Roger Award Event Comes Home
- Murray Horton
The 2011 Roger Award for the Worst Transnational Corporation Operating in Aotearoa/New Zealand was won by Rio Tinto Alcan Ltd/New Zealand Aluminium Smelters Ltd, with Westpac, Sajo Oyang Corporation and Oceania as equal runners up. The Government won the Accomplice Award. The Judges’ Report was included with Watchdog 129 (April 2012) and can be read online at http://canterbury.cyberplace.co.nz/community/CAFCA/publications/Roger/Roger2011.pdf.
Christchurch is both the birthplace and home of the Roger Award (the literal home for the uniquely hideous actual Roger trophy is our garage, from which it only emerges for its’ annual appearance at the event to announce the winner/s. It has survived 10,000+ earthquakes unscathed). But that event has more often than not been held away from Christchurch. So, in light of the ongoing seismic upheaval, we determined that the event to announce the 2011 winners must be held in Christchurch, even though that would come with a unique set of challenges.
A Fitting Setting
The last time the Roger Award event was held in Christchurch was in 2008. What a difference four years make (this latest event was held in April 2012). The venue for the 08 event was the multi-storey Trade Union Centre. Gone! It has become one of the 80% of Christchurch’s central business district buildings that have been, or are going to be, demolished. Where it stood is now virtually an empty block (a scene replicated throughout the central city. I suggest that Christchurch’s new civic slogan should be “Plenty Of Parking!”). So the first thing we had to do was find a venue. Join the queue – every man and his dog are looking for venues for their events. However, we were literally able to bring the Roger Award event back home and return it to the central city Knox Presbyterian Church Hall, the venue for the very first Roger event, back in 1998 (and one subsequent one, last decade). The actual Knox Church, the city’s Presbyterian cathedral, is one of the poster boys of the quakes, looking like some moviemaker’s vision of a ghost ship, with a roof but no walls (lots of indoor outdoor flow) but the attached building which houses the hall and the church’s offices, etc, is fine. We had to book it many months in advance, which meant that the event was held later in the year than we wanted, and we could only get it on a Friday night, which was not our preferred night of the week (it’s a bad night for getting any subsequent media coverage, and that was borne out).
Nevertheless, all of that simply made us more determined to hold it in central Christchurch. The CAFCA Committee set up a subcommittee of me, Jeremy Agar and Warren Brewer to organise it and the Gleesome Threesome held a series of very pleasant breakfast meetings in my local café in newly booming Addington. I found myself once again engrossed in the minutiae of organising the Roger Award event, something that I’ve only done a couple of times in the past decade (usually I just swan into these things once a year, be they in Auckland, Wellington or Dunedin, give a speech and sit back and enjoy it with the rest of the crowd). My experience in organising the almost-annual Waihopai spy base protests came in very handy. I won’t bore you with the ins and outs (and there were plenty of those) but one observation I will make, which echoes those of my Roger Award predecessors in other cities, is that organising musicians really is like herding cats. I know what I’m talking about because I once owned a herd of cats.
Jeremy, Warren and I knew that it would be alright on the night and that’s exactly how it proved to be – even though we had the mandatory last minute panic when our colleague in charge of refreshments got violently sick on the afternoon of the event and CAFCA Committee member Paul Piesse had to take charge of the all-important tea and bikkies at virtually zero notice. We knew that the hall was being used as the church but we didn’t realise just what that would involve until we checked it out not long before the event. So, on the day, we had to shift some of the religious objects, such as a heavy stone cross which had come crashing down with the church walls and which now occupied pride of place on the hall floor. The minister was very obliging and gave us a hand to move things but there was no mistaking that this was the first time ever that the Roger Award event has taken place in a church (and, speaking as a long lapsed Presbyterian, I’m very pleased that it was held there).
We redecorated the place in a distinctly secular fashion, putting the CAFCA banner on the wall behind the pulpit and, just as he did for the 08 event, the splendid Ian Dalziel (who does the cover graphic for each Watchdog), reproduced the finalists’ logos as big posters which were pinned up on the walls. Ian couldn’t find a logo for Sajo Oyang (unsurprisingly the Website for a Korean fishing company is all in Korean), so he more than made do with the cover of a very scathing 2011 report entitled “Not in New Zealand’s waters, surely? Labour and human rights abuses aboard foreign fishing vessels” (which you can read online at http://docs.business.auckland.ac.nz/Doc/11-01-Not-in-New-Zealand-waters-surely-NZAI-Working-Paper-Sept-2011.pdf). And, of course, the Roger Award trophy itself was front and centre, on its annual appearance to the world. It is such a satanic looking object, with its decorations including barbed wire, a spent bullet, a hypodermic syringe, and a skull and crossbones flag, that I wouldn’t be surprised if the poor old church didn’t have to be reconsecrated afterwards.
Poetry, Music & Speeches
Roger Award events, of necessity, involve a lot of pretty heavy prose. So the organisers always try to leaven that with music and other forms of entertainment. For this one we were really lucky to secure Fiona Farrell, one of the country’s best known writers and poets and a longstanding CAFCA member. We requested that she recite her Gerry Brownlee/earthquake poem (see below) which she did with great gusto, plus she also made a very funny speech giving her opinion of John Key. To find one of the musicians I had to go no further than next door. Simon Ritchie has been my neighbour for more than 20 years. He wrote and performed solo “Roger em” the previous time the event was in Knox Church Hall (2005). For this event he updated the lyrics (see below), incorporating the names of as many of the finalists as possible, and was accompanied by Eileen Reid. The other musicians were the Silencio Quartet, comprising Chris Reddington, Reuben Derrick, Emma Johnson and Mike Kime. They performed a song by Hanns Eisler called “Ballad of the Welfare System” (lyrics below). Their very theatrical performance was heightened by all four of them playing and singing with cardboard boxes over their heads, which doubtless mystified some of the audience. Chris Reddington had e-mailed me in advance to say: “We plan to have boxes on our heads with pictures of various neo-liberalists” but they ran out of time to do that, so just went ahead with plain old boxes. It really was a boxed set. Although not my neighbour, Chris Reddington has an important connection to the Addington street where Simon Ritchie and I live. He is a talented sculptor and early last decade got the City Council commission to create a couple of sculptures of famous British writers after whom streets are named in our neighbourhood. It was in that capacity that I first met him; little did I know that he is a musician who would play at a Roger Award event years later. It really is a small world. So there was plenty of entertainment for the excellent crowd of around 65 who attended the event.
Of course, the whole point of the event was to name the winners of the 2011 Roger Award. So the prose side of the evening was MCed by CAFCA Chairperson Jeremy Agar; I gave my annual speech on behalf of the organisers (organising the minutiae meant that I ran out of time to write an actual speech this year, so just did it from some notes); and Chief Judge Joce Jesson did the honours. Actually this is the first event that I can remember where we’ve had all the judges present, and that’s no mean feat because four of the five of them had to travel to Christchurch, at their own expense. Joce got them to join her up the front when she made the announcement – Wayne Hope from Auckland (like Joce); Paul Maunder from the West Coast; Sam Mahon from North Canterbury; and local boy Paul Corliss. The other out of towner was Alastair Duncan of the Service and Food Workers Union in Wellington which, along with the Nurses’ Organisation, was locked in an industrial dispute with Oceania, one of the finalists (see Alastair’s article elsewhere in this issue). When it was named as one of the equal runners up, Alastair and Susan Stewart, from the local Nurses’ Organisation, were joined up front by some of the delegates representing Oceania’s lowpaid Christchurch resthome workers to accept the company’s laminated certificate. That was a highlight of the night, having some workers present who are directly affected by one of these transnational corporate criminals. It made it all so much more real. The last time that had happened was when locked out Progressive Enterprises’ workers came down en masse from Palmerston North to the Wellington event where it was announced that Progressive had won the 2006 Roger Award.
The announcement of the winners got less media coverage than in previous years but that’s always been our experience when the event has been held in Christchurch, as opposed to Wellington or Auckland. And, as I said, having to hold it on a Friday night didn’t help with media coverage. But it did get reported in the next morning’s Press Business section (Saturday is the biggest Business section of the week); it appeared on various mainstream Websites; and it was covered by specialist papers such as the Methodist Church’s paper Touchstone (which was the only media outlet to send a reporter/photographer to cover the event). 2011 also marked the first time in memory that neither I, as Roger Award chief organiser, nor any of the judges was contacted by any of the finalists to threaten, berate, beg or argue the point. Either we’re losing our touch or the transnational corporations are realising that they’re wasting their breath. I think it’s the latter. Now that all remains to be done is to do it all over again for the 2012 Roger. There’s no rest for the wicked, and there’s never any shortage of worthy contenders for the Roger Award.
- Fiona Farrell
He’s the Minister of Earthquakes
- Simon Ritchie and Eileen Reid
Times are gettin' harder in this easy land
We're hearing fishy tales of exploitation
And it's Roger them in the country Roger them in the town
And it's Roger them in the country
The transnationals will save us, do they think we're bloody blind
But they say it's gettin better it'll come right in the end
And it's Roger them in the country....
BALLAD OF THE WELFARE SYSTEM
Good Deeds (Of The People)
- Music Hanns Eisler, words Kurt Tucholsky
See that, a holiday home there for another limited company group