The Battle of Alexandra Parade

The State - Victoria by name. The capital Melbourne - Victorian by transport. It really is a public mobility nightmare. But for the privately mobile, the going is great until those last thousand or so metres into the city heart.

It's little wonder the 'private' way of travel is the popular way. Melbourne is a monument to freeway mania and how not to organise a public transport system. It's not that hard getting into and out of downtown Melbourne by rail or tram. But try going around the hub of the bicycle­spoke system and you can travel for ever. It's unfair to knock the tram service - it does quite well. But the rail system is something else. The story goes that one particular route on metropolitan tracks holds the world record for late arrivals with a figure of around 97 per cent. Each morning a list of trains not running is broad­cast. Sometimes it is so long that the commuter doesn't hear on his radio that his train isn't running until after it should have left - had it been running.

It was against such a background that three years ago this month, thousands of residents of two of the oldest inner working class areas of Melbourne - Fitzroy and Collingwood - came out against the Victoria State Government's determination to carve a freeway swathe through their suburbs. Australians, despite their legendary image of ruggedness, are generally an apathetic lot. But in October 1977, after eight years of polite resistance to an advancing F19 freeway, residents of the two suburbs took to the barricades.

Locals still savour the memories of the battles which followed. They recall their own passive resistance; the toughness with which Victoria police ultimately dealt with them; how they stood shoulder to shoulder with the mayors of Fitzroy and Collingwood in defence of a mighty barricade of old cars against what the State Government called 'progress'. Their objections to the freeway:

* More leaded air pollution - of which Melbourne has more than its fair share;

* A noisy end to the lives of pensioner who had spent all their years in the tree-lined Alexandra Parade which was to become the F19 extension into the city;

* The insensitivity of authorities enslaved to the General Motors, Fords and Chryslers of thus world.

The Victoria Government, with the help of a largely sympathetic press, suggested the freeway protesters had been infiltrated by professional rent-a-riot organisations.

In fact the battle was waged by a wide spectrum of residents of Fitzroy and Colling­wood; there was no city-wide support by those not directly affected by the freeway development. By December the Battle of Alexandra Parade had been lost. With brutal efficiency, police cleared barricades and people. But there was no grand opening cere­mony. Almost by stealth, F19 traffic was let into Alexandra Parade.

Now in 1980, there are mixed feelings on the effect the battles had on state government policies. The Liberal (read conservative) Party Government of Victoria still has freeway plans on the drawing board. But obviously it is much more worried about spending money on the upgrading of the woeful rail system. Perhaps the battle of Alexandra Parade was not lost after all.

Birth Rights

In Singapore you don’t have to be sterilised if you don’t want to be. In fact, you are quite free to keep your fertility till the day it finally ebbs from your body of its own accord. But there are many residents of this tiny island who still feel there is no alternative but to be sterilised.

Imagine that you want to marry but your spouse-to-be is not a Singaporean. To have your marriage application accepted one of you must agree to sterilisation immediately after having your second child.

Or suppose you are already married. You have three children. You are under 40. Neither you nor your spouse is sterilised. The chances of any of your children being able to go to the primary school of your choice are remote.

On the other hand, if you have only two children and you or your spouse is sterilised, your children will be eligible for top priority in primary schooling.

In the cubicled world of Singapore, a country with a population density nearing 4000 to the square kilometre, it is understandable that the government devotes much time to its family planning programme. Singapore’s population, now more than two million, is expected to approach 3.5 million by the year 2030, the target date for zero population growth.

But there’s family planning and family planning. And there’s something very brave new world-ish about a society which achieves a two-child (average) family five years ahead of schedule.

In fact, long before Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s government turned family planning into a surgical science, Singaporeans were cutting their baby output of their own accord. Birth control advice in the sixties, sans scalpel, saw Singapore’s crude birth and natural increase rates drop from 42.7 and 35.2 per thousand respectively in 1957 to 22.1 and 17.0 by 1970.

On March 20, 1970, the Voluntary Sterilisation Act was passed and a Eugenics Board was set up to approve applications for sterilisation under prescribed conditions.

Myriad other laws, regulations and administrative policies and attitudes add to the confusion and the persuasion. And obedient Singaporeans, whether by choice or fear for the future of their children, have toed the line. Singapore’s family planning programme, in simple statistical terms, has been an unparallelled success.

At the time sterilisation became a fact of life - or lack of it -- in Singapore, there was an angry response from some church areas and a pained, troubled silence from others. An ‘open letter’ from ‘concerned priests’ talked of inhuman and unjust deprivation of human rights. And in a public statement they summed it up this way: ‘It is an infringement of human and religious freedom to pressurise a woman, by persistent inducements, to adopt a course of action which in conscience she cannot take; to penalise a parent by demoting his child in the priority list for entry into a school because the parent has not done what in conscience she cannot do; and to penalise a person by refusing a licence to marry because he will not do what in conscience he cannot do.’

It is evident, from the dramatic drop in birth rate in the sixties, that Singapore’s parents had already made up their minds that two children, or thereabouts in statistical terms, were quite enough for any family aspiring to a comfortable living within the confines of their limited world.

Possibly, the modern Singaporean couple’s attitudes, had they been allowed to develop naturally, may have obviated the need for legislation which could not be disregarded by human rights advocates, wherever they might be. Abortion and sterilisation on request? Perhaps. Coerced sterilisation, bordering on the compulsory? No. But Singapore’s government is not known for its sensitivity to human rights.

Do-It-Yourself Electronics

PROFESSIONAL PRODUCTS calculators, accounting machines, copying machines, cash registers, computers, data terminals; radio and television broadcast and transmission equipment, sea, air and space navigation equipment, radio communications equipment, telephone switching and transmission systems, data communications; process, motor and machine tool instruments and controls;

Electronics. There's a mystique about the word which sets the adrenalin running. To the scientist it gets more exciting as the techniques become more microscopic; to the economist it is the name of the fastest growing industry since 1945; to governments it is not just another industry - it is, as an Indian state committee suggests, the 'nervous system' of a modern economy.

A general assumption is that Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea - working closely with the international electronics firms - are the only viable Third World electronics producers. But the picture is changing. India, with a long record of industrial activity, is a nation intent on standing on its own feet in the electronics world - according to a 'good news' report by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development on electronics in developing countries*. As a guide to other Third World countries in their dealings with the Philips, Hitachis, Siemens and Texas Instruments of the world, the report sets out the record of the foreign electronics companies in India and South Korea.

The report suggests that the miracle of South Korea's foreign-dominated billion dollar electronics industry is not all the monetary image cracks it up to be. The South Korean government offers a tempting package to attract foreign electronic companies to the country (see 'The Carrot of the Free Trade Zones') but there has been a poor spin-off for local industry. Foreign corporations, according to the UNCTAD report, have responded by concentrating on products and manufacturing techniques which - on average - have a 'half life' of three years. 'Half life' products become commercially obsolete, because of new electronics technology at about the same time some of the favours like tax holidays are ending.

In otherwords, foreign-owned electronic operations in South Korea are virtually temporary processing zones using a technology which - even if it rubs off on Korean managers who might be tempted to set up their own operations - rapidly becomes obsolete.

Over the years the foreign corporations have progressively shifted from assembling, finishing and testing transistors, to doing the same operations for small scale integrated circuits, and recently large scale circuits. With advance knowledge of electronics trends, the foreign operators can waltz from one process to the next, each time cashing in on the 'tax holidays' and other privileges which host governments afford foreign investors in the free trade zones. For the local entrepreneur who tries to emulate the foreign operation, the export pickings are small by the time the necessary technology has been acquired. And supplying Korea's domestic market is not an attractive alternative.

The structure of the country's electronic industry is so geared to exports, that national opportunities for utilizing the industry are wasted. In one case, integrated circuits in South Korea were shipped to the US and Japan and then re-imported for use in locally made entertainment equipment. It's unlikely that South Korea made a dollar out of that deal.

Even more glaring has been the country's failure to establish a marine electronics production line. In 1976 nearly 60 vessels were built domestically, yet all were fitted with imported marine electronics. The technology could have been provided locally. It wasn't.

In India it's different. In a country where dynamism is not a word usually associated with the national economy, a quiet revolution has been going on throughout the seventies. So far India's electronics performance on the export front does not compare with South Korea's. But the long-term prospects make the Indian approach to establishing electronics production a far more constructive model for other Third World nations.

Foreigners with their finger in the Indian electronics pie have not been able to pull out the plum, as they have in South Korea. New Delhi demanded that production was initially geared to supplying local needs and only technologies with a long life were introduced.

Local technology has been incorporated and this in turn has created more jobs and added a high level of local value to all production - there is no nonsense of built-in obsolescence or 'half life' operations.

Electronics research gets a high priority in India - seven per cent of the country's 500 million production was ploughed back in 1976. Little, if any local research is done in South Korea.

Obviously there are clear advantages if you own your own industry, and India's success story has its roots in a long term government involvement. In 1971, a Cabinet Secretariat report on the setting up of an electronics commission in India noted: 'Government attaches the highest importance to the development of an integrated and self-reliant electronics industry . . . '. The guidelines were set and now the results are coming in. While South Korea's electronics industry continues to have a high level of foreign ownership, India's story is of diminishing outside involvement. Even in 1972 the foreign share of electronics output in the country was only 10 per cent. By 1976 it was down to three per cent. South Korea's comparable figure in 1974 was 38 per cent and hasn't fallen much since then.

In a nutshell, South Korea's industry is, and always has been, high volume, and directed to export, not domestic requirements; it uses foreign technology and is controlled by overseas money; links with other national industries have been ignored.

The Indian model is almost the reverse: it is geared to a local market; has a substantial and growing local technological content; is almost totally locally controlled with a diminishing input of foreign money; is closely linked to the needs of other Indian industries; and, perhaps most significantly, enjoys the patronage of the government as a customer, planner. entrepreneur and developer of new strategy.

Not all developing nations have the same Indian advantages of a vast domestic market - the country has a population of 630 million - and enough skilled government expertise to establish a viable electronics industry. But there is plenty of room for co-operation on a regional basis so that local demand for electronics and research investment can be pooled.

The UNCTAD report recommends that the first approach by a developing country to foreign technology should be to negotiate licence agreements with the owners of the technology. If foreign investment is needed, the report advocates that the developing country should arrange for a joint venture between a local government-owned company and a smaller foreign company so that control remains with the host country.

* Electronics in Developing Countries: Issues in Transfer and Development of Technology, a study by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development in co-operation with Ashok Parthasarathi, Secretary of the Electronics Commission, Government of India, in his personal capacity.

What's in the Electronics Bag?

CONSUMER PRODUCTS: radio and television, tape recorders, record players, organs, video games, microwave ovens, alarms, calculators, clocks and watches, telephone receivers, citizen band radio transceivers;

PROFESSIONAL PRODUCTS calculators, accounting machines, copying machines, cash registers, computers, data terminals; radio and television broadcast and transmission equipment, sea, air and space navigation equipment, radio communications equipment, telephone switching and transmission systems, data communications; process, motor and machine tool instruments and controls;

COMPONENTS: passive and electromechanical devices, discrete semiconductors (transistors, diodes, etc), integrated circuits, optoelectronic devices and electronic tubes.

The Flotsam of War

They are not dying as fast in the Thai refugee camps along the Kampuchean border at the turn of the year. In fact, reports had the death toll down to about one a day after a mid-to-late 1979 high of 100. And, out in the South China Sea, all those Thai pirates who, the world's press had assured us, had been having a ball at the expense of Vietnam's boat people, suddenly were having a lean time of it. It seemed that Hanoi, true to its word to the July Geneva conference on refugees, had put a clamp on the outflow of boat people.

Add to this kind of evidence the headline news of 50 American public servants going into the Christmas period as hostages of Iranian students in the seized United States embassy in Teheran, and, unless you happened to have some deep personal interest in the Indochina tragedy, you could have been forgiven for thinking it was fading away.

Truth of the matter was that, at the end of the seventies, things looked like getting worse - much worse - even if the many and diverse relief efforts were at last putting an end to some of the more extreme misery suffered by victims of a region caught up in a swirl of political, ethnic and military currents.

In December, give or take a hundred thousand, it was generally accepted that about half a million Kampuchean refugees had sought sanctuary in Thailand or were camping just on their own side of the border. And the forecast was not bright. One foreign affairs official in Canberra summed it up this way: If Vietnam decided to make a determined military push there could be a million Kampucheans over the border into Thailand by early 1980. Hardly encouraging news in the wake of nearly five years' post-Saigon fall turmoil in which it is estimated about a million Indochinese have left their homeland - about 250,000 ethnic Chinese having headed north into China and the balance having dispersed themselves among ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries and Hongkong and Macau.

By November the resettlement rate worldwide was exceeding 25,000 a month.

While the present struggle continues the people of Kampuchea and Laos can expect to be pushed back and forth across their borders with Thailand. Most, obviously, would prefer to be able to return to their homes to settle down once again to day-to-day routine living. They, much less so than the Vietnamese refugees, display no real inclination to be resettled in a third country unless it becomes absolutely unavoidable.

Perhaps because of its different nature and because it manifested itself much earlier, the boat people problem at the turn of the year was looking much more manageable. However, agency workers in Australia were complaining that 'land refugees' were suffering as a result of preferential treatment being given to boat people.

At the end of November for example, of 26,242 departures from refugee camps throughout Southeast Asia (including Thailand) and Japan, South Korea, Hongkong and Macau, 17,614 were boat people. Only 8,628 were land refugees. Obviously this ratio of 2:1 in favour of boat people would fall as camps other than those in Thailand emptied. But there has been much evidence to suggest that the largely urban Vietnamese refugee fits more closely the various immigration requirements of recipient nations.

This would be particularly true of Australia's NUMAS (Numerical Multifactor Assessment System) introduced in January last year. Though it was, ostensibly, designed to lay to rest once and for all (but unsuccessfully) the White Australia policy, NUMAS still presents almost insurmountable barriers to certain classes of would-be migrants, particularly non-English-speaking rural folk.

Consider some of the 'factors': the standard of work skills possessed by an applicant and the demand for those skills; whether an applicant has a job waiting in Australia: has he adequate resources to establish a business?; the degree of an applicant's fluency in English and ability to communicate in the type of employment followed. It doesn't offer much hope for the chances of the Lao hill tribesman.

Australian immigration will argue that NUMAS standards are not applied to refugees. But it's difficult to look past a letter written by former immigration minister Michael Mackellar, who was moved to another portfolio last December, in which he said: 'As you will appreciate, our capacity to accept refugees is not unlimited and depends upon many factors including the background of the refugees themselves and their ability to integrate.. . '

Ever since the first boat people broke through to reach Australia's northern shores in 1976, fearmongers from the left and right (and not all that extreme, either) have been warning of the impending demise of this island continent's white heritage. 'Yellow peril', 'disease', 'war criminals', 'jobs' . . . they've used them all.

Though far from united, there are plenty of starters in the hate stakes - some more active in one state than in another. There is the National Front of Australia, the Immigration Control Association (making a point of claiming that 'we are not connected with the National Front'), the Australian League of Rights, the Australian National Alliance . . . and some even more forgetable.

Opinion seems to vary as to the present potency of these bigots. Commissioner for Community Relations, Al Grassby, a great campaigner for racial equality who tends to see his world through rose-tinteds, is understood to believe the peak of anti-Indochinese feeling has passed. Others around him are not so sure. Australian immigration and foreign affairs staff, whatever their private feelings, generally plug the 'worst is over' line. Advocates of an even greater inflow of refugees are keeping their fingers crossed that sheer apathy on the part of Australia's generally affluent and largely switched off society will militate against its being converted by the messengers of 'racial pollution'.

An important irritant is Australia's unemployment situation - running at around six per cent of the workforce. But the fear probably goes deeper than just jobs. Indochinese refugees -- like Australia's long settled Chinese and more recent southern European migrants - actually seem to enjoy work and long hours. And, more, they are willing to work without a permanent log of claims. There's no doubt these people are a distinct threat to the status quo.

An Austcare worker sees an improvement in union attitudes toward refugees. In 1975 when the press in general, some newspapers in particular, seemed intent on fomenting a hysterical public reaction by spreading the news of 'armadas' of refugees 'invading' Australia's shores, trade unions 'reacted badly'. But, by 1978 the attitude was a more cautious 'wait and see' and now many are accepting the refugees as a 'fact of life'. (For all the sensational headlines, the number of boat people who have reached Australia since 1975 in their boats is only a little over 2,000 from 50 or so vessels.)

In relation to the settlement performance of other countries, Australia's showing since 1975 rates high. Only the United States and France (predictably) and Canada rank above Australia's intake of about 27,000 refugees to the end of October last. (This figure is expected to reach 37,000 by mid-1980 with a planned 1979-80 intake of about 14,000.)

Considering Australia's long involvement as an active participant in the Vietnam war (and its mindless unquestioning, follow-the-leader attitude toward Lyndon Baines Johnson and successor Richard Nixon) it had little option but to respond to the plight of Indochina's homeless, whatever their political philosophy might be.

Australians by and large would probably prefer to take as few refugees as possible. The present government's 1979-80 quota of 14,000 has hardly caused a furore. But if it went along with the proposal of the executive director of ACFOA (Australian Council for Overseas Aid), Bob Whan, who advocates an intake of 100,000 it would certainly run into serious political flak. Whan made his recommendation in a report written after visiting Indo-China and Southeast Asia in mid-1979.

He wrote: 'The only real solution is for Australia to take some 100,000 refugees from: Thailand and Malaysia. This would provide a major breathing space for these countries and relief for the entire Southeast Asia refugee problem. Such an action on the part of Australia would create many domestic problems and it is understood that these would have to be confronted and carefully researched. But the alternative is the development of a European enclave in Asia which will become increasingly difficult to defend over the next decade.

Starting Again in Canada

'When word spread that the Communists wanted to empty the cities, I knew that was not for me,' Lam Tan Tran, a 23-year old Vietnamese refugee confides. Tran, his wife and year-old baby arrived in Canada July 1979 after a two-day boat journey from Vietnam and a six-month stay in a Malaysian refugee camp. The Phuong family, a couple in their early twenties also with one child, arrived the same day. They live a few streets apart in small flats in Toronto's Kensington Market district - an area of Portuguese, Caribbean and Jewish merchants, 'kittycorner' to the city's fast-growing Chinatown.

Over steaming cups of green tea arranged decorously around a long-slung, plastictopped table the men take great pains to explain why they left Vietnam.

'My parents ran a small business selling sausages in Saigon,' Mr. Phuong relates through a translator. 'The new government policy was to take over all businesses. I knew there would be no chance for me to be in the sausage business.' Mr. Tran, whose parents owned a retail liquor shop, echoes similar sentiments. Both families are 'Hoa' ethnic Chinese who made their homes in Vietnam. Most of the Vietnamese 'boat people' are Chinese; by the mid-1970s there were almost 1.5 million Chinese in Vietnam, out of a total population of 50 million.

The Trans and the Phuongs are what the UN High Commission for Refugees calls 'economic refugees'. They were in no direct physical danger from the government, which they freely admit. Their decision may have been courageous, but they don't see it as political. Rather, says Mr. Phuong, 'the outside world always appears to Chinese as a better world with more chance of making a better life.'

Where they went

In 1975, after the American defeat, large industries were quickly taken over by the new Communist government. But it wasn't until March 1978 that all 'capitalist trade' was finally abolished. And by December of that year the government was pushing a programme to resettle many Vietnamese and ethnic Chinese in 'New Economic Zones' in rural areas of the south.

These two policy decisions were instrumental in the decision by many of the Chinese 'boat people' to leave. The refugees are overwhelmingly urban, usually small businessmen. For them, like Mr. Tran, the thought of moving to the New Economic Zones to grow rice and re-establish the country's agriculture did not go down very well. Many young men were also alarmed by the prospect of having to join the army. Both Mr. Tran and Mr. Phuong feared they might be pressed into the military to fight in the Cambodian war.

According to Mr. Tran, it is not just the Chinese who wanted to leave Vietnam. (In fact, it is estimated that as many as 15 per cent of the refugees may be Vietnamese nationals.) However, since most Vietnamese are not in business, most could not pay the passage. Though the boats were in disrepair and their ultimate destination unknown, the fare was pricey, especially for the average Vietnamese peasant. Passage had to be paid in gold; half going to the government and half to the Chinese businessmen who controlled the refugee boats.

Fares were said to be as high as $2,500 per adult. The Trans and the Phuongs said they paid about $450 per person. The money was scraped together from parents and relatives and they are both now trying to raise enough to pay for their parents' passage,

The Tran and Phuong families are untypical in that they are neither skilled nor well-educated. The men say they worked as motorcycle mechanics in Vietnam. Mr. Phuong has an unskilled job in a Toronto factory earning $4.20 an hour - a low, but average wage in small, unorganised industries. Mr. Tran, like the others, studies English. But, because of injuries he blames on his rough experience in the Malaysian refugee camp, he can't work. His wife supports the family, operating an industrial sewing machine in Toronto's garment district. She earns $3.00 an hour, the legal minimum wage, and nods appreciatively when asked if she likes her work. Questions about her working conditions are dropped when the translator, himself a former refugee, says he thinks it is important to be positive and supportive about the refugees' accomplishments.

Their reasons for leaving Vietnam were pragmatic and their reasons for choosing Canada are just as pragmatic. Neither of the families had friends or relatives in the country. But others in the refugee camps did. Mr. Phuong says he heard from those who had relatives already in Canada that the sponsorship programme meant Canada was generous and there was a good chance of being accepted.

*Wayne Ellwood*

Across the Gulf

Until 1975 - at the time of 'the events' (the fall of Saigon) - Dang Thanh Liem was a schoolteacher. As a public servant, he was required by the new government to undergo 're-education', a mixture of hard labour and eight-hours-a-day instruction in the new ideology.

Although 'clearance' eventually entitled him to seek work, his 'history' as it appeared on official documents made it impossible for him to obtain a job.

One night in April last year Liem and friends, along with about 700 others, became boat people'. In darkness, they slipped down-river from Camau past several check points until, at the last one before the open ocean, a small patrol boat made its way toward them. That was the only occasion on which their machine-gun was fired. There was an exchange of shots and one refugee was wounded in the chest. The patrol boat did not persist.

Four days on calm seas lay ahead - but the going was not to prove easy. At the end of the second day almost all petrol was gone and the engines were stilled to preserve what was left for a final burst to shore should they drift near land.

Then came two encounters with Thai pirates. The first they met were not a violent lot even though they threatened violence with hammers and knives. They boarded the boat on the pretext of offering help. Discretion prevailed and the refugees meekly handed over almost everything of value. The pirates didn't exactly thank them but they did leave the refugees food. Within a day another pirate vessel challenged but the boat people showed a determination to resist by bringing the machine gun into sight. On this occasion the discretion lay with the pirates. So Liem and company were left to wallow until a big fishing boat came into sight.

The fishing boat's master was no pirate. His price for a tow ashore was simply everything worth having that was left on the boat - including the machine gun. When they were cast adrift, the refugees had enough fuel to drive themselves ashore about 10 kilometres along the coast from Songhkla camp on the east coast of peninsular Thailand.

Today they are settled with Liam's sister and her husband in Canberra.