PACIFIC CITY: Lessons from the MFP Peter Myers, 21 Blair St. Watson ACT 2602; ph. (06) 2475187. Date: 17 Sept 1999; update January 24, 2006. My comments are shown {thus}.

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The following article - about Japanese cities to be built in Australia, called "Pacifica" and "The Multi-Function Polis" - was written in 1992. Since then, the New World Order has asserted itself over rival world-orders such as the Japanese were offering.

It would seem that the U.S. had to tolerate the "Japan model" during the Cold War, to secure Japan's support against the USSR, and as a model to inspire post-Mao China, drawing it away from the Soviet model. But since the Cold War, Wall Street has attacked the "Japan model" with all guns blazing.

Firstly, to rein in the Japanese banks, the Bank of International Settlements raised the capital adequacy ratio to 8% (see Patrick S. J. Cormack, The Money Masters, pp. 73-4: money-masters.html).

Secondly, the "Asia Crisis" was created, by moving massive funds in over a period of years, then withdrawing them suddenly. Leading Japan-analyst Chalmers Johnson, who first exposed the means by which Japan had created its wealth in his book Miti and the Japanese Miracle, has more recently analysed how the West created the "financial crisis" to bring Japan down: asia-crisis.html. And with it, Indonesia and other Asian governments. The Timor intervention is probably less about the rights of the Timorese, than about the need of the New World Order to pick off rival "strong states" one-by-one.

The story of the Multi-Function Polis: mfp-saga.html.

PACIFIC CITY: Lessons from the MFP

The fate of the proposed "Multi Function Polis" appeared to have been sealed during the first week of December 1991, when a high-ranking Japanese 'investment mission' visited the primary site at Port Adelaide as well as other sites around Australia. The headline of an article in The Australian said it all: "Japan mission pulls plug on MFP investment" (6/12/91). John Bannon's protests in the media the following day appeared unconvincing.

Readers might therefore have been surprised at a headline in the same newspaper six weeks later (a similar one was used in the billboards): "Japan plans 300,000-people regional centre in our desert", in which the news was first broken of a plan to build a city called Pacifica (Pacific City), about 200 km south of Broome (24/1/92, with a follow-up the following day). The name would seem to be misplaced, in that the site is actually on the Indian Ocean (100 km inland). Pacific City would be in the Great Sandy Desert, in the Marble Bar region, the hottest area of the continent; water would be piped from the Fitzroy River. The Macquarie Atlas records that in the summer of 1923-24, the average maximum temperature at Marble Bar exceeded 38 degrees for a span of 160 days. One wonders whether such a city would have to be built underground. The new city would be the second biggest in Western Australia (after Perth), and the biggest in the 'top end' (north of Brisbane). This article examines the light that this new proposal throws on the (not-to-be-confused) Multi-Function Polis; it would appear that some lessons have been learned from the fate of the earlier proposal.

The newspaper states that "a spokesman for Adelaide's multi-function polis" said the proposed Pacific City would be substantially different from MFP Australia, which was essentially an Australian project with international interest. More by default than design, one might add: John Bannon could not find the international investors he had sought and promised. Australian projects do not typically have an International Advisory Board jointly co-chaired by the Australian government and the Japanese government. However, MFP Adelaide IS an Australian project in that, having rejected the leisure focus in the original Japanese proposal (which was aimed at the Gold Coast and Cairns) in favour of the high-tech 'carrot', the Australian side seemed to misunderstand the Japanese needs, interests and intentions, as Humphrey McQueen correctly points out; for this reason, their money is not forthcoming, finding the Integrated Tourism Resort zones more attractive.

Whereas the MFP was apparently conjured up by bureaucrats in Japan's Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI), the plan for Pacific City is being developed by a private company, Shimizu Corporation, a construction giant in the mould of Kumagai Gumi, "in consultation with Japanese academics". The Nikkei Weekly newspaper, of the week ending 25/1/92, reports that Kumagai, Shimizu, and other construction contractors, are scaling down their activities in Europe, on account of the oversupply of office space and the scarcity of tenants; it also reports that Kumagai and two other Japanese contractors are pulling out of several construction projects in the U.S., on account of the recession there. The paper quotes Kumagai's Masatoshi Shibata as saying, "We will abandon other development plans in Europe and concentrate our efforts in lower-risk subcontracting for civil engineering and other construction projects"; and Tsutomu Shimizu, president of Shimizu Corp. Properties (U.K.) Ltd, as saying, "In the future, we will concentrate on subcontracting and public works". In the light of such comments, and the state of the world economy, Pacific City would appear to be an unusually adventureous proposal.

Shimizu envisages Pacific City as the Brussels of a future Pacific economic community; however

¥ such a community has not yet been formed, and its shape is unclear

¥ the site of its headquarters would be chosen by all member countries

¥ they would probably prefer a site near the economic or political centre of the region

¥ many more hospitable sites would be available to choose from, including "tropical paradises". Their advantages would include cheaper construction costs.

As a result of the "Brussels" connection, the relevant liasing Australian department is likely to be Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), rather than Industry Technology and Commerce (DITAC) as in the case of the MFP. The DFAT attack on DITAC reported in the Financial Review of 25/10/91 suggests that DFAT is more inclined to do Tokyo's bidding.

The Australian article of 24/1/92 states that there have been no talks between the Japanese and Australian governments about Pacific City, although Mr Corcoran of the Australian embassy in Japan contributed to the blueprint. By comparison, the MFP proposal was consistently presented as a government-to-government project, even though the funding would have to come from private (Japanese) corporations. This was one of its weaknesses in that, despite the power of MITI, those corporations have a mind of their own when it comes to spending their money. Right to the very end, the private corporations supposedly behind the MFP remained shrouded in mist. Were they being dragged begrudgingly by MITI, to fulfil a make-work idea hatched up by dreamy 'apple polishers' in its Leisure Division, as Humphrey McQueen suggested (ABC Radio's First Edition, 28/5/91)? Or did MITI borrow the idea from the Mitsubishi Electric Corporation's concept of a 'technobelt', as described by Peter Rimmer (Australian Planner, June 1989; also see Rimmer's chapter in Bonsai Australia Banzai, ed. Gavan McCormack, Pluto Press 1991; this book is the major work on the MFP). What was in it for the Japanese side?

Another likely difference between the two proposals, is that the silly phrases and concepts of the former proposal, apparently dreamt up by junior bureaucrats as a form of verbal doodling, will no doubt have gone away, replaced by hard-headed engineering plans. The problems of the MFP began with the name Multi-Function Polis itself. A polis is a city, and every city has multiple functions; so what's new? It was supposed to be a 'City of the Fifth Sphere', using a schema of human history which as Gavan McCormack, professor of East Asian history at ANU, put it, was "charming in its naive idiocy". Associated with the fanciful phrases, was the emphasis on pictures and artists' sketches, in the portraits of the so-called City of the Twenty First Century. The fact that not one environmentalist was involved in the planning of MFP Adelaide somehow did not fit right with such a notion. Whilst big on pictures, the detailed parameters of the proposal, such as why it had been downsized from 200,000 to 100,000, were hard to find. One sentence in the recent 13-volume report stated "MFP-Adelaide will be the first of many projects to be undertaken throughout Australia as a result of the MFP process".

The switch from the Centralised version of the MFP, in which it was all-in-one-place, a single city, to the Distributed Version, in which it was broken into smaller pieces spread around the country, has never been explicitly publicly admitted, let alone explained, by Senator Button; yet he privately admitted it to me on the 4th of June last year, and has implied it in public statements since. A careful comparison between the 1989 Anderson-Kinhill Report (Section 1, pages 14-20) and the 1991 Kinhill-Delfin Report, suggests that major structural changes have been made in the multi-billion-dollar proposal, without any statement as such, highlighting or explanation. A major reason would seem to be that the Adelaide site lacks the resort appeal of the Gold Coast; further, it is a toxic waste dump and a swamp, on the coast and largely below sea level (and the sea level is likely to rise). Yet if these problems deterred investors from MFP-Adelaide, why would the hot sandy desert near Marble Bar be appealing to Shimizu? To green the desert, and make such a city habitable and environmentally friendly, would require such advanced engineering that one might ask whether the project would be a prelude to settlements on the moon or Mars.

The government-to-government tone of the MFP led to the situation where the Australian government would be a player-umpire, a mix of roles that did not work well. Despite the government-to-government dealing over the MFP, early impressions were that the actual funding of the proposal would be done privately, without government input or subsidy. Yet Japanese construction companies are used to government funding of infrastructure costs, and over time it emerged that they would expect the Australian and South Australian governments to first spend billions of dollars on the Port Adelaide site, in cleanup and infrastructure costs, before they would contribute. The project thus became a major financial risk for Australian taxpayers, and for the pension funds John Bannon increasingly was looking to. Not all 'technopolises' in Japan have prospered; and a number of grand projects in Australia have failed, such as the Monarto scheme, and rice-growing at Humpty-Doo in the Northern Territory. Admittedly, the Ord River Scheme is now deemed a success.

At the suggestion of Professor David Yencken, Senation Button instigated a Community Consultation Process for the MFP proposal. The government-funded Community Consultation Panel presented only the YES case, while the NO case received no public funding for research or presentation. The chairman, Mr Lansdown, supposedly a neutral umpire, did not hide his support for the project, and refused to allow a contrary motion to be put from the floor of a major meeting in Adelaide. It seems that when the government is a player, it is a poor umpire.

The Australian (25/1/92) quotes Mr Ashley Crawford, editor of 21C, the magazine of the Commission for the Future, pointing out the advantages of building Pacific City as an entirely new city. Yet earlier versions of the MFP envisaged it, too, as a 'greenfields' site (though not in the desert). The advantages listed by Mr Crawford seem to be recycled ideas from the various prolific MFP think-tanks, which provided rich pickings for our more talented thinkers.

A major difference apparent at this stage, is that whereas the MFP was touted as a favour that Japan was doing for Australia and the world, Pacific City is presented more realistically as primarily for the satisfaction of Japanese needs: "Japan is a country overcrowded with people and we have to think about how we create new space", Mr Shinichiro Fujisawa, of Shimizu Australia, is quoted as saying (The Australian, 24/1/92). In the MFP proposals, the inability of the Australian thinkers to distinguish the needs and interests of the two sides (Japanese and Australian) was a fatal flaw. For example, intellectual property rights over inventions were never identified as an important issue, a major parameter of the project which should be resolved at the start of the marriage rather than down the track. This, even from people who should have known better, such as Barry Jones, who wrote in his book Sleepers Wake (1982 edition), "Multi-national corporations dominate the commanding heights of the Australian economy" (p. 221) and "Parliaments should legislate to provide that control of national assets - especially minerals and energy - remain in Australian hands" (p. 245).

Technological know-how is an asset as important as the raw materials themselves. An example of the relevance of Jones' statement is seen in Australia's lack of any intellectual property rights in the coal-to-oil conversion technology which the Japanese government and companies developed in Victoria in the 1980s, and which will be put into usage when oil becomes more expensive; this project is described by Shinobu Ohe in Gavan McCormack (ed) Bonsai Australia Banzai, subtitled Multifunction Polis and the Making of a Special Relationship with Japan (Pluto Press 1991). McCormack, perhaps the senior Australian expert on Japan, writes "Japan has been encouraged to see Australia as a long-term energy supply source on terms which include complete Japanese monopoly of technical data" (Introduction). Arrangements over such matters feature prominently in joint ventures between R & D organisations overseas: their omission in this case undermines the credibility of all those who promoted the MFP project.

The MFP has been a particularly difficult issue for the Left in Australia to handle. There is a need to embrace Asia, culturally, in population mix, and economically, but not politically; a need to join the group, while yet preserving independence. The majority Anglo-Saxon/Celtic culture in Australia will have to gradually share status and power with Australians belonging to other subcultures. The difficulty will be, doing this while at the same time safeguarding our political freedoms, such as they are, and pursuing economic independence, in the sense of being as free as possible of economic control by other, more powerful, countries. The MFP, and other proposals such as Pacific City, might be seen as instruments of such 'Asianisation', yet it is inescapable that all such proposals in recent years, beginning with the Silver Columbia Plan, then moving to the MFP, then the Integrated Tourism Resort zones where foreigners can freely buy and sell Australian real estate, and now Pacific City, have come from just one country - Japan. Is it Asianisation or Japanisation?

It was much easier for the Left to deal with British and U.S. domination of Australia, in earlier decades, than it has been to deal with Japanese economic domination more recently. The risk in dealing with the latter, is that the white supremicist cause will be assisted. Some in the Left appear far from impartial in their posture on such matters; an example is Humphrey McQueen, who recently returned to Australia after a period as Professor of Australian Studies at Tokyo University, to which he had been nominated by the Department of Employment, Education and Training. In his recent book Japan to the Rescue, he aims to demythologise our relationship with the U.S.; even Malcolm Fraser is now doing the same (Sunday Age, 26/1/92). But McQueen, unlike those who argue that we should be free of such "special relationships", seems to believe that we need Japan as a protector against potentially hostile forces, principally Indonesia. Condemning the operation of the U.S. bases in Australia as "a continuing cessation of sovereignty" (p.137), a sentiment the present author agrees with, he welcomes the prospect of Mitsubishi testing its new FSX fighter, the first it has made since the Zero, at Woomera (p.343). One wonders whether he would have supported the planned MX missile tests, which Bob Hawke was forced to forego through pressure from the Left; and one wonders whether he supported the British tests at Maralinga.

On ABC radio (First Edition, 28/5/91) McQueen 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. Yet writing in the ABC's 24 Hours (Jan. 92), he shows that he too has misunderstood the Japanese intentions. In an essay sponsored by the Ideas for Australia program, he addresses the question, How to make Canberra earn its keep? Trotting out the usual line that all opponents to the MFP are racist or xenophobic, McQueen concludes that the best place in Australia for an MFP is Canberra; it fact, everything is already in place there, except that the various components need to be connected together to provide an information city. By this point he seems to have forgotten his earlier complaint about Canberra being privileged in comparison to the rest of the country, and out of touch with it, to which the first half of his essay was devoted. His peak statement, "If there is to be an MFP, Australians will have to design and build it ourselves. Canberra is the obvious site", implies a belief that, all along, the Japanese side saw the MFP as merely a favour, a gift. This approach ignores not only the 'resort city' interpretation of the MFP which McQueen had earlier espoused, in which he said that it already exists at Surfers Paradise, but also the MITI document of September 1987, which might be seen as building around the MFP complex "a comprehensive development plan for Australia" (McCormack, Bonsai Australia Banzai, p.40), involving the management of Cape York spaceport and the energy and minerals industries, and which sees these in terms of Japanese needs or, more precisely, providing what Japan lacks. In this sense, the document may be seen as identifying opportunities for Australia, but it implies that the management of such projects, and the profits, might largely be in Japanese hands. On the other hand, one might argue that since the eclipse of John McEwen and Rex Connor, the Australian people have had a minimal role in the management of Australian resources, and minimal profits.

We must look for the self-interest in any Japanese proposal; nothing must be taken at face value. In any exchange of goods of services, between two people, two companies, or two governments, each side can be presumed (as a rule of thumb) to be pursuing its own self-interest. In discerning Japan's needs or interests, we then ask whether, and how, they can mesh with our needs or interests. If so, a deal is done. The most sure-footed approach Australia as a country can take to Japan, is to see it as a country that needs us as much as we need it, perhaps moreso, and to do hard bargaining over the provision of each other's needs. That way, there is more chance of an outcome advantageous to both sides, and a relationship which is satisfying and stable in the long term. In any event, Japan is sure to have a strong presence in Australia.

The notion of Internationalism has had particular appeal to the Left, probably in part via the Marxist admonition to the workers of the world that they unite with one another (across national boundaries) rather than with their bosses (inspired by nationalist sentiments). The Internationalisation pursued by Paul Keating sounded similar, and thereby confused the Left. As a result, an economy which might have been one of the most self-sufficient in the world, gave up any pretence of control over its own destiny. Sorting out what Internationalism does and does not mean, will be a major task for the Left in the next few years.

Should the planners of Pacific City follow in the MFP's footsteps by attempting to control public consciousness (McCormack, Bonsai Auatralia Banzai, p. 48), the project will be likely to fail. Open discussion of all aspects of the proposal is required, with early examination of existing and anticipated environmental problems and clear statements on the main parameters such as the Japanese interest, the economic base of the project, Australian outlays and subsidies, whether the foreign investors would bring in debt or equity, the ownership of technology, the political processes to operate in the city, its place in the state and federal structure, and the conditions on which the project would proceed. A recognised ecologist, an expert in environmental design, should be involved in the planning of any such new proposals, at the senior level and right from the start. Who better than our own visionary, Bill Mollison. {end}

The story of the Multi-Function Polis: mfp-saga.html.

In 2005, I heard that an underground sea has since been discovered beneath The Great Sandy Desert, with the suggestion that the Japanese proponents knew about it at the time and would have used it as the water supply.

Back to the Asia index: asia.html.

Write to me at contact.html.