Chapter 37 ......Foreign Land Ownership, the big question

When I called the meeting at the Miami Great Hall that night of May 24, 1988. I put two propositions before the people.

Here they are:

Do you want a Foreign Land Register, that will record the amount of land sold to foreign investors, or;

Do you want the Constitution of Australia changed, so that only Australian born citizens can own freehold title to the land?

The questions were simple. The answer unanimous. In a show of hands, only 30 odd people did not respond, to the latter; to the former, no-one responded. In a word, nobody wanted a foreign land register and upward of 85% wanted our Constitution to protect us.

So what drove the people at that meeting to vote for change and more importantly, why did those we vote into power, ignore the call. These are questions that I will attempt to answer.

Since the early colonisation of Australia, foreigners have used the land. Large tracts of pastoral land, have been in family companies for generations; much of it leased out on what amounts to no more than pepper-corn rentals. One that instantly springs to mind is Vestys, the large British beef holding. In mining, heavy industry and manufacturing foreign money, has played a leading part in the development of this fledgling country. Much of that money has been invested, with no other right of tenure than ‘leasehold’. We need look no further than our mining industry, to see evidence of this. Other foreign companies have bought into local industry, gone into joint ventures and slowly have etched their way into the Australian fabric. Falcon and Commodore, are still Ford and General Motors, foreign investors. Today, even those once proudly American icons, have a large Japanese component. Foreign companies, with freehold land titles .....so why the sudden outpouring of public concern.

With every action, there has to be a thought to activate it. The tidal wave of Japanese money that swept over Australia in the eighties, was manifestly obvious. It created changes that worried many people. That worry, festered in the bosom of tens of thousands of people, but it did no more than bubble at the surface. It needed someone to get fired up enough to speak out. That day, should have arrived on September 11, 1987. The local newspaper, the Gold Coast Bulletin, ran a full front page story of how an invalid pensioner, was tossed off the old Surfer’s Paradise Raceway, by a Japanese company ... and left to rot. ‘Japanese wiped me out’, screamed the headline ....yet no-one raised a voice. That company was Daikyo; they sold the property to what the Japanese call, the ‘grey people’, and when Kotani and Tomishima, were arrested for dubious business dealings, Koshin collapsed. Along with them the Sapphire Lakes Resort, the development of Surfers Raceway, the building of a new hotel in downtown Surfers and further plans for the Apollo; the latter three, being properties that Daikyo divested itself of when it moved to Cairns. Daikyo caught in the web of intrigue that surrounded Koshin, went to extraordinary lengths to distance them selves from the scandal.

Errol Inwood, the paraplegic who was left to lick his extensive wounds as the result of the mauling at the hands of the comparatively unknown Daikyo Kanko, must have wondered what it took to make Australians angry. If he did, then it would not have surprised him, that when the outspoken condemnation of what the Japanese were doing did come, it came from a fellow Cantabrian, who also hailed from Christchurch. Ironically, in the days of In wood's plight, neither Daikyo or the matter of foreign land ownership, had been a conscious thought with me. Max Christmas changed all that.

If I made a deduction at the time, it was that I had gauged the mood of the people. Accordingly I wrote in a provocative vain, tapping a ground-swell of concern. I very soon found out, that there was a culture within Australia, that condoned the rhetoric of the establishment, but derided and decried the comments of ordinary people. Ordinary Australians I found were inhibited by their own fear, that if they spoke out on an issue such as I was pursuing, then they stood to invoke the displeasure of the Human Rights Commission, or the Ethnic Affairs Department. As a New Zealander, a product of a country whose people were not afraid to stand up to political heavyweights, this attitude angered me. Here were Australians, blood brothers to the Anzac tradition, scared to go into bat for their own country.

When given the chance to vent their feelings collectively, they did ...in droves. Fifteen hundred people, in all. They came to listen, they came to speak, they came for a variety of reasons. The common thread, however was concern about the Japanese takeover..

In a country, that has given home to so many races from around the world, the opposition to ‘the Japanese’, brought forth cries of racism. Why, it was asked were we not targeting the Americans, the Poms or those worst of all invaders, the kiwi’s. It was perceived that we were simply anti-Japanese and for whatever reason, there was none that dismissed the charge of racism. If you spoke out against the Japanese, then you had to be a racist. So what aspect of Japanese behaviour, compelled me to speak out. The answer was simple, money. To understand the philosophy, that under-pinned my argument, you must envisage the open policy of owning land in this country. In many ways it parallels the attitude that America has toward an open door attitude to technical achievements. If others want it, then all they have to do is to come up with the money. Japan guards its land and technology zealously.

I used to relate the thrust of my argument to a four square acre block of land. Three of those blocks of land given to say a Greek, an Italian and a kiwi, for the want of the exercise. These people come in with limited financial resources, in the form of a watering can. They spread their resources around sparingly, sowing their seeds and harbouring their crops. The Japanese, given the fourth block, come in, not with a watering can but the Hoover Dam. They control the situation. They have the resources, to match the others, or to release vast amounts of water, thereby flushing the others out. In short they have a massive advantage. That advantage was working against ordinary Australians. On one hand, those who were flogging off land, who were amalgamating properties and trotting off overseas, to feed a voracious market, saw the Japanese as mana to their ‘real estate heaven’. On the other the Japanese, totally ignorant of the market values in this country, shelled out millions of yen, simply because they related price to their own market. If the moral ethics of our property dealers were questionable, then so too were they in other countries. The Japanese created this situation, by their own ignorance. They were able to feed the creature that they had imported. It was however a problem that the man in the street was going to inherit, because he was being disadvantaged. Not only was he being priced out of the domestic market, but he would sooner or later pick up the excesses of this uncontrolled intrusion.

The case to support my argument, happened in our own back yard; nearly eighteen months after our meeting. Sanctuary Cove, sold by Mike Gore to Ariadne, who subsequently ran into trouble as a result of the economic downturn, put the property on the international market. Touted at the time to fetch between $195 and $205 million, Australian bidders pulled out, leaving Japanese company EIE in the running. EIE had put in a collective bid to acquire the Cove and the automotive arm of Ariadne, Repco for $500m. That bid was rejected. Now set to pick the jewel in the Queensland property market, EIE were unexpectedly locked into a bidding duel, with Japanese food and beverage giant Suntory. When the dust had settled, Sanctuary Cove passed into EIE’s ownership for $341million.

It was this pattern, that injected massive amounts of money into the property market that concerned me. This type of foreign investment, sent signals into the community, that produced an expectation. Name your price and the Japanese would meet it. Many readers will remember the young lady from Japan who went house hunting in the northern suburbs of Sydney and asked by a reporter what she would expect to pay for a given house, began to waiver as the ‘price’ suggested approached $6million. The point demonstrated, the vulnerability of the Japanese to the property market. However if the sellers were happy about this, the impact on the wider community was not being considered. This injection of money into the property market, would produce an overall increase in the capital value of the rateable area, producing an increase in land tax and property rates. Builders, developers, and planners pitched their energies at exploiting and capturing this wave of unbelievable cash. Raw greed, pushed aside any attempts to stem the flow. Local, State and Federal Governments, knew only too well, that in a period where the country of itself was not performing, this injection of foreign capital was a godsend. For instance the stamp duty in 1989-90, year in Queensland rose to a staggering $247million increase, and this it must be emphasised, was due primarily to the foreign purchase of property. Much of that property was prime real estate. Much of it was foreign investment cash generators. Slowly, whilst the constant ring of the cash registers drowned out all other sounds, we were being enveloped, not only by speculative land owners, but also by wealthy ‘bubble-economy’ generated Japanese businessmen, to whom we surrendered our means of income. In the ‘clever country’ that the Prime Minister Hawke eluded to, we were selling our jobs. This flood of capital in the hands of ordinary people, threatened to disrupt and fragment the Australian way of life. It threatened to change our way of life forever, if allowed to go unchecked and worst of all, it was threatened by the very people who our Fathers, uncles and boyfriends had perished at the hands of. Those men had laid down their very lives, for the freedoms and rights we enjoy today. They fought for a way of life, they fought for this land.

Whilst we uphold the basic tenets of democracy, it is becoming increasingly evident, that we only pay it lip service. Those men who laid down their lives, unlike us, paid the supreme sacrifice, for this country. In doing so they bequeathed to all of us, this land ...free. It is our moral duty, to hand it down to our children and their children, as it was to us. It should not as a result of faulty legislation, be ours to sell to people from outside Australia. I don’t believe for a moment that our founding fathers ever considered the possibility that the selling of Australian land to overseas interest, would have constituted a threat to the people. The Constitution, designed to protect the people of this land, is the mechanism, that should therefore be employed to safeguard the peoples interest. Unfortunately, until a referendum is called, to seek those changes, governments of the day will continue to allow momentary fiscal considerations to over-ride the longer term interests of the people.

These then, were the underlying concerns that I took to the people, that night in May 1988. Economic reality, laced with bitter lessons of history. ........I make no apology for that. Someone had to say it and that someone just happened to be the writer.

On the night in question, I have no doubt, that many harboured feelings that harked back to the war with Japan. It would have been unrealistic to have 1500 Australians assembled, discussing the Japanese presence in their country, without some sort of hostile backlash. Yet, though memories of past atrocities, would have been to the forefront during the meeting it was the general thrust of what I was trying to convey, that held the audience. Later as others contributed to the general discussion, with differing degrees of fervour another foreigner, a Texan, deliberately baited, principally those who had first hand knowledge of Japanese brutality. It was men, like those now on the receiving of this ‘educated Texan’, who had upheld that right and that privilege, to do so.

Unfortunately, these sort of ‘events’ provide good copy for the media. The meeting it was said ‘had overtones of racism’ a cry that politicians, and Labor people in particular, were quick to pick up and hide behind.

It was remarkable, how our leaders jumped to the defence of the Japanese. These poor people were being unfairly maligned. How could any fair-minded Australian, visit the ‘sins of their fathers upon their children’. Even Federal Treasurer Paul Keating, denounced those who could not bury the events of 43 years ago. Nobody it seemed had heard the famous observation of the late Sir Winston Churchill;...if we learn anything from history, it is, that we learn nothing.

Perhaps we should bear in mind, that it was ethnic violence that allowed the people to rise in the old Russia. After a space of three generations, it was ethnic violence, that tore the Soviet Union apart. In Germany today, we are seeing a replay of the events of pre war, days. The Japanese, peace-loving as they purport to be, are no certainty, not to repeat the pages of the past.

It is a pity, that Australians are disinclined to see their own country as something worth defending. The Aborigines failed to do it and were overpowered and lost it. We hold on to this fanciful notion, that we have some special guardian angel watching over us. In fact we don’t. As the world economic balance changes, our position becomes increasingly fragile. On our doorstep are emerging nations that view Australia, in terms of its potential wealth. In a world where people have for generations, toiled, for the greater good of their country, where ethics have been honed on respect for culture and tradition, Australia conveys the image of an uncontrollable child. We have simply had it too good for too long; tomorrow will come the reckoning.

It is this malaise, this attitude of the indifference that we are somehow immune from the realities, that allows our politicians to treat with contempt, those who look a little further down the track.

The foreign land ownership raised legitimate questions, that not only embarrassed the Government, of the day, but equally frightened every politician in the nation. The bottom line, as it had been for the wider community, was that in tackling the question at all, they were automatically branded racist. Academics, from many Universities around Australia, were loath to contribute to the media propelled debate, for fear of being labelled. Those in government, conveniently hid behind the economic driven factors, claiming that if we took such steps as constitutional protection to prevent the sale of our land to foreign investors, then we would offend these people. Even the loose reference to foreign investors, was a gutless cop-out, for the catalyst that drove the concern was not foreign investors, but Japanese investors. Like our national colours, we were naively green and cowardly yellow, where national leadership is concerned.

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‘We are a pack of gutless, apathetic crawlers, with no pride or sense of shame’. I wrote that March 16, 1988. The Sydney Morning Herald of May 25, spread it across the front page.

Since those days I have conversed with many Japanese. Journalists, professors, teachers and entrepreneurs. Without exception, they have concurred with the arguments I have put forward. Many have failed to understand why I have been constantly maligned, by my own people. A constant remark, has been that had I been Japanese, fighting for Japan against an Australian ‘invasion”, I would have been hailed as a hero. More than one has told me of the tremendous impact that our meeting made in Japan, and how government policies were changed as a result. Journalist Katsuhiko Futamara, told my wife, that her husband was admired in Japan for exhibiting the qualities of strength, courage and honesty. These comments, I believe are sincere coming as they do from an honourable people, but in the context of what I tried to achieve, they leave me cold and dispirited. Accolades, from the Japanese, apathy from the Australians.

Six months after walking away from the campaign, a vice president of an international chain of hotels, paid me a visit. He wanted to buy a Leica camera, I wanted to sell. Neither of us at the time knew who each other was. When he presented me with his meishi or calling card, I recognised his company, a point that in the Japanese style of doing things, was appreciated. Asked why I had recognised his company, I replied that I had made it my business to know these things, over the past five years. Just as observably, he realised who I was and we enjoyed an interesting and valuable discussion. Such men are frugal with words, but my esteemed visitor not only respected my views, saying that in fact my observations, were prophetic and that my people would have been wise to have heeded them. His only comment in dissent was that Japan, would not as I predict forcibly acquire this land by creeping economic domination. “Other countries in the Asian region have their sights set on taking over your country. When that day comes” he warned, “the Japanese will not be left in their wake”. As he left my home, he patted my shoulder affectionately as a father would his son. “Your vision my friend is lost in a sea of ignorance. I believe you are a great man”.

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