have seen the light of day in this book, but for reasons that will become apparent, I record that CONFIDENTIAL letter here:
Dear Sir, (David Hill CEO ABC
I wish to bring to your attention a matter that I believe you will find somewhat disturbing. I believe the ramification are far reaching in a way that would not be immediately obvious to those who were the instruments in the saga. These comments are confidential, as you will appreciate the delicacy of the subject. The alternative is to remain silent, but as you will realise I have been at the forefront of criticism of anything that relates to foreign ownership, so I am not easily intimidated. At present this is not for public consumption.
I refer to news item, the Current Affairs program and the 7.30 Report Dinner, that ultimately provided the stage piece. The main segment appeared on the 7.30 Report, fronted by Alan Hogan.
The program purported to feature the vexed question of foreign investment in Australia, with particular emphasis on Queensland and had as its show pony E.I.E’s financial guru Dr Bungo Ishizaki. His supercillious air of disdain of those who challenged the wisdom of uncontrolled foreign investment, was nothing short of discourteousness at the least. In a condescending manner he publicly held both the State Premier Wayne Goss and Treasurer Keith de Lacy to a degree of ridicule. Whilst all this may be considered in somewhat bad taste, even if it did provide circus entertainment, it is not the usual standard that one has learn to expect of the A B C.
What gives matter for concern is the mechanism that enabled a Japanese company to use a peoples utility to seduce a wider audience. I would not contribute any apparent collusion to those ABC's employees involved, because I would be inclined to the view that they were mere pawns in a game they would not be aware of.
I would like to know however, how it was that the peoples national broadcaster allowed itself to be drawn into staging the 7.30 Report dinner for the purpose of expanding upon Daikyo’s ‘misunderstanding’ with the Goss Labor Government. For one who has had considerable trouble trying to have the media respond to my assumption that the Daikyo investment freeze was stage-managed, I am drawn to the conclusion that any contrary view is not welcome. This applies to the print, sound and visual mediums.
In the light of this I am compelled to question the integrity of the AB C in this affair.
The reporter who covered this story was a young lady by the name of Marie-Louise Schubert, the daughter of the man who is Chief Executive of Daikyo’s operations in Australia. Sir Sydney, if I am reliably informed was forty three years a Queensland public servant, eleven years co-ordinator general and five years personal confidante of Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen; by any means a very powerful and influential man.
In recent times the 7.30 Report in Brisbane has tried unsuccessfully to arrange a face to face debate between myself and the Prime Minister, Bob Hawke on the question of foreign land ownership. Yet it was from this same source, under the control of Kerry Lonnigan, that the other side of foreign investment was given unique treatment. The legitimate question that comes into sharp focus is ‘What influence if any was brought to bear? Was the ABC compromised. How did the daughter of the company receiving this favourable treatment come to front the reporting?
Disturbing questions they maybe, but I believe that someone has to ask them. Perhaps you may also seek to clarify an assertion that the young lady, just eight months in the job rose from being a ‘D’ grade journalist to that of ‘B’ grade.
Whilst these comments throw considerable concern if true, into your lap, the most worrying aspect must be the manipulation of the media by Japanese interests, in not only penetrating the ABCs customary standards, but also in using the national broadcaster as not only a propaganda medium but also as a means of allaying fears that could well be justified.
I must admit being a little uneasy about putting this down on paper, but I also have more than just a ‘gut’ feeling that something here is not right. In the national interest I believe that it should be investigated.
On the 18/9/90, I was advised by Miriam Clancy, executive Assistant to David Hill, that they had sought a full briefing on the matter, in order that matters raised in my letter , could be subsequently answered. Five weeks later that response came in the form of the letter produced below.
I was not surprised by its contents, for in the style that typifies bureaucratic arms of the public sector, they were hardly going to commend me for my zealous attention to detail if I was right and certainly they would not give me further ammunition, if I was remotely ‘on track’. Seemingly then, there was ‘no grounds to support my disquiet’. Instinctively, I commiserated with myself, thinking that in the world that I was treading at present, that I could be treated with contempt and there would be nothing I could do about it. With that I accepted the letter, filed it and never gave the matter another thought. I am not without friends in the media and the ABC was no exception. One night, I had cause to contact a reporter on a totally separate matter and during the conversation I was asked if I had ever received a reply from the ABC about the 7.30 Report matter. When I said I had and that I had been told that I was grasping at shadows, from David Hill’s right hand man, the response was immediate.
“Bruce that is a damned lie”, the caller was angry. “Why’s that”, I was interested for I had believed that the matter was long since buried.
“As a result of that ‘briefing’there were changes at the ABC. Kerry Lonnigan had his contract terminated and certain news staff were relegated. Heads did roll and in the light of that letter, I must assume that your observations were not only sound but too close for comfort”. From the conversation that followed, I gathered that Marie Louise, had also been subjected to some ‘inhouse jealousies that had made her job a little untenable. All of this was totally irrelevant to me, for it was never my intention to bring the powers that be down upon those who I believed were innocent participants in a greater intrigue. Whilst Stuart Revill, David Hill’s offsider had given a lie to that possible scenario, it begged the question, “why seek a briefing and then act upon it, if there was nothing to hide”. For the second time, I shrugged my shoulders and thought no more about it, yet it seemed as though my question to David Hill had become something of a dogs bone.
I am not accustomed to receiving mail in cream manila envelopes, and even less from Ladies of the Realm. Opening the letter, I neither recognised the address and had more than a little difficulty deciphering the handwriting. Never-the-less the opening sentence not only made me sit up and take note, but it also engendered a great deal of anger.
‘I have received a copy of a letter sent by you on the 9/9/90. to David Hill, the CEO of the ABC. ‘
The letter was signed Maureen Schubert.
In many ways it was a pathetic letter, that apportioned blame to myself for bringing about the termination of employment between her daughter and the ABC. To quote Maureen Schubert, “the intimidation and hurtful treatment metted out to her by some of her so called colleagues took a terrible toll and cut short a promising career.” The irony of these remarks were not lost on me for I had detected back in September, that Marie Louise, was not so much a victim of circumstance so much as who she was and the obvious ability that she possessed. These I felt would work against her. Now some seven months on, I was a recipient of this obvious letter of distraught from an anguished mother. Maureen Schubert, might have smiled had she realised that in some way I shared that anger. Her daughter, had been the victim of an injustice and had suffered as a result. Perhaps, Lady Schubert, would have been better to have refrained from lashing out at me and afforded herself the dignity of silence. At the time of her severance with the ABC, I am given to understand, that Marie Louise, took up a position as a public relations person with Daikyo, yet her obvious talents and professionalism were very soon realised when she became prime-time newsreader with channel TEN. Personally I was delighted for her, but I wondered if the angry mother who had taken me to task for being the architect of her daughters promising career, would bless the perceived villain in hindsight?. Were I sufficiently conceited, I would have reminded Lady Schubert, that her daughters’ career, took a turn for the better, when I intervened. In fact I simply had nothing to do with it. What I do call into question is the ‘ethics’ that allow a CONFIDENTIAL letter to David Hill to fall into Maureen Schuberts hands, particularly when it was specifically pointed out to Hill, that the matter was ‘sensitive’. When I subsequently wrote to Hill about this matter of ‘leaked’ information, it was again handled by one of his understudies. “I am informed that neither Ms Schubert nor anyone outside the ABC was given a copy of your letter. The ABC is not aware how Maureen Schubert obtained a copy of your letter.”
I took this matter to three newspapers. One newspaper said hey would not ‘run’ the story, but would print a letter if I chose to submit one. I agreed and was requested to ‘take the teeth ‘ out of it. I refused and queried the necessity. I re-submitted it and it never appeared. Off the record I was told, they couldn’t publish it. You see Sir Sydney was on their board. The second newspaper refused, saying it was not ‘newsworthy’, and the third in the same stable as the second, declined to. Its editor however shed light on two aspects. ‘Wayne Goss has appointed Lady Schubert to the Queensland Arts Council, today and just for good measure the same lady is on the Program Committee of the ABC’.
As I walked from his office , I was reminded of what my late father used to say, “Bruce its not what you are in this world that counts, but who you are.” I was fighting a battle I could not win.