Robber Bank Wins 2009 Roger Award
- by Murray Horton
The 2009 Roger Award for the Worst Transnational Corporation Operating in Aotearoa/New Zealand was won by ANZ; the runner up was Rio Tinto Aluminium NZ Ltd (for the second year in a row); and Telecom, the only transnational corporation to have been a finalist for every single year of the Award’s existence (i.e. since 1997) was third. The Accomplice Award was won by the Auckland City Council and its officials. Although ANZ was a finalist in 2003, 06, 07 and 08, it had never got a placing, let alone won the Roger. This is its first win, and I can’t think of a more deserving winner (the only previous times that banks had won was in 2005, when the Award was shared between BNZ and Westpac, the only time there has ever been a joint winner. And both of those two were also 09 finalists, creating a new record – the first time that three quarters of one whole sector of the economy had made it to the Roger Award finals. The other one of the Big Four banks – ASB – was also nominated but didn’t make it to the finalists).
The Judges’ Statement says that they had a tough time picking one out of the three banks which made the finalists but that: “ANZ has succeeded in winning the 2009 Roger Award because the ING funds fiasco is simply and plainly ‘pure greed capitalism’ at its worst”. The Financial Analysis of ANZ adds: “If the ING frozen funds fiasco tells us nothing else, it should tell us loud and clear that the days of regarding bankers as trusted advisers are over”. Rio Tinto Aluminium was runner up, once again, because of its “blithe disregard of the environment and its massive carbon dioxide emissions” (among other reasons) and Telecom was third because it “really excelled itself in providing poor service and treating its customers like rubbish” (among other reasons). Auckland City Council and its officials won the Accomplice Award for “ helping to contract out Auckland’s waste management to Transpacific and therefore acting as a template for future transference of public assets into private hands”. The full Judges’ Statement, Judges’ Report, and Financial Analysis of ANZ are enclosed with this Watchdog as a separate insert, plus they can all be read online at http://canterbury.cyberplace.co.nz/community/CAFCA/publications/Roger/Roger2009.pdf.
Splendid Event In Wellington
The winners were announced at a splendid event in Wellington in March 2010, the first time it had been held in Wellington for three years (and the third time overall). It was jointly organised by CAFCA and Drinking Liberally, an informal group of union officials who meet in an inner city pub every couple of weeks to socialise and listen to a guest speaker. Thanks to them, we got the venue (a back bar) free of charge, meaning we only had to pay for the very delicious food and the musicians. It was a joint production which brought together an interesting mix of people. As I remarked in my speech, not only were we drinking liberally, we were rogering enthusiastically! It was all very professionally organised by our Wellington members Sam Huggard and Kane O’Connell (Sam went overseas the day before the event on a long planned trip, so Kane was in charge on the night). There were up to 80 people there, despite it being a wet night, including three of the five 2009 judges (none of whom are from Wellington), several former judges, one Green MP (who brought along her dear old dad, who had organised Wellington’s first Roger event, back in 01), and CAFCA members and supporters from Wellington and around the country. A bloody good night was had by all. I spoke on behalf of the organisers (my full speech is at http://canterbury.cyberplace.co.nz/community/CAFCA/publications/Roger/2009Horton.pdf); Chief Judge Dr Christine Dann, from Banks Peninsula, announced the winners (her Judges’ Statement is part of the Judges’ Report). The formal part of the evening was wrapped up in fine style by veteran Wellington activist and musician, Don Franks who, when asked to perform, had requested advance confidential knowledge of the winner so that he could write a special song, “Do Like Jesus Done”, to mark the occasion. This was performed, with great gusto, by Don and two other musos (one of whom is a very senior national union official; I’m not sure whether his organisation would approve of some of the song’s lyrics, which can be read at http://www.indymedia.org.nz/article/78346/anz-wins-roger-award). The crowd loved the song and it was a rousing way to wrap up the business of the evening (there had been a couple of other musical items planned, but one performer had to cancel at late notice because of a double booking, and the Brass Razoo Solidarity Band - which had perfomed at the 2001 Roger event in Wellington - could not serenade the crowd entering the pub because they can’t perform outside in the rain).
It was a great night, I’ve always enjoyed the Roger events and it’s great to see that people in Wellington (and Auckland and Dunedin, where it has also been held in the past) have a solid sense of ownership of the Roger Award, despite the fact that it’s organised out of Christchurch. It has become a national institution which goes from strength to strength. Plus this one had a unique factor. To quote from my speech: “It is not coincidental that this event is taking place in Wellington this week. As you know, the trial is being held in the Wellington District Court this week of the three Christian peace activists who, in 2008, so spectacularly deflated one of the giant domes at the Waihopai spybase in Marlborough. I also work for the Anti-Bases Campaign and am in Wellington all this week wearing that hat, taking part in a whole raft of solidarity activities which we have helped to organise. These two things – the Roger Award and the spybase – are not unrelated. Waihopai is a small but vital cog in a global system of exploitation, intimidation, war and mass destruction that exists to make the world safe and profitable for the transnational corporations, many of whom are an integral part of that global war machine. By their symbolic action, a perfect example of non-violent direct action, the Waihopai Domebusters poked a finger into one of the eyes of the spying and enforcement mechanism of the system that we are talking about tonight. We all owe those guys a vote of thanks”. It sure as hell was a full on week; an extremely busy week (this was my second consecutive night as a speaker to a public meeting – the ABC one the night before, also organised by the indispensable Kane O’Connell, was to a bigger crowd; I spoke at a picket every day, sometimes two, with attendant media and logistics work; plus attending the trial every day); a wonderful week, capped off by the euphoria of the total acquittal of the Domebusters the following week. This was a victory to savour, and one which I will write up in due course (it capped off nearly two years of work, most of which could not be made public at the time, dating back to immediately after they deflated the dome in April 08). So the Roger Award event was just part of the fun in Wellington that heady March week, but it was definitely the icing on the cake.
Media Coverage On Both Sides Of The Tasman
The Roger Award always gets covered in the mainstream media and this year was no exception, with reports in both print media (hard copy and online) and on radio. For example, there was a comprehensive report in the Business Day section of Stuff, the Website for the Fairfax papers. At one point this report (“ANZ tops worst transnational list”, Adrian Hatwell, 19/3/10, http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/industries/3476977/ANZ-tops-worst-transnational-list) headed the site’s Most Popular list. “…Murray Horton, secretary for Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa, the award’s organiser, describes the annual event as a sort of ‘people’s court’ in which the public nominate candidates and a panel of experts weigh the facts and evidence before making a judgment. Dr Joce Jesson, senior lecturer in critical studies at Auckland University and one of this year’s judges, believed the award blows apart the bank’s careful PR campaign and shows the public the company’s true face. ‘The banks want you to believe that they are there for you, but no, the bank is there for [its foreign owners]’, said Dr Jesson. ‘We need to start recognising that these banks rip money out of New Zealand’.
“Fellow judge, Dr Wayne Hope, associate professor of communications studies at AUT University, agreed that although ANZ had distinguished itself above its competition, the award indicated problems with the transnational-focus of the banking system in general. ‘The judges’ report is important’, said Dr Hope, ‘because it contributes to the ongoing public debate about what it is that banks do, and the need for people to get a fair deal’. One of the leading factors in ANZ’s win was its handling of last year’s ING affair, which saw 13,000 small investors misled into taking money out of safe term deposits and moving it into high-risk funds, which were then frozen as their value plummeted. The Frozen Funds Group represents 1,100 of those affected in the ING fiasco, many of who are elderly and lost their entire savings in the funds. FFG spokesperson Gerard Prinsen was delighted with ANZ’s Roger Award win. ‘It’s fantastic’, Prinsen said. ‘They battled hard and did their utmost best, they deserved to win. Totally’. He was particularly impressed with the way the bank had upset almost every party in Parliament. ‘[It put] Act, Labour, and the Greens all in the same boat to row against the ANZ’.
“…Prinsen said that although the system may be slow and complex, the progress of the Frozen Funds Group shows that it does work. The Roger Award judges were less confident in the current system’s ability to keep banks honest and urged further Government regulation. There was general agreement that one thing people can do to avoid the issues raised by this year’s award is to move their business from Australian-owned banks to local alternatives. ‘Many of the people [burned in the ING affair] have been lifetime customers of the ANZ, for 50 to 60 years,” said Prinsen. “To see the bank treat you like this, it really hurts’…”.
Major media coverage spread across the Tasman this year, doubtless because it was won by an Australian bank. Indeed, the Sydney Morning Herald reported it not once but twice. Here is one of those reports, in its entirety: “ ANZ Bank has failed to live up to the NZ in its name, according to some of our friends across the Tasman. The bank won one of the so-called Roger Awards last night - for supposedly being the worst transnational company operating in the group of islands south-east of Lord Howe Island. Unlike here in Australia, apparently the bank in New Zealand has been practising a form of 'pure greed capitalism’.The award ceremony was held in a Wellington pub and was hosted by the anti-free-market activist group, Campaign against Foreign Control of Aotearoa. Rather than alluding to any particular act of getting done over by someone, the Rogers are named after the former New Zealand pro-market finance minister Roger Douglas” (SMH, 12/3/10, “Roger-ed”, Scott Rochfort, http://www.smh.com.au/business/guidance-from-the-grime-fighter-20100311-q1nx.html).
And it was not only the main winner which was the subject of media and public interest. For example, papers in both Waihi and Waiheke Island were very keen to publicise how “their” finalists got on, namely Newmont Mining and Transpacific Industries (TPI). A reporter on the Waihi Leader told us: “we ran a story saying Newmont were finalists and a story about them not making the final three!”. Auckland City Vision-Labour Councillors put out a press release congratulating the Auckland City Council and its officials for winning the Accomplice Award for contracting out Waiheke Island waste services from a local community company to transnational corporation Transpacific Industries. To quote just one of them: “…Councillor Leila Boyle said, ‘It is an unusual and interesting distinction that Auckland City Council has been the only council in New Zealand to ever ‘earn’ a Roger Award. It demonstrates the huge commitment by John Banks and his Citizens&Ratepayers Councillors to ensure Auckland’s total waste stream is all controlled by an overseas waste industry conglomerate’” (17/3/10, “Congratulations To Auckland City Council For Roger Award Win”, http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PO1003/S00245.htm. That is not strictly true. In 2001 the Papakura District Council shared a special Egg On Face Award with United Water, for the Council having contracted out its water services to that transnational. Ed.).
The two Auckland judges, Joce Jesson and Wayne Hope, both attended the Wellington event and they enthusiastically accepted the winners’ laminated certificates for the Auckland City Council and its officials (two certificates, one for the Mayor; the other for the Chief Executive Officer) and undertook to get them presented. One of those certificates duly came before the Council’s City Development Committee in April, having been referred there by the CEO, rather than to the full Council. The Committee Chairman refused to accept it, merely “noting” the Accomplice Award, “then added 8 new (self-serving) clauses noting various aspects of the award to TPI of the Waiheke contract” (to quote our Auckland City Council source). The rest of the winners got theirs in the mail. CAFCA has been mailing winners’ laminated certificates since 1998 and not one has ever been returned to us, so we assume that they must all be proudly displayed on boardroom walls (what else would they do with them? Not throw them away, surely?).
Transnationals Take It Very Seriously
To quote from my speech: “…There’s no mystery why they do – like all big bullies, not only do they want to be feared, they also want to be loved. And the Roger Award tells them in very detailed terms that they aren’t and why they aren’t – it is an anti-bullshit, demystification exercise. Either they themselves or their hired guns in PR usually try to beg, threaten or cajole as a result of their appearance in the Roger. 2009 was no exception. When the finalists were announced, the heads of two of them approached either me or one of the judges to demand that they be removed from the list. Not because they denied any of the serious accusations against them, they didn’t even bother to address that subject, but because they said they are ineligible because they claimed to be New Zealand-owned companies. For the record, those two companies are Infratil* and Rymans Healthcare and, also for the record, they qualify as foreign-owned companies. This is just the latest example.
* Infratil really likes to wrap itself in the flag, proving that patriotism really is the last refuge of the scoundrel. In March 2010, when a joint venture between it and NZ Superannuation bought the downstream assets of Shell NZ, there was much media trumpeting about this meaning there is finally an NZ-owned petrol company. Sadly this is not so. CAFCA’s press release on the subject (“Don’t Be Fooled Into Thinking That Infratil Is A ‘New Zealand’ Company”, 30/3/10), is online at http://canterbury.cyberplace.co.nz/community/CAFCA/publications/Statements/Infratil.html. MH.
“When the former Tranz Rail had an absolute lock on the Roger (we eventually shunted it into the Hall of Shame, where it remains the sole occupant, to let somebody else have a go) senior management actually contacted all the judges individually and then me as organiser offering to meet us in person to advise on how it had improved its behaviour and urging that it no longer feature in the Roger. Some companies have sent us corporate handouts to justify their existence – we’ve had glossy booklets from British American Tobacco (with tobacco leaf shaped cutouts in the pages) and a video from the former owners of Waste Management about how their Auckland rubbish dump is good enough to eat. Phone calls or e-mails from company managers or PR hacks wanting to argue the toss are quite common. Sometimes the transnationals go to the top to have a go at us – one year Jim Anderton wrote to me in his former Ministerial capacity demanding that the Roger Award organisers apologise to Ernslaw One, a Malaysian forestry company which was a runner up that year. We caught Jim out using exactly the same wording as the company’s CEO when the latter complained about it being a Roger placegetter. His name was Mr Song, so we went public, telling Jim he needed to get a new songwriter. And the only time a Japanese company has won (Juken Nissho, the only ever Asian Roger winner), I was rung by the Japanese Embassy with a string of questions about how we selected our judges, why was the Mayor of Dunedin involved, and the killer question, did I think that this would adversely affect Japanese investment in NZ? I said that I hoped so, but that I doubted it. So let’s hear it for the transnationals, without whom none of this would be possible. Let’s give them a resounding boo”. It should be noted that ANZ has made no comment about winning the 09 Roger Award. It probably feels that it’s on a hiding to nothing, having already having been widely denounced for the whole ING frozen funds fiasco, and that discretion is the better part of valour.
Roger Is A Valuable Weapon In Our Armoury
So now we look forward to the next one. We will have to find at least one new judge ( Bryan Gould has resigned, after several years of much appreciated service, particularly as he was singled out for attack for his involvement by the likes of the National Business Review) and a new writer for the all-important Judges’ Report. It is worth reiterating that the judges and writers do it for no reward and give up part of their summer holiday period to do it. They obviously think that it is worthwhile and so do we. I’ll finish with a final quote from my speech.
“To conclude – the Roger Award is more necessary than ever. We’re now coming up to five years of the 2005 Overseas Investment Act and the new ‘oversight’ regime that was introduced with it by Labour. CAFCA said at the time that the new law had only one goal – to make the transnational corporate takeover of New Zealand even easier. Last year National announced that it plans to liberalise the Act yet again (it is in danger of being liberalised to death), although no details have yet been announced. And in a related move, negotiations started (in March 2010) in Australia on expanding the Trans-Pacific Partnership (originally better known as the P4) to include the US, and several other countries. This is intended to bring into effect a free trade agreement with the US, one which will benefit only that country’s transnational corporations and which will have severe negative impacts on New Zealand. All around us is the evidence of the moves that National is taking to ‘make the New Zealand economy attractive to foreign investment’. Both major parties are equally guilty of blindly promoting this obsessive compulsive belief in foreign investment and ‘free’ trade as their major policy. The only difference is one of degree.
“When you read the Judges’ Report on the nine transnational corporations who are the finalists for the 2009 Award, that will remind you of the huge crime perpetrated on the people of New Zealand by a system that permits our country to be run as one big garage sale for the benefit of the giants which dominate and plunder the global economy (even if the crisis of capitalism means that their looting and pillaging has had to be scaled back a bit). So, is it all hopeless? No bloody way. Are we up shit creek? Yes, but not without quite a few paddles and there’s one of them on display here tonight, good old Roger. Look at him; he’s a sharp and prickly beast; all the better for jabbing and poking the bastards that are trying to squeeze the life out of us. So let’s get on with it”.
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