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Until multifunction polis plans provide evidence of how research development and technology transfer will occur, the project does not deserve unqualified support

PRU GOWARD: The multifunction polis, well, it's now official. Queensland has got the nod, but at a price. The Government of Queensland has two days to work out how to buy the land, which is estimated to be worth around $320 million. They've already started talking about asking the Federal Government for money, and joining me now is the Opposition Spokesman on Science and Technology, Mr Peter McGauran.

Your tip - do you think the Feds should tip, chuck any money into this?

PETER McGAURAN: Well Pru, I am just fed up with this whole MFP business. We are no closer today, to understanding just what is involved, than we were eighteen months ago when the idea was first floated. I wouldn't know whether or not the Federal Government should invest taxpayers' funds in this project because we have no concrete idea of just what it means.

PRU GOWARD: And what would you do?

PETER McGAURAN: Well, I certainly wouldn't be investing a red cent until I had some idea of just what is going to be established on this site, moreover, who is going to participate, in what way, and what are the guarantees of technology transfer, anyway. In other words, the credibility of the project is under a shadow, it's on the line. If it's a serious international joint venture so as to develop Australia's technological capacity, then the plans ought to suggest this, and they don't.

PRU GOWARD: Well, I guess the point is how do you go about requiring them to develop a concept that's detailed enough to satisfy you? What's the first thing you'd do?

PETER McGAURAN: The first thing is to establish the parameters of an international centre for research. I have always been opposed to this idea of a green field site where you take land and impose everything from above, in other words, it becomes a bureaucratic dream. Rather, I would much prefer that we start off much more rationally and even sensibly, whereby you bring together the very best international researchers, combined with Australian expertise, and you grow organically. So you pick out an area of say, information technology, and then you add to it according to demand - in other words, it's market driven. But this idea of a universal plan that can be created from the ground up, is just nonsense. This myopic dream of a futuristic city should be put to rest once and for all, so if there's an international centre for research that can be very easily explained to a government.

PRU GOWARD: Yes, but what's an international centre for research? Is it one building in one city; is it spread out with people attached to it, living nearby? How does it look?

PETER McGAURAN: I think it could be either of those. One of the reasons, we're told, that Sydney and Melbourne did not succeed in their applications for the MFP site was that the facilities were to be spread out - that the universities and CSIRO and some of the private sector research laboratories were not connected neatly in one sort of grouping. Well, I think that's nonsense. Everybody associated with research and development knows that you don't have to be housed under one umbrella, so that worries me. It worries me enormously that the MFP project seems to be taking on this colour of one mammoth project, whereas research and development can be spread over several laboratories, as people specialising in different areas meet at a later time. So it can be housed under one roof, naturally, almost always more convenient but it also can be spread out over several locations.

PRU GOWARD: And the concept that we are starting to feel for now, the Gold Coast concept, well, that sounds really like it all being under one roof. Is that right?

PETER McGAURAN: Pru, it's going to be one hell of a roof. It's an enormous site and you can't help wondering, even worrying, about the land grab aspects of it all. What is for certain is that those who argued for this particular MFP site must allay concerns that it's not more than just a tourist or retirement centre, in the heart of the Gold Coast. This is prime developmental land and ...

PRU GOWARD: But you're saying that there's a chance that it will be used as a retirement village?

PETER McGAURAN: The very early plans for the MFP certainly highlighted the need for a coastal site because so much of the research in this futuristic city would be undertaken to provide information about recreation and retirement type of activities. It's progressed a long way since there and we now have it more linked to industry and commerce but nonetheless, the siting of the MFP on such a massive site, some 4,500 hectares, worries me enormously. I am no more convinced of either the viability or the desirability of the MFP than I was eighteen months ago. I quite frankly, think that Australians' collective intelligence has been insulted.

PRU GOWARD: Yes, but there's no point in being entirely negative about it. As science spokesman, I guess you acknowledge that we need some way of getting hi-tech into the country. How else would you do it, how else would you get a big tech project off the ground?

PETER McGAURAN: Well, there's a whole number of ways. You can examine tax holidays; you can examine the provision of facilities, and indeed, CSIRO and the universities have had new life injected into them by this concept of fifty co-operative research centres, so there are ways to do it. And of course, I don't have a knee jerk reaction to the MFP as some people who are beating it up for racist grounds, or political reasons may have. In fact, I've been on it for a couple of years but I've reached the point of absolute frustration because we see nothing more today than we did some time ago, and I am sick of being treated as a bunny, and asked to give an open ended endorsement to something I honestly know nothing about.

PRU GOWARD: Yes, but I guess that the first thing they've got to know is whether they can do it all on one site or whether they have to go to the multi-site option, and I guess that's what they're settling now.

PETER McGAURAN: Alright, assume we stick with the one site, on the Gold Coast. You have to ask, does it have to be such a large area of land, and in any event, who are the joint venturers; what type of research will be conducted; what guarantees are there of technology transfer? After all, you delve into the realms of the ridiculous if you think any country in the world, let alone Japan, transfers technology. I think that's myopic.

PRU GOWARD: Peter McGauran, does the government need Opposition support to lend the Queensland Government any money for this?

PETER McGAURAN: No, I wouldn't have thought so. The Coalition will enthusiastically and unhesitatingly support any government investment in research and development, that brings about tangible results. This does not fall into that category just yet. I still, like most Australians, wait to be convinced of the worthiness of the project. If we are able to see more tangible plans for this multifunction polis, or this research centre, then we may very gladly and willingly, give our support to it, but at the moment, I don't like being taken for a fool.

PRU GOWARD: Would you say that at the moment, the debate has strong racist overtones?

PETER McGAURAN: Not yet. It certainly may degenerate into a slanging match, with employing racial slogans, but not yet. I think people are fearful of the extent of Japanese investment in this country but it's been made abundantly clear by the government that this will not simply be a Japanese investment. There will be participants from other parts of the world, although we have not yet obviously identified who those other countries may be.

PRU GOWARD: Peter McGauran, thank you for your time this morning.