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Futuristic City on Drawing Board


AUSTRALIA and Japan's plans for a futuristic city are under attack. And at this point, it's unclear whether the siege will be the political equivalent of a water balloon assault, or if the onslaught will prove more damaging.

The concept, still being refined, is to construct in Australia a high-tech research/education/resort city, primarily with funding from international corporations.

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Five Australian states are vying to locate the ``Multifunction Polis'' (MFP) next to one of their capital cities, and a decision on the site is expected by June or July. Sydney is considered the favorite.

The first salvo came from an unexpected quarter. In an apparent vote-winning gambit just before the Australian federal election, conservative opposition leader Andrew Peacock suddenly reversed party policy. He rejected the high-tech MFP, blasting it as potentially ``socially divisive'' and an ``elitist'' enclave.

Mr. Peacock lost the election. But his remarks have unleashed a torrent of criticism.

``A Japanese Trojan Horse,'' says one politician. Another says, ``I don't know why we fought World War II.''

But supporters insist the MFP is the product of a perfect match.

Japan's capital and technology will be wedded to Australia's quality of life to create a center for living, learning, and working in the 21st century.

More than 160 companies, including some of the largest in both nations, have kicked in an estimated $3.7 million for a feasibility study.

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A preliminary analysis of economic viability calls for a city of three to five core industries, a population of 100,000 to 200,000, and construction costs of billions of dollars. Over a 25-year period, an estimated 30,000 new jobs could be created, plus about 135,000 indirect jobs.

The Hawke government supports the feasibility study. But a final federal endorsement or rejection of the MFP is not expected before September.

Despite growing criticism and racist comments here, both countries see enough potential benefits to pursue the concept.

Australia sees the MFP as a base for injecting international technology and know-how into emerging Australian industries such as biotech, media/entertainment, education, and telecommunications.

Australian businesses expect the MFP eventually will produce joint ventures with foreign firms. But the process of defining the MFP concept, which has involved about 600 people in 19 think tanks, is yielding dividends.

The Hawke government also hopes the MFP will give Australia another opportunity to forge closer links, not only with its chief trading partner, but other fast-growing northern neighbors.

Taiwan and South Korea have expressed interest in investing in the project. India, says an Australian official, sees MFP participation as a forum where a better working relationship could be established with Japan. Firms in Britain, France, West Germany, and the US are also showing interest.

Australia's participation is driven largely by potential economic benefits. But Japan, as outlined in MFP documents, has a more visionary goal - to create a high-tech, high-touch utopian society.

Japan's Ministry of International Trade and Industry - originator of the plan in 1987 - sees the MFP as a new model for international collaboration. Japan's prosperity depends on the prosperity of other countries as well, Hayashi says.

But Yoshio Sugimoto says Australia is being naive about the potential MFP benefits.

``Japan's record offers no evidence that Australia can expect the MFP would result in technology transfers,'' says the dean of sociology at La Trobe University near Melbourne. Japan has 30 state-of-the-art factories already in Australia, responds Hayashi at JETRO.

Sugimoto agrees Australia should seek ways to achieve economic and technological development in the 21st century, but the MFP may not be the best path to this goal. He argues a city is unnecessary. Joint ventures, research, and personnel exchanges can develop without building a city, he says.

Japan is not motivated by a desire to help Australia prosper, Sugimoto insists, but to serve Japan's interests. ``It's attractive to establish a place somewhere - in a country of natural beauty - where elite scientists and business people can enjoy recreational facilities while learning English.''

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