A Case Against MFP-Adelaide Peter Gerard Myers, 21 Blair St, Watson ACT 2602, ph (02) 62475187. August 6, 1991.
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The National Coalition in Opposition to the MFP is an umbrella body linking campaigners in most capital cities around the country. Our coalition isn't only concerned about the MFP; early next year we hope to hold an Alternative Economic Conference in Canberra or Melbourne on the economic directions of this country. Contributions are invited.
The best summary of the situation so far is a statement by Dr Glen Barclay, Reader in International Relations at the University of Queensland. It's in a private letter dated 25th July 1990, after the abandonment of the Gold Coast site in favour of Adelaide, and which he has authorised me to quote. Dr Barclay wrote, "I should also be surprised if the project does in fact get going in SA, as I'd have thought that would be just about the very last place where the Japanese would actually be interested in setting it up. What they presumably wanted was research institutions with R & R facilities readily available, and that would be the great attraction of Queensland. I should lay a very small bet that it'll prove a fizzer, or more accurately that they'll continue to pursue the intangible substance up here while letting the tangible shadow wither down there." Despite this statement, Dr Barclay told me by phone last Sunday that nobody knows FOR SURE just what is going on.
I will also be quoting Gavan McCormack, Professor of East Asian History at the Research School of Pacific Studies at ANU. I caution you, though, that he has a way of always being able to qualify the last thing he said, and he has thus managed to infuriate both sides of the MFP debate. He regards himself as being on the sideline, and does not speak for our coalition, yet he has raised the most serious concerns in a book edited by him and published a few months ago, titled Bonsai Australia Banzai and subtitled Multifunctionpolis and the Making of a Special Relationship with Japan. I urge everyone to read this book. Two of the authors of chapters have come out against the MFP: they are Yoshio Sugimoto, Professor of Sociology at Latrobe University, and Tessa Morris-Suzuki, Associate Professor of Economic History at the University of New England. They are amongst 92 Academics Against the Multifunction Polis who have signed a Statement of Concern. A copy of the statement is at the back of this room, and more academic signatures are welcome.
Gavan McCormack tackles the difficult question, which so many others avoid, of Australia's relationship with Japan. He says that at its core, the MFP is designed to bring about a 'Special' Relationship with Japan (p.34), comparable to the relationship Australia has had with Britain and then the US. The new situation has more similarities to the original British settlement of Australia (p. 59): some might call it the re-colonisation of Australia by a new Britannia. His description of our 'Special Relationships' is brutally straightforward: there is no chance of missing the wood for the trees:
"Australia's 'special relationships' have been intense and total, entailing orientation of the national psyche towards the patron, maximisation of the flow of material and cultural influences and artifacts, the eagerness to anticipate the wishes of London or Washington and to discern the 'correct' positions to be held in international affairs. ... The grammar of special relationships has consistently been vertical and unequal, matching the condescension of the superior with the servility and sycophancy of the subordinate, and their 'bottom line' tends to be the abnegation of the right to decide which foreign wars to be involved in." (p.3)
I salute Professor McCormack for this brilliant description. Some of us, some of us, yearn for the day when things will be different. Any objective description of these relationships causes considerable angst.
Now we will use more mundane language suitable for describing South Australian politics. The original MFP proposal was an unlikely attempt to marry a high-tech 'carrot' with a leisure-city 'stick'. In pursuing the 'carrot' rather than the leisure-city, the Australian side misjudged the interests of the Japanese side who, as Professor Ohe says, never envisaged the MFP as a high-technology research city; it was more likely to be a high-tech technician-training city. Consequently, their funds seem to be elsewhere (back at the resorts in Queensland), except for the ever-present construction companies; and John Bannon is looking for alternative sources. Lo and Behold, he discovered the Pension Funds. In a printed speech issued on 30 May he wrote, "...we need not look off-shore at raising capital - the Australian Pension Funds, for example, are heading for a $600 billion investment total by the end of this decade". An interesting point about this statement is that it was made AFTER he returned emptyhanded from a trip around the world looking for overseas funding, the very overseas funding that he doesn't need.
Other big developments in the past, made on the run for electoral purposes, have failed; for example, the Ord River scheme, the rice-growing project at Humpty-Doo in the Northern Territory, and the Monarto scheme. This might make the funds cautious. On the other hand, there is currently a strong move to use them to fund Industry Policy. As John Bannon put it in his press statement of 30 May, "We believe that the time is right to provide incentives and entice funds such as these away from non-productive sectors and into positive, nationally significant infrastructure. South Australia will provide its own list of projects worthy of consideration, and at the peak we have placed the MFP." Might 'incentives to invest' also mean "disincentives if they don't invest in it"? Cabinet will be tempted to help out its old mate, the former President of the Party. Will they also break their commitment not to provide subsidies and tax breaks?
The use of such funds for Industry Policy may not be unreasonable; but their use for electoral purposes, despite anomalies in the costing of site-development costs of the MFP, and despite massive opposition to the MFP around the country, presents a grave risk of yet another financial disaster.
Humphrey McQueen recently stated, "The Japanese side wanted the MFP to be at Surfers Paradise, not in Adelaide, where no-one wanted it. ... The MFP as a leisure city is already in place at Surfers Paradise, funded entirely by non-government investment.", with Bond University, now 100% foreign-owned, as a key focus for research. As if having an each-way bet, Gavan McCormack agrees with McQueen's assessment. What does this mean for MFP-Adelaide? Which one is the Real MFP, or are they both MFPs? Will it affect the funding of MFP-Adelaide? You won't find the answer to this question in the recent 13-volume Report; you won't even find the question there.
John Kerin's recent decision to designate Integrated Tourism Resorts in fact allows the creation of numerous Leisure MFPs around the country, particularly in Queensland. The changes announced by John Kerin mean that a foreigner who buys real estate in one of the specially designated Integrated Tourism Resort zones can sell that real estate to another foreigner without having to go through the Foreign Investment Review Board. How these tourism MFPs affect the prospects of MFP-Adelaide, and in particular its funding, is unclear, but the Pension Funds will be watching closely.
The National Coalition in Opposition to the MFP calls on the Government not to proceed to designate Integrated Tourism Resort zones without first creating a National Coastal Protection Plan as part of the New Federalism: if we can have a National Rail Network, then we can have a National Coastal Protection Plan. The aims of the Plan would include ensuring that our coastal environment is protected for future generations, and that Australian sovereignty and democratic proceses are maintained in such zones; an administrative body is also required, with the muscle to achieve those aims, and which does not leave decisions in the hands of the Minister as is presently the case with the FIRB. Company towns should be prohibited. This statement should not be interpreted as an endorsement of the ITR zones.
Opponents should not be tricked by the small size of the $12 million so far committed by Senator Button. Documents obtained by our Coalition some months ago show that the major Commonwealth contribution sought by the proponents was a Federal Government commitment to site a number of federally-funded research agencies in the MFP "in the areas of telecommunications, information technology and environment". These would be the bait required to get foreign investors to commit themselves, with the prospect of being able to use the MFP as a giant vacuum-cleaner to suck up Australian inventions and appropriate the profits. And this, after the cleanup of the Gillman site, and the infrastructure development, had largely been funded by government taxes and borrowings! There are no safeguards in place to protect Australian interests.
Professor Sandiman's shock-wave tunnel at the Research School of Physical Sciences (ANU), one of only three in the world, is scheduled for closure through reduction in federal funding.The location of federally-funded research institutions at MFP-Adelaide, as sought by the proponents as a bait to foreign investors, would represent a diversion of funds FROM existing research teams such as Professor Sandiman's, TO site-preparation, infrastructure and building costs at MFP-Adelaide, even if the money came out of different buckets.
John McKay, writing in The MFP Debate, argues that the failure of Australian industry to do its share of research is probably due to the high proportion of foreign ownership in Australian industry. We are a Branch-Office Economy: most foreign-owned multinationals do their R & D overseas at Head Office and transmit the new technologies to their subsidiaries. This view is shared by economic historian Tessa Morris-Suzuki, who writes, "Australia's dualism is the typical legacy of a colonial economy. On the one hand, there is the large-firm sector, which is overwhelmingly dominated by multinational companies, many of whom prefer to perform their research and development in their home countries. On the other, the largely indigenous small-firm sector has little access either to the know how of the foreign multi-nationals or to government sponsored research". As our foreign debt climbs, more and more assets are sold to overseas corporations in a positive feedback cycle. MFP-Adelaide is not going to help, because it too has been conceived within the colonial model.
The project's major Australian strongman, Will Bailey, no longer inspires confidence, having publicly confessed the mistakes the ANZ Bank made during his period as chief executive. But the Japanese technopolises themselves have not been performing according to expectations. Morris-Suzuki finds two prominent problems: an increasing burden being imposed on Prefectural government finances, and a failure to deliver the promised transfers of technology to local firms. Further, Japan's 'science city', Tsukuba, has a high suicide rate and according to geographer Peter Rimmer, "is aiming to be like Canberra rather than the reverse". Thus the trend to portray Sophia-Antipolis (in France) as the model to follow. Why the project should then remain a bilateral Australia-Japan project at the government level, remains to be explained: if the French are the experts at building such places, why weren't they in the running to build one here? That this question sounds strange, even to the author, shows just how dependent Australia has become on Japan.
2. Environmental Issues
Senator Coulter points out that despite paying lip-service to the environment, the proponents fail to recognise environmental and resource constraints "except insofar as they may give rise to market opportunities, for example, in waste management. The emphasis again is on profit maximisation...". Alternative "Visions for the Future", such as the Permaculture design concept, have not been considered. Permaculture was actually developed in Australia, by ecologist Bill Mollison; whereas no environmentalist has been involved in the planning of MFP-Adelaide. ABC TV will be screening a 4-program series about Permaculture in September, called Global Gardener.
3. Secrecy: What's Really Going On?
The recent Report shows us lots of pretty pictures, but is more remarkable for what it does NOT tell us. Questions such as
¥ What privately-funded industries would there be at MFP-Adelaide? Who would pay for setting them up? (in other words, Where's the Money Coming From?) Who will own them? Who will control them? Who will appropriate the profits? Why doesn't the Report give us these details?
¥ Over recent years there have been two major variants of the MFP: the Centralised Version, where it was all in one place, a Single City; and the Distributed Version, where it was broken into smaller pieces scattered around the country. Some proponents have dubbed the new version "MFP2". Why hasn't the major structural change in the Adelaide proposal, from the Centralised version preferred in the 1989 Anderson-Kinhill Report, to the Distributed Version rejected in that report, been explicitly admitted, highlighted and justified?
The two versions were described in the 1989 Report report as follows: "The unified MFP Concept describes the spatial configuration of the Multifunction Polis as a single site in a major metropolitan area or a limited number of sites in a number of metropolitan areas." But in that Report, the centralised version was chosen as the preferred version. It says that about 200,000 people would be required to attract significant international investor participation, and speaks of "a workforce composed substantially, of international, highly skilled workers".
The new Adelaide proposal represents a downsizing from 200,000 to 100,000 (of whom half would live at the core site), and a substantial reduction in the migrant population. The 1991 Report says, "The projections suggest that ethnic diversity at the core site will in fact be similar to that of Adelaide as a whole". The Kinhill company produced both reports yet has made no explicit statement on this change. These unexplained changes suggest that there has been a switch from the centralised version to the distributed version. The international interests probably moved to the distributed version because of the controversy in the 1990 election, and their lack of enthusiasm for the Adelaide site.
On the 4th of June this year, Senator Button admitted to me that there has been a switch from the centralised version to the distributed version. When I asked him why so few people know about it, he replied, "The [state] governments know about it. Some details are still being worked out, that's why there has been no announcement yet."
I call on Senator Button to come clean with the Australian people: give us the big picture. One sentence in the recent report, one sentence in 13 volumes, says "MFP-Adelaide will be the first of many projects to be undertaken throughout Australia as a result of the MFP process". Documents in our possession show that Senator Button has referred to MFP-Adelaide as "the first cab off the rank". Senator Button, tell us about these other projects that are being planned or under way. It would be an insult to kids to say that we are being treated like children. We've had enough pretty pictures; give us the facts.
¥ Is MFP-Adelaide connected with the proposed "Rail North" project?
John Bannon dreams of a new era of exploitation of this country, in which Adelaide is the hub of a rail network involving a VFT to Sydney via Melbourne and also a rail route to Darwin.
The planned Rail North project involves giving a corridor of land between Alice Springs and Darwin, to Kumagai Gumi, so that it can build a privately owned railway to export uranium and other minerals from sites in central Australia. Canberra geographer Peter Rimmer has written that a joint venture company, Rail North Pty Ltd, has already been formed, and that the partners will be given "preference in obtaining mining lease concessions for uranium, gold, platinum and bauxite". It would be surprising if Rare Earths and Rare Metals did not feature in this as well, because MITI showed considerable interest in them in its 1987 document about the MFP. MFP-Adelaide might have a pivotal role in the management of such projects.
McCormack writes in Bonsai Australia Banzai (a book about the MFP):
"The VFT, Cape York and Alice Springs-Darwin railway project are all still in the negotiation stage but reports suggest either an anticipation or an existing commitment to proceed along 'sweetheart' lines. The railway proposal is perhaps the most dramatic case, since it involves negotiations over the transfer of land rights along the entire projected route to the construction company, plus preferential rights to minerals, in a mode which closely follows that of the great pre-war Japanese railway company in China - the South Manchurian Railway Company."
The South Manchurian railway was the precursor to the formation of the puppet state of Manchukuo in 1931. At a speech to the Japanese Studies Association of Australia, McCormack pointed out that Manchukuo's utopian ideals have been more recently manifest in various schemes nurtured in the ministry to which so many of the ex-Manchukuo bureaucrats graduated after the war, MITI, for the restructuring of large parts of the globe, including, with the MFP, Australia.
¥ finally, what role, if any, might MFP-Adelaide play in the rearmament of Japan? For example, through our Defence Electronics research labs, which according to Des Ball currently lead the world in certain fields, and which might have many uses - one that comes to mind is smart bombs; through the Submarine Project; or through the use of Woomera Range to test Mitsublishi's FS-X fighter, the first it has made since the Zero. Project Director Rod Keller has used the defence connection to try to drum up investment when speaking at $900 weekend seminars; but these matters are not mentioned in the 13-volume Report; there probably wasn't enough space.
¥ Australia's Changing Relationships with Japan and the US.
In Bonsai Australia Banzai, McCormack refers to Australia's 'honeymoon' with Japan (p.36).
If the Japan-Australia relationship is a Marriage, it is an arranged marriage, in which Australia has little knowledge of its new husband. Australians might consider the following statement by Professor Sugimoto of La Trobe University, under the heading Absence of Knowledge About Japanese Society: "To put it briefly, the Japanese style of social engineering places an emphasis upon the fulfilment of institutional requirements at the expense of the encouragement of individual rights and choices. Long working hours, regimented work conditions, rigid education, severe gender inequality and conformist community pressure constitute part and parcel of Japanese society and culture." (from his widely-distributed paper Five Concerns About The MFP).
McCormack sees in the Japanese economy "an obsessive economic force whose linkage with human and social needs has been severed, which, blinded and blinkered, confuses technical possibilities and grandiose fantasies with progress" (p.61). Hardly the qualities one looks for in a husband.
Commentators remind us of a common saying in Japan, "rich country, impoverished people", meaning that the wealth of Japan is possessed not by the Japanese government, which is in debt, nor by the hard-pressed Japanese people, but by the big private companies and their owners. McQueen points out that "the Japanese government won't be footing the bill for the MFP project". Japanese companies and entrepreneurs had been busy in Australia well before the MFP idea came up, and did not need MITI to tell them what to do: they had their own ideas and plans. In its bilateral dealings with MITI, the Australian Government may have been dealing with a phantasm, partly of its own creation.
In his book Japan to the Rescue, Humphrey McQueen aims to demythologise our relationship with the United States. While he shows that the Japanese imperium may be no worse than the British and US imperiums, he fails to portray Japanese domination as just as bad as domination by the other two; in this sense he becomes an apologist for Japan. In exposing the colonial nature of Australia's relationship with the US, he fails to equally warn against a colonial relationship with Japan: condemning the operation of the US bases in Australia as "a continuing surrender of sovereignty", he welcomes the prospect of Japan testing its FS-X fighter at Woomera.
Australia's new relationship with Japan is developing as the United States' empire, of which Australia has been a part, is being split into two, perhaps like the split of the Roman Empire into East and West. As Tom Fitzgerald showed in the 1990 Boyer Lectures, the Anglo-Saxon decline has in part happened through ideological adherence to fundamentalist economic theory when Japan was playing by different rules. The Chalmers Johnson school of economists identify the Japanese economy as having features of both Capitalism and the Centrally Planned economies. Most western economists find this hard to grasp because they are accustomed to thinking of polarities as antagonistic opposites rather than as complementary.
At least we might remember, as the Soviet and the US empires collapse, that during the Cold War both were prepared to destroy the earth in order to possess it; now both have lost. The US side does not admit to this loss, but the loss is shown by its foreign debt, its loss of assets, its loss of markets, and its loss of direction. Of course, Corporate Japan's ecological vandalism in the rainforests and oceans hardly qualifies it to possess the earth, either.
¥ Is Barry Jones leading us down the Colonial path?
Jones the Scholar, the champion of Australian intellectual enquiry, in the 1982 edition of Sleepers, Wake, identified two models of technology transfer: the National, pursued by the US, Japan and Sweden; and the Colonial, pursued by Australia, India, Mexico and much of South America. The difference is that in the former model, the recipient country made sure that ownership and control of the new industries remained in its hands; as a result, given time, they became technological exporters in their own right. Gregory Clark, writing regularly from Tokyo in The Australian, has told us how to do it here. I commend Jones the Scholar.
In MITI's document of 17 September 1987, Australia's productive assets are carefully itemised and valued; MITI candidly expresses its desire to control certain industries in Australia, including rare metals and rare earths, the energy industry and the (Cape York) spaceport. John Harwood summed it up: "The MITI proposal offers not a philosophy, but a strategy for cornering the Australian supply of rare earths, rare metals, and biotechnological and software innovation". McCormack points out that in the English version of 30 September 1987 circulated among politicians and business people in Australia, the sections on energy and space were left out (they were available to a smaller group); the omitted sections "were indicative of one mode of Japanese thinking which would build around the MFP complex a comprehensive development plan for Australia".
Jones the Politician (in government now) has promoted a project truly in the colonial model, one in which there are NO safeguards for Australian ownership and control of the industries involved. This is despite his statements in Sleepers, Wake:(1982): "Multi-national corporations dominate the commanding heights of the Australian economy" (p. 221), "Australia had significantly lost control of its economic destiny by 1980" (p. 223) and "parliaments should legislate to provide that control of national assets - especially minerals and energy - remain in Australian hands" (p.245). Those who have dared raise the issues involved have often been shouted down as racist or eurocentric, as a way of stifling debate. Jones the Politician has not been the equal of Jones the Scholar.
In 1982 Jones the Scholar envisaged a golden age of leisure and personal development: "The traditional work ethic will be declared irrelevant or counter-productive to society's needs." (p.6). Hardly so; the new world-order of East Asia appears set on squeezing the most out of every minute, and exploiting its workers to the maximum. Where workers' interests appear to be catered for, it is in the context of huge companies that operate on the lines of what might be called "Army Socialism", in which the company owns the employees' minds as much as their bodies. Hardly a golden age. Even leisure is commercialised, turned into an industry.
¥ How did I come to be interested in the MFP debate?
I imagined my children saying to me one day, 'How did it happen?". The foreign debt that's accumulated during the last 10 years, & the asset sell-off, amount to a theft from future generations, the ultimate white-collar crime, because the victims are too young to be aware of it or fight back. You and I have let it happen over the last ten years. Every year our foreign debt increases by about $20 BILLION dollars, equal to the value of Telecom PLUS the Commonwealth Bank PLUS Qantas PLUS Australian Airlines. Every year. Australia is about the only country in the world playing on a level playing field, and every man plays for himself, and half our team, including the goalkeeper, are in the pay of the other side. How can we win? Of the economists and politicians who presided over the disaster of the last decade, not one has stepped forward to accept the blame; they are not man enough to admit they were wrong. Most are still there, pursuing their mad economic policies, and the MFP is one of them. What are you going to say to your children and grandchildren, when they ask why you betrayed them? Well we can stop this madness from going further, and we will. We will begin by stopping MFP-Adelaide.
Senator Coulter has stated that the Australian Democrats will oppose any appropriation for the MFP, and has invited the federal Opposition to do the same; when the Opposition wins government, it will inherit the mess.
Sometimes people in the rest of the country get the impression that Canberra people care only about Canberra. Well, we do have our own problems to attend to here, but let's show the people of Australia that we care about them, and that the residents of this capital city are leading from the front. I call on each person present to do his or her bit. I encourage you to join us or assist us in our campaign.
Write to me at contact.html.