- Murray Horton
The first thing to note is that 2012 was a much more “normal” year for us than 2011. For a start, Becky and I didn’t have to spend any of it sleeping under our dining table, nor did we have to buy any bottled water. They might sound like minor things but let me assure you that we were glad to be rid of both of them. Having said that, 2012 was certainly not “normal” as in 11,000 earthquakes had never happened, but just “normal” compared to 2011, the worst year that everyone in Christchurch had experienced in our collective lifetimes. Even the chore of filling out the March 2013 census forms was a sign of some sort of normality returning. In February 2011 we received our forms on a Sunday night; however the killer quake less than 48 hours later put paid to that for the whole country
But, for the first time in three years, I won’t start my Report with a section about the earthquakes (anecdotes about them have become the war stories of this generation of Cantabrians). I’ll put that where it belongs – at the end of this Report, so that it can provide the all pervasive context of what it is like to live and work in Christchurch for the foreseeable future. It feels refreshingly “normal” to lead off this Report with what we’ve actually been doing in the past year, as opposed to what Mother Earth has been violently doing to us.
The Committee remained stable throughout 2012 – unlike 2011 there were no earthquake-induced resignations. Indeed, we picked up an additional member, and not by the usual method of someone being invited to join by an existing member. At every Annual General Meeting there is an election for the Committee, which invariably consists of the sitting members being re-elected and none of the members from the floor taking up the invitation to join. But, for the first time in maybe 20 years, a new Committee member was nominated and elected from the floor. So we welcomed Brian Turner to the Committee.
We’ve known and worked with Brian for decades. He’s been a member since the 90s’; he was a Roger Award judge in 2006, 07 and 08, which included the period when he was national President of the Methodist Church. He had a long history with Trade Aid and was its national manager in the 90s. He has been a Methodist minister virtually all his adult life and is currently on the Board of Christian World Service. Having him join the Committee is like old times for me, because from 1996-98 inclusive Brian and I worked together on the Committee of the Philippines Solidarity Network of Aotearoa (PSNA). That ended when he left Christchurch to take up a church posting in Nelson where he became a key figure in the local progressive movement. When I accompanied the late Crispin Beltran, a very high profile Filipino trade union leader, to Nelson in the course of his 1999 national speaking tour (organised by PSNA), we stayed with Brian and his wife Jody. When I visited Nelson in the course of my 2002 CAFCA national speaking tour, Brian invited me to speak to his congregation from the pulpit of his central city church (the first and only time I’ve done that on behalf of CAFCA. There is no truth in the rumour that the church had to be reconsecrated). After several years Brian and Jody returned to Christchurch, and he plunged back into the thick of things here. We’re delighted to have him on the Committee; he is a definite asset to it.
The other members are Bill Rosenberg, Lynda Boyd, James Ayers, Paul Piesse, Jeremy Agar, John Ring, Colleen Hughes, and Warren Brewer (Dennis Small was a member throughout 2012 but has since resigned from the Committee). I am the Secretary/Organiser; Jeremy is Chairperson (although James chaired the 2012 AGM as Jeremy was gallivanting overseas). Bill and Lynda (who live in Wellington and Auckland respectively) are “distance” members of the committee; although Lynda has told us that she’s coming home in 2013, after several years in Auckland. The majority of us are aged 50 plus; two turned 70 in 2012 (I’m too polite to out them but they know who they are); Lynda is the baby by a good 20 odd years. At ten it is the largest ever CAFCA committee but with two of them living outside Christchurch we never get all of them at a meeting. Lynda has made it to the occasional meeting when she’s been visiting her home town; Bill is strictly an electronic member. Although he has not attended a Committee meeting since 2009, we did bring him to Christchurch once in 2012, to speak at a public meeting against asset sales.
There is always a core of five or six at every meeting, sometimes even all eight Christchurch members (although that is rare, as people lead busy lives with other commitments). I am the sole paid staff but I’m certainly not the only one doing the work – for instance, Bill is the Webmaster (but heavy work commitments mean that he wants to hand that over to somebody else ASAP); Lynda administers our Facebook group. Warren does an excellent job of running both Watchblog and our Twitter account (as well as several other related Websites); Jeremy is Watchdog’s prolific Reviews Editor; James extensively writes up and analyses all the monthly Decisions of the Overseas Investment Office for Watchdog: James and Warren and Paul take turns doing the numerous driving tasks (ranging from getting non-drivers John and I to every meeting to picking up hundreds of Watchdogs from the printer and getting them posted). So we work as a team and a very democratic one at that – all subjects are discussed by the Committee, no matter whether it is what piece of office equipment to buy or our policy on major political and economic issues of the day. Those meetings are lengthy but stimulating and out of them emerge new suggestions, fresh ideas, activities and campaigns.
When I say that CAFCA is a broad church, it has a literal as well as a metaphorical meaning. Members now include a Methodist minister a Pentecostal Christian and an active Anglican. Needless to say, the rest of us are heathens, which makes for some very lively but always good humoured banter at meetings between those labelled “God botherers” and those of us who can’t be bothered about God (or maybe it’s that God can’t be bothered about us). There’s nothing new about this. In the early days of CAFCINZ, in the 1970s and 80s, the Committee included a member, Denis O’Connor, who was then a Catholic priest, and we used to hold meetings in the presbytery of his parish church, complete with lovely suppers served by the housekeeper (just like Mrs Doyle in Father Ted). There was plenty of banter in those days too. Denis left the Church completely, got married and became a very active unionist. He also turned 70 in 2012 and I had the privilege of being invited to speak at the party – I told them that Father Denis had perfected the enviable art of sleeping through meetings and waking up in time for the cup of tea. Denis and I still work together today, on the Committee of the Keep Our Assets Christchurch coalition. Despite the wide disparity of religious and political views represented on the CAFCA Committee, we work well together and, even better, we all get on as friends as well as Committee colleagues. This is best seen at the three times a year Watchdog mailouts, held around our dining table. These are great social occasions, capped off by a potluck lunch (the quality of which increases dramatically if Becky’s around).
In my 2011 Report I said that our membership was 460, the highest it had been for several years and it had reversed the trend of gradual decline (it was 440 in 2010), posting an increase instead. There was a one-off factor in that, namely my 2011 national speaking tour, the first such since 2002. We always pick up new members when I undertake one of those old school exercises in speaking to people face to face. But 2012 saw the usual trend resume, namely the gradual decrease. At the time of writing, it is 450.
Every year we purge non-payers from our membership (it needs to be noted that this is being written before the 2013 purge) and in 2012 the post-purge number dropped into the 420s. We keep picking up new members, one at a time. There is one noteworthy feature among some of 2012’s “new” members – some of them are actually old members who rejoined after many years away. Some had last been members in the early years of this century; the record was a couple who had not been members since 1995. It is encouraging that CAFCA can offer continuity that people can come back to after such a long time.
Membership has been slowly dropping in recent years - it used to hover just under 500. There are several explanations for this turnover (or “churn” as the capitalists so poetically call it), ranging from death, old age and changed financial circumstances to people moving and not giving us their new address (the latter is a real factor with quake-disrupted Christchurch members). There are always some who decide that CAFCA is no longer a priority for them, which is fair enough. It is worth stressing that, for as long as we have existed (getting close to 40 years now) CAFCA has always made a point of having as members people who actually want to be members and who are prepared to pay the necessary annual amount. We would boast a much bigger “membership” (at a guess, in the thousands) if we had kept on our books even a fraction of those whose annual payments have lapsed over the years. That, however, would present an entirely misleading picture – our membership may be small but they’re paying members (not to mention the much larger number of non-members, well into the thousands, who either receive our material via one of the several e-mail lists that I operate or by directly accessing the CAFCA and/or Watchdog Websites or Watchblog or our Facebook group, where it is freely available).
CAFCA is in an extremely healthy financial situation (the 2011/12 Accounts were sent to you with the August 2012 Watchdog). We have a cheque account to pay our bills and three term deposits, all with Kiwibank. At the time of writing those four accounts between them hold more than $58,000 (and that doesn’t include money in the Watchdog account), about the same as the total I listed in my 2011 Report and nearly $10,000 more than the 2010 total. At our September 2012 Annual General meeting I addressed CAFCA’s policy of having solid financial reserves, as questions had been asked by a couple of members, prior to the AGM, about what plans CAFCA has for the money. I read into the minutes an e-mail I had sent to those members.
“What do we plan to do with the healthy sums in the three term deposits? Nothing specific – that money is our nest egg and/or our fighting fund. We receive no income other than subs and donations from members (and sometimes from supporters). We don’t get any funding from any agency and I spend absolutely no time writing funding applications. A couple of things you need to take into account.
“a/ None of my pay comes from CAFCA. I am paid from the entirely separately funded CAFCA/ABC Organiser Account and have been since 1991. That is dependent on regular pledgers and one-off donations. If CAFCA was responsible for my pay, CAFCA’s bank balance would be very different.
“b/ Because I work from home and am self-employed, CAFCA doesn’t have to pay any rent and very few overheads (e.g. it doesn’t have to pay for power, etc). That has also been the case since 1991. Once again, if CAFCA was renting an office and having to pay the full running costs associated with that, the bank balance would be very different.
“So, those healthy sums (boosted by a $9,000+ bequest in 2011) come from our extremely supportive members. It means we have been able to keep our sub at present rates for many years now (although the relentless increase in postage rates for Watchdog means that we have to keep that under review).
“Having that money makes us completely financially independent and able to fund our activities (including things like speaking tours, the Roger Award, etc, etc) without having to constantly go back to our members, cap in hand, to fund raise for projects. But having that money as a cushion only works if we are realistic about what modest aims to pursue and fund. For example, if we decided to take a court action on something – say, challenging the asset sales – it would soon get all spent, plus a whole lot more. What is declared in the accounts is CAFCA’s total wealth – it exists to sustain the organisation and our work into the future. It is available for political work, without being eaten up by wages, rent and administration costs”.
CAFCA members are both extremely loyal and generous, with many including donations of various sizes with their annual membership payment and that generosity continued throughout 2012. Some pay their sub and donation when they see me at some meeting or rally (I’ve received money from CAFCA members in all sorts of places, including at meetings, rallies, funerals and in the street). I’ve found money in envelopes left in our letterbox; and one member always bikes to our place every year to pay his sub in person in cash (and get a receipt). We are truly grateful for the continued outstanding generosity of our members. We haven’t had to put up our membership fees for many years now. I say this is every annual Report but it remains true - being in such a financially healthy situation means that we are completely financially independent; we don’t have to compromise ourselves by going cap in hand to any funding agencies. We are beholden to nobody except our own members and supporters; we can, and do, say what we think without fear or favour and without worrying about biting the hand that feeds us.
I mentioned in my 2010 Report that we had stockpiled a year’s worth of postage paid envelopes to cushion the impact of postage rates going up (after printing, postage is the biggest cost for Watchdog). In 2011 we finished that stockpile, and resumed paying the full price of postage. In 2012 NZ Post put the price up again – it’s now $2.10 to post one of those A4 envelopes (not long ago it was $1). Despite this savage 110% increase in an unavoidable cost (we have no current plans to switch to an online only publication) we have been thus far able to absorb it without having to charge members more. But, once again, we stockpiled a year’s worth of postage paid envelopes before the price went up. That stockpile runs out with this issue and we may have to review our costs and membership rates as New Zealand Post keeps increasing its prices (like all postal services worldwide it is fighting a losing battle against e-mail and other electronic means of communications).
The CAFCA/ABC Organiser Account, which provides my income and has done so since 1991, continues to be in good shape. Indeed it’s in the best shape for years. At the time of writing the Westpac cheque account from which I am paid holds more than $8,000, (and before anyone writes in to criticise us for banking with Westpac, I point out that we have explained the how and the why many times before. Suffice to say that it wasn’t Westpac when we started). Plus there is $18,853.29 in the Organiser Account’s term deposit with Kiwibank, where the bulk of the money is kept, invested for 12 months at 4.3%. That matures in November 2013. The Westpac cheque account was sufficiently healthy in 2012 that we were able to transfer $2,000 from it to the Kiwibank term deposit.
The Organiser Account Financial Report 2011/12, by Organiser Account Treasurer Warren Brewer, was published in the December 2012 Watchdog. To summarise briefly: In the 2011 Financial Year the Account spent $40,052.38 and income was $43,979.88 (a surplus of nearly $4,000, an improvement on the 2010 FY surplus). Donations totalled $14,965 (34%) and regular pledgers $28,655.82 (65%). As of the September 2012 AGM there were 61 regular pledgers (up from 59 in 2011 and 49 in 2010), including those who pledge annually, half yearly and quarterly. Warren moved a motion for a $1 per hour pay increase for me, to take effect as soon as possible, taking my pay to $17 per hour. Warren pointed out that the pay rise of $1 per hour will add $2,080 to the Organiser Account’s annual expenses and that the Account has now reached the limit of sustainability, meaning that any future pay increase will cause it to go into deficit. So, it was moved from the floor, and passed unanimously, that the CAFCA Committee be authorised to underwrite the Organiser Account to a maximum of $5,000 in the 2012 financial year
I should point out that 2012 was unique in the history of the Organiser Account, in that it received financial relief from a most unlikely source. The Account pays both my monthly Internet and landline phone rental bills. Out of the blue, and quite unsolicited, our old mate Telecom wrote to say that it had overcharged Becky and me by nearly $300, dating back to when I’d had to change mobiles when the old Telecom mobile network became obsolete. So we got credit on our phone bills for about six months, meaning that the Organiser Account got a six month holiday from having to pay the monthly rental for that period. 2012 also marked the first year since the Roger Award started in 1997 that Telecom didn’t make it to the finalists – I assure you that was purely coincidental!
Most of the income now comes from regular pledges as opposed to donations, to the order of two thirds to one third, which is a complete reversal of the situation of just a few years ago. The number of pledgers is now the highest it’s ever been. We gained more pledgers in 2012 than we lost. Having the bulk of income from pledgers makes the Account that much more stable, rather having to rely heavily on donations. But I don’t want to give the impression that donations have diminished into insignificance – some individuals donate hundreds of dollars at a time; one couple donate around $1,500 at a time and have donated many thousands of dollars over the years. As I say every year my heartfelt thanks to all of you who keep supporting my work, (some for all of the 21 years that I’ve been doing it thus far) and therefore that of CAFCA and ABC, by your generosity. I, quite literally, couldn’t do it without you.
The importance of the Organiser Account cannot be overstated – by having such a dedicated account, it frees up both CAFCA and ABC from having to devote any time or resources to fundraising for my pay, and they can concentrate on spending their money on campaigning, etc. It is one of the secrets of our success. Special thanks to my CAFCA Committee colleague Warren Brewer, who took over the role of Organiser Account Treasurer in 2011 at very short notice and in very difficult circumstances (namely that veteran Treasurer Bob Leonard was forced to immediately and permanently leave Christchurch by the February 22nd killer earthquake. Warren spent a lot of 2011 painstakingly solving the problems arising from that. It wasn’t until two years after the quake that we were able to rescue some file boxes of historic Organiser Account records, etc, from Bob’s abandoned house). Warren has made an excellent job of it and has instituted a number of improvements.
Watchdog is CAFCA’s face and voice to the world. It now looks the best it ever has. Our Layout Editor, Leigh Cookson, now routinely electronically provides it to the printers as a PDF, which makes their job that much easier (no more paper master copy), and they can now print it very fast indeed. It usually takes just over a day. Turning it into a PDF has the bonus that our online-only members can be sent that while we wait for the actual online edition to be uploaded (we don’t upload that illustrated PDF edition to our Website because each issue would rapidly use up our allocation of free cyberspace that our Internet service provider has gifted us. We upload a no frills, text only, edition). 100% of the illustrations for each issue are now sourced digitally, which makes for easier layout and printing, and for better quality graphics and photos. Where I do only have a hard copy I scan it to turn it into a digital image.
Ian Dalziel does a graphic, free of charge, for the cover of each issue and they’re uniformly bloody good. And from the next issue onwards we plan to do Ian’s wonderful graphics proper justice by them not having to share the cover with the start of the lead article (we’ll start that inside the issue, on page 3), so that his graphics can be bigger. Until now his graphics, which he supplies to us in A4, have had to be reduced in size, with an accompanying loss of quality, to be fitted in with the start of the lead article. This will make it look more like a proper magazine – but it is never going to compete with the glossies, nor do we want it to.
Once again, many thanks to Leigh, who has made a damned good job of the layout since the late 1990s. She has done so through thick and thin. Her house suffered significant structural damage in the earthquakes and she had to move out for several weeks in late 2012 while it, including the foundations, was repaired. Her moving back home coincided with the job of laying out the December Watchdog (there’s always a race to get that issue finished every year before the printers knock off for their summer break). Leigh prioritised laying out Watchdog before unpacking her possessions (which had been put into storage as earthquake repairs require an empty house) and making her home habitable again. That is real dedication.
Watchdog’s great strength is its team of writers. James Ayers does an excellent and comprehensive job of writing up and analysing the monthly Decisions of the Overseas Investment Office (OIO), which fills a decent chunk of each issue. He has now increased his output from four months worth of Decisions per issue to five, which means that they are more up to date. James’ speciality in OIO Decisions meant that he was the logical person for me to ask to write up the OIO’s whole file on Kim Dotcom (which CAFCA requested under the Official Information Act). It’s a fascinating read and can be found in Watchdog 129, August 2012 (“Kim Dotcom And The Good Character Test: Money Versus Power”, http://www.converge.org.nz/watchdog/30/06.html).
As I mentioned in my 2011 Report, the February quake badly damaged his eastern suburbs home and deprived him of his livelihood, with his central city shop being fenced off inside the red zone. That remains the status quo for both his unrepaired home - he lives very close to some of the worst damaged streets in the east - and his shop (the latest calamity to befall the red zone block where his shop is located was a December 2012 fire, one of the arsons which plague the commercial and residential red zones. It reduced a neighbouring heritage building to a smouldering ruin which came crashing down into the street). But James didn’t spend 2012 twiddling his thumbs. Far from it – he got a job and that is the reason why Committee meetings have had to revert to being held at night. They were daytime affairs throughout 2011 but now they are only held in daytime if they can be made to coincide with one of the three Watchdog mailouts per year.
Jeremy Agar continues his prodigious output as our Reviews Editor, reviewing both books and films (a role he also plays for the Anti-Bases Campaign’s Peace Researcher). Sometimes other people contribute unsolicited reviews and I include those along with Jeremy’s – that was the case in the December 2012 issue when Greg Waite (who was the Watchdog Webmaster for more than a decade) sent interconnected reviews of six books all about economics and the Global Financial Crisis. In most cases, mainstream New Zealand publishers have no hesitation in sending review copies of their books to Watchdog when we ask them – even when they know that Jeremy is going to put the boot in (I asked the publisher of Alan Gibbs’ autobiography for a review copy. To my surprise, not only did it arrive the next day, they tossed in an unsolicited copy of Owen Glenn’s autobiography, with a note saying that they were looking forward to the review which they were sure “will be a pithy one”. It certainly was). And we have a reasonably good strike rate with overseas publishers, although more with the progressive ones rather than the mainstream ones.
Rescuing ABC History From Bob’s Quake-Buggered House
Indeed we have accumulated so many books from publishers over the past decade that, in 2012, we decided to give some away to a Lyttelton-based grassroots community library. Jeremy filled a suitcase from our bookcases (and I was glad to see them go, having had to pick up the contents of unsecured bookcases after a couple of the biggest quakes). For most of our history, Bill Rosenberg’s Christchurch homes hosted the CAFCA library. He has also happily pruned his Wellington bookcases to return a number of review books to us to be gifted to that library. Anti-Bases Campaign’s books and files and photos and videos, etc, etc were inside Bob Leonard’s quake-damaged and abandoned Christchurch home. Basically, all of our history. Finally, in February 2013 (two years after the quake forced him and Barbara out), four members of the Committee – Warren Thomson, Robyn Dann, Lynda Boyd and me – were able to mount an expedition into their house. We were more successful than we had hoped in accessing and retrieving a lot of what we were looking for. The house has been badly damaged and is dangerous – for example, an old disused chimney collapsed, sending a pile of bricks straight through the kitchen floor and leaving the fridge teetering on the brink of also falling through.
Lynda and I spent several hours under the house, working by torchlight in the storage room in the basement, retrieving files and books, etc. It was only after I’d been down there some time that I thought to explore the basement further. My blood ran cold when I saw the underside of that pile of bricks i.e. the ones that smashed straight through the kitchen floor, snapping some of the floor beams in the process. It was very close to where I had been working. The house is still as it was on February 22nd, 2011, and the land is just a jungle after two years of uncontrolled growth. But there’s no evidence of any intruders, despite there being plenty of looting and arson of abandoned houses throughout the city. It was very sad - I’ve never packed up the belongings of a living person under those circumstances - but it was also empowering to be able to provide a small degree of practical closure for Bob and Barbara. At the time of writing the fate of the house is undecided but, as I understand it, virtually every house on that side of the street will be demolished, as the whole side of the hill has slumped. Everything we removed from Bob’s is being temporarily stored at Robyn Dann’s – ironically, in her bedroom, which she is not allowed to use, because its’ exterior brick wall is too risky. Long term we will go through the material. Some has already been dumped as being too old (and that is the reason I left behind plenty of old files and books, etc in that basement storage room). The permanent home for what we decide to keep is unknown at present – I have no room in my office and, indeed, I dumped a whole lot of old CAFCA and ABC stuff when the office and nearly all of our house had to be emptied in preparation for our quake repairs back in winter 2011. But, at least, we’ve retrieved some of the history of ABC and the wider peace movement.
Jeremy lives in Lyttelton, which was hit very hard by the quakes, and his own home has been damaged, including some structural damage (ironically, he’d had the place renovated just before the quakes started). In 2012 he had some emergency repairs done to prop up a retaining wall that plays a vital role in securing his house to the hillside. In my 2011 Report I detailed how he narrowly escaped being hit by his grandfather clock as it crashed to the floor in front of him during the February quake. The clock has been repaired and secured to his wall – but still doesn’t go. However, it makes a most impressive backdrop when he hosts Committee meetings. I mention these quake damage details about the houses of Leigh, James and Jeremy (and Ian Dalziel too) to stress how much I appreciate them keeping up their excellent contributions to Watchdog despite the major damage and disruption caused to their homes and lives. Leigh is the only one to have had her place repaired – the others are still waiting two years later.
Number & Quality Of Writers Is Very High
Since he moved to Wellington to become the NZ Council of Trade Unions’ Economist and Policy Director in 2009 Bill Rosenberg has only written one article especially for Watchdog – but nearly every issue of Watchdog since 2009, including this one, has included an article by him, ones that he has written for other publications (quite often mainstream papers) or conference papers and speeches that he has delivered. The only difference is that they are all under his CTU by-line, not his CAFCA one. And if he isn’t writing articles for us, he’s finding them – Hazel Armstrong’s damning article on “light handed regulation” and rail safety which appeared in the December 2012 issue was sent to me by Bill, with a recommendation that Watchdog publish it. Bill is incredibly busy in his CTU job and I greatly appreciate the fact that we still get articles from him - directly or indirectly - for nearly every issue. Dennis Small has been a very prolific Watchdog writer for 20 years. He writes, at length, for nearly every issue. Indeed, at such length that we spread one of his articles over three 2011/12 issues, for the first time in Watchdog’s history. Dennis is like Jeremy in that he is an essayist and his articles have attracted their own fan club of appreciative readers. Most recently, he has told us that he wants to step back to being an occasional writer.
Liz Gordon and John Minto both write something for every issue (and have done for several years now), which is very much appreciated. Liz pushed the envelope with her August 2012 article about the major parties’ justice policies (it concluded: “As the Editor notes, this is an odd article for Watchdog, as it praises both National and Labour. I assure readers that I will not make a habit of it”). Their articles have the great virtue of being very short, which makes them ideal for breaking up the great long pieces by James, Jeremy and Dennis (not to mention me). And look at the calibre of people who wrote for us on a one off basis in 2012 – Jane Kelsey, Sue Newberry, Brian Easton, Bryan Gould, Sue Bradford and Jeanette Fitzsimons being some of them (and in this issue we have something from Nicky Hager, for the first time, once again as the result of a member sending it to me and recommending that Watchdog publish it). We regularly solicit articles from unions – in 2012 we ran articles from the Maritime Union, and the Service and Food Workers Union. We solicited articles from activist groups, such as Coromandel Watchdog of Hauraki.
You will notice that we never run articles from MPs or officials of any party. The reason is simple – CAFCA is independent of all parties (Parliamentary or extra-Parliamentary) and reserves the right to criticise all of them (and we do – a policy that cost us one angry member in 2012, who took umbrage at my criticism of the Greens in my analysis of the 2011 election. You can read that in “Welcome To Johnkeyistan” subheading “Respectable Electable Green Capitalism”, in Watchdog 128, December 2011, http://www.converge.org.nz/watchdog/28/01.htm. I reported this at the 2012 AGM, at which there were several CAFCA members who are also Green activists, and one who is also a Green MP. They responded with: “We can take it!”). Both Jeanette Fitzsimons and Sue Bradford had been Green MPs – Jeanette was Co-Leader for years – and Sue is now active in Mana. But both of them wrote for us as individuals, not on behalf of any party – and we wouldn’t have invited them when they were MPs.
We’ll Stick To Our Knitting, Thanks Very Much
Sometimes articles in one issue will inspire someone to write for the next one. Sue Bradford started her August 2012 article, about her call for a major Leftwing thinktank in Aotearoa, by saying: “I was much taken with Brian Easton’s article ‘Rogernomics And The Left’ in the April issue”. Naturally, when Watchdog features writers of this calibre writing about such topics, the question arises (and it was raised by more than one member in 2012) as to whether Watchdog should morph into a general journal of the Left. Should it become the replacement for Political Review or, going further back, Monthly Review (my obituary for which is in Watchdog 84. May1997, http://www.historicalwatchdog.blogspot.co.nz/2009/12/foreign-control-watchdog-may-1997.html)? We discussed and debated this and decided against it, for the simple reason that the publication’s title is Foreign Control Watchdog and foreign control, in all its manifestations, is the reason for CAFCA’s existence and must remain the focus for Watchdog. When we publish something which is not directly on that subject, it is because we can justify it as context. Plenty of people have said to us that Watchdog is the last such publication still publishing (and in hard copy too; how wonderfully retro). We feel sorry that other such publications have fallen by the wayside, for whatever reasons, but that does not justify Watchdog taking over their role by default. And, to be perfectly honest, my heart is not in delving into the sorts of subjects that the likes of Political Review used to analyse, such as Labour Party internal politics or what went wrong with the Alliance, etc, etc. So, Watchdog will stick to what it knows best and what it does best.
I am the Editor, which I find both immensely satisfying but also extremely time consuming. I have been so successful in getting other people to write for us (which I then have to edit and put together) that I don’t have to do much actual writing of my own. But then, that’s the role of the Editor. However, in 2012, I was able to do more writing. One of the tricks of the trade is to publish CAFCA press releases as short articles or to flesh them out into longer articles (I used both of these in the December 2012 issue). For many years I have written the lead article in every issue, which also served as the editorial. But, for the December issue, when it came time to write about the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) I looked at what material I had available; found an excellent article by our veteran member and activist Mary Ellen O’Connor, written for the Nelson Mail; thought “why reinvent the wheel?”; and got her permission to republish it as the lead article. I contributed the title, subtitle, and subheadings (which is what I’ve also done for Nicky Hager’s article in this issue).
Even my trademark obituaries had been delegated to other writers in recent years but in 2012 I kept for myself the job of writing Larry Ross’ obituary (which filled 15 pages in the August issue). It is the first obituary for which I have used the subject’s Security Intelligence Service (SIS) Personal File as a major source. That was appropriate because the only project I ever undertook with Larry was, in the last few years of his life, to secure that file for him, CAFCA, and posterity. And I was particularly pleased that writing his obituary, detailing his peace movement activism since he arrived in NZ in 1962, enabled me to pay tribute, once more, to Keith Duffield, my original political mentor, colleague, friend and partner in crime (Larry and Keith – and Owen Wilkes – all worked together in the 1960s). Keith should have been the subject of one of my gargantuan obituaries but he died in 1979, years before Watchdog itself was gargantuan, let alone the obituaries, so my skimpy tribute to him appeared in Watchdog 18, March 1979, http://www.historicalwatchdog.blogspot.co.nz/2009/12/foreign-control-watchdog-march-1978.html. It filled only a single page but then, again, that 1979 issue was only six pages long! My obituary of Larry attracted a lot of favourable comment – he had been a major public figure in his day. I’m always rather wary of what the reaction will be from family members of my obituary subjects, particularly when I don’t know them. But, in the case, of Larry, I received, second hand, this comment from one of his daughters (with whom I’ve never had any contact): “Convey my warmest wishes to Murray Horton….He wrote an exceptionally good in depth article about my father's work for Nuclear Free NZ…”.
And the obituaries in general always do attract favourable comment, often years after they were published. I chaired a public meeting in August 2012 and noticed a woman in the audience whom I hadn’t seen before and who didn’t look like one of “the usual suspects”. She made a beeline for me after the meeting but not to talk to me about the subject of the meeting (asset sales). She introduced herself as a niece of the late Wes Cameron, who had been a prominent Canterbury and NZ union leader, and she wanted to thank me for my obituary of Uncle Wes (Watchdog 112, August 2006, http://www.converge.org.nz/watchdog/12/09.htm). The obituaries provide a human dimension to what can be a very abstract and dense subject, and they are greatly appreciated. In this issue I have the sad job of paying tribute to a former Committee colleague and CAFCINZ Chairperson from the 1970s, Lynn Burke, who died in November 2012. The really sad thing is that she was younger than me (she died at 59, from cancer). In recent years I have written obituaries of two former Committee colleagues, namely Reg Duder and Ray Scott, but both of them were in their late 70s.
It is fortunate that Watchdog has the luxury of size, because it’s a big bugger (we realise that its size is offputting to some people, but we firmly believe that it is that rarity which combines both quantity and quality). The three issues in 2012 were 120, 112 and 92 pages respectively, so it’s a good thing that our printers no longer have the 80 page limit imposed by their previous equipment. Since 2009 I’ve no longer had to worry about having to cut things out or hold them over until next time (a frequent occurrence in the past) but it still has to go to the printers in multiples of four pages, so there can still be issues of having to cut or add something to get it to fit that format. Several issues have now cracked the magic 100 page barrier, two of them in 2012 (the April issue was our biggest ever, at 120 pages. It would have been even bigger if I hadn’t run Dennis Small’s article over three issues).
The other member of the Watchdog team to be thanked is Cass Daley, who is in charge of the Website. That’s a big job in itself. Watchdog has a much bigger readership in cyberspace than it does in hard copy and it attracts a lot of feedback. In the December issue we took a step towards merging the worlds of print and electronic media, by including a quick response code (QRC) on the back page story advertising the online poll for the 2012 Roger Award People’s Choice. Readers could access the relevant Website to cast their vote by scanning the QRC image with their smart phone. Finally there is the treasure trove which is the Historic Watchdog site http://www.historicalwatchdog.blogspot.co.nz/. I regularly use it and I recommend it, as it is full of absolutely fascinating material. I have used it more than once in this Report. More and more readers and researchers are making use of it.
Along with Watchdog, CAFCA’s other old faithful (at least, since 1997) is the annual Roger Award, organised in partnership with GATT Watchdog. The 2011 Award was won by Rio Tinto Alcan NZ Ltd (notorious for decades under its previous name of Comalco), which has been a regular finalist and was runner up in both the 2009 and 08 Roger Awards. It is the majority owner of the Bluff smelter operated by New Zealand Aluminium Smelters Ltd. In 2011 it was nominated for lobbying two Governments “over several years to secure excessive allocations of free emissions units under the NZ Emissions Trading Scheme”. The judges agreed, concluding: “It appears therefore, that the New Zealand taxpayer is subsidising a transnational corporate rort of the emissions trading scheme… The significance of this stance cannot be underestimated; a major transnational player within New Zealand materially benefits from its non-compliance with a strategy to reduce global climate change and its ecological effects”. The Judges’ Report concludes that the company has a 50 year history of “suborning, blackmailing and conning successive New Zealand governments into paying massive subsidies on the smelter’s electricity; dodging tax, and running a brilliantly effective PR machine to present a friendly, socially responsible and thoroughly greenwashed face to the media and the public. Its milking of the Emissions Trading Scheme is entirely in character”. The extremely detailed Financial Analysis reveals that the smelter’s claimed benefits to NZ, namely annual export earnings of “around $1 billion” are, in fact, overstated by four fifths.
Of the three equal runners up: Westpac (joint winner of the 2005 Roger Award winner, and a finalist in 2009 and 10), was chosen because of “an aggressive profiteering strategy at the expense of bank staff and ordinary borrowers”; Sajo Oyang because its “crew members have been abused, mistreated and otherwise exploited”; and Oceania because of its exploitation of its minimum wage rest home workers. The Government won the Accomplice Award because it “seems to have forgotten that the role of the State is not just to make things better for Big Business, or raise taxes but it is also to make and monitor the regulations and processes in order to create a balance to benefit the overall welfare of the population”.
A Fitting Setting
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 11,000 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.
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 (and it won’t be rebuilt there, despite owning the land. The Government has moved to acquire it, having designated it to be part of the eastern Green Frame, which will form the boundary around the drastically shrunken CBD once it has been rebuilt). 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 (its’ rebuild starts in 2013) 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 all right 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 Celtic 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”. 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 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, 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” (you can read Fiona’s poem and the song lyrics in my “Roger Award Event Comes Home”, Watchdog 130, August 2012, http://www.converge.org.nz/watchdog/30/05.html). 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. 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 low paid Christchurch rest home 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.
As organisers, we regularly rotate and replace the judges, to introduce new faces and to keep a balance between North and South Islanders. For the 2012 Roger Award, we bade farewell to one of our longest serving judges, Paul Corliss; and to Joce Jesson, both as a judge and as the Chief Judge. She has been replaced in the latter role by Paul Maunder; and the two new judges are Christina Stringer and John Maynard. The other two judges are Sam Mahon and Wayne Hope, meaning that there are three North Islanders and two Mainlanders (but still only one woman). An awful lot of totally unpaid work goes into the judging and report writing for the Roger Award and I want to single out Sue Newberry, of Sydney University, who does the annual Financial Analysis of the winner. Her work on unravelling the extremely complex and multi-layered structure of Rio Tinto’s Bluff smelter set up was outstanding. She e-mailed me recently: “One of the things I rather like about this financial analysis task is that it poses a different challenge each year, and I have to find ways to meet that challenge”. The other people who deserve our hearty thanks are those who organise the annual event. Having hosted it at home in Christchurch in 2012, we decided to send it up country again in 2013 and our friends in Wellington were only too happy to take it on (for the first time since 2010), combining it with the annual May Day celebration by Wellington unions.
We are grateful for the invaluable help of the Greens who (for a not insignificant fee) were prepared, once again, to include nomination forms in a mailout of their Party newsletter Te Awa to several thousand members. That enables us to reach many more people than our own membership and we always get a good response from Green members. The Roger was also publicised by another Parliamentary party, namely New Zealand First, plus several other organisations and unions, to whom we are truly grateful. We received a wider than usual range of nominations for the 2012 Roger and there are always ineligible ones (Fonterra being the main subject of those). At the organisers’ annual meeting to select the finalists, we debated long and hard the collective nomination of all four Australian-owned banks as one entity. The Roger Award is for the misdeeds of one transnational corporation. However, the organisers agreed that there is a case to be made for treating those banks as a cartel and there are precedents for this in previous Roger Awards. Indeed, the only time that it has ever been won by joint winners was in 2005 when the winners were BNZ and Westpac. We were happy to leave it up to the judges to decide and we also told them that they were at liberty to pick just one of those four banks.
High Media Profile
CAFCA gets very good media coverage, far in excess of what could reasonably be expected of a small organisation such as ours. I don’t keep a diary (and haven’t done since 1969), so I rely on my fortnightly invoices for my pay to jog my memory of what I’ve actually done throughout the year. A flip through it reveals that in 2012 that I did a lot of media interviews and many more press releases than I had done in 2011. My invoices reveal that I was rung and/or interviewed by media outlets ranging from Maori and community radio stations, to numerous mainstream daily papers and major radio networks. In fact, I was repeatedly contacted by major papers from right throughout the country, and by reporters from different departments of the same paper, with all sorts of inquiries, not all of which I could answer, and which led to CAFCA appearances in the media without us having to go chasing them. I didn’t do any TV interviews in 2012, but that’s not surprising, as TV news is heavily dependent on “visuals”, as opposed to talking heads. Foreign control is not necessarily a televisual issue, unless it involves the sale of picturesque rural land to foreigners. Not all the radio interviews were over the phone, I did a couple of Plains FM studio interviews with Martin and Lois Griffiths, those splendid stalwarts of Christchurch community radio. Actually, as an aside, watching the ceaseless demolition of central city buildings evokes many bittersweet memories of those 1980s’ days when I’d spend my Railways lunchtimes biking around the city hand delivering typed press statements to newsrooms in the Press, Star, Radio NZ, TVNZ, etc, etc. All those buildings are gone now (and it’s been decades since it was necessary for me to hand deliver press releases. It’s all done by e-mail now).
In 2012, if I say so myself, I hit a purple patch, particularly in the first few months and really churned out the press releases (you can read them on the CAFCA site at http://canterbury.cyberplace.co.nz/community/CAFCA/publications/Statements/index.html) on a range of subjects from the Crafar Farms and rural land sales to the misdeeds of insurance transnationals; and corporate welfare for the likes of Coca Cola, Rio Tinto and Warner Brothers. What’s more they achieved a good strike rate (i.e. the percentage of them which actually led to media coverage and/or interviews) and inspired me further to write my first opinion piece for the Press in several years (in response to a typically vacuous pro-foreign investment editorial). The editorial was on a Saturday; I approached them on the Sunday offering an article; they accepted that night, giving me a Monday afternoon deadline – I got it written on that Waitangi Day public holiday and it was published on the Tuesday. Not bad, if I say so myself (you can read it online at http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/opinion/perspective/6373800/Foreign-ownership-of-our-land-gives-overseas-investors-power . You can read the original, unedited, version “All That Glitters Is Not Gold” at the CAFCA Website http://canterbury.cyberplace.co.nz/community/CAFCA/publications/Backgrounders/AllThatGlitters.html).
The Press has also regularly published some of my press releases as letters to the editor. They’re not written for that format but I’m not complaining, as much more of it gets published (rather than just a sound bite) and everyone reads the letters pages. I very rarely write actual letters to the editor but I made an exception in 2012, in reply to a lazy and vacuous Listener editorial championing why NZ needs foreign investment. They published nearly all of that letter except for my concluding couple of sentences (draw your own conclusions): “The editorial concludes by invoking the hoary old spectre of North Korea. I’m glad you raised that, because the level of pro-foreign investment propaganda and John Key personality cult in the transnational-owned corporate media could show the Pyongyang apparatchiks how to do it properly. By comparison they are rank amateurs”.
In another case a press release calling, yet again, for the closure of the Bluff smelter was instead published in its entirety as an opinion piece in the Southland Times, who gave it a much more punchy title than I had done (it was run as “Smelter NZ’s Biggest Bludger”, along with a photo of me (http://www.stuff.co.nz/southland-times/opinion/7894312/Smelter-NZs-biggest-bludger. Jeremy Agar was holidaying in that part of the country and nearly choked on his breakfast coffee when unexpectedly confronted with my photo and article). Not surprisingly, that led to a strong reaction, for and against, from Southlanders, including from Invercargill’s Mayor Tim Shadbolt, a former comrade in arms many, many decades ago. I was invited to write for specialist publications with whom we don’t normally deal, such as Organic NZ and Tui Motu, a liberal Catholic publication. Quite often we have information that the mainstream media doesn’t and all we ask is that they attribute it to us – the Press Business section was happy to play ball and attribute a story on Sue Newberry’s views on the ownership of Transpower to her article in the (then) forthcoming December 2012 issue of Watchdog. I think this is the first time I’ve seen Watchdog credited in a mainstream media story.
In some cases media approaches don’t lead to a story, the journalist concerned is chasing information or wants background. This happened recently when a senior writer at the Press wanted our copious material on CAFCA’s various “not of good character” complaints to both the Overseas Investment Office and its predecessor the Overseas Investment Commission since the late 1990s. He wanted it for an article on specific foreign investors in Canterbury who would seem, on the evidence, to fall well short on the “good character” front.
Hitting The Jackpot
Sometimes we crop up in the strangest places, such as in the weekly Commercial Property section of the Press, which happened recently. And every once in a while one of our press releases hits the jackpot, gets taken seriously and winds up being the subject of a sympathetic editorial in a mainstream daily. This Waikato Times editorial (27/4/12; “Let’s have accurate stats”) is worth reproducing in full to prove the point. It again features the old double act of Bill Rosenberg and me, except that I’m appearing for CAFCA and him for the CTU. It was prompted by press releases from both CAFCA and the CTU criticising Government figures on foreign ownership of rural land.
“Presumably hoping to quell public concerns about land sales to foreigners, after the announcement of the latest approval of Crafar farm sales to Chinese interests, Prime Minister John Key came up with a figure to downplay the issue. He said less than 1 per cent of New Zealand farmland was foreign owned. The Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa has harried successive Governments for decades on foreign investment policy. Its politicking has been underpinned by the regular collection and analysis of all relevant official statistics and its Secretary/Organiser, Murray Horton, sensed Mr Key's figure was nonsense. He asked for it to be explained. The reply came from Land Information Minister Maurice Williamson, who said ‘about 2% of farmland has been sold to overseas buyers in the past decade. While this remained low, it nevertheless doubled his boss's figure.
“More troubling was his caveat: ‘But we don't know how much of this land has subsequently been sold back to New Zealanders’. This makes a mockery of the Minister's title. Without the missing statistics, he can't claim to be informed about how much land is foreign owned or controlled. Mr Williamson was involved in approving the Overseas Investment Office's consent to Milk New Zealand Holding Ltd to acquire the 16 Crafar farms. He emphasised that New Zealand had ‘a transparent set of laws and regulations around overseas investment’. Only a few racists or fanatics would welcome a ministerial failure to ensure the rules are applied evenly to all applications, regardless of where they are from. The more important issue is whether the rules are too loose, especially with regard to farmland. But any discussion of this is ill-served by statistical shortcomings. An analysis of Overseas Investment Office decisions by Council of Trade Unions economist Bill Rosenberg suggests a conservative 1.26 million hectares are in foreign ownership or control, including forestry. This is 8.7% of land that can move from agriculture to forestry and back again. But maybe it is 10%. The level at which foreign ownership becomes socially or economically problematic, demanding a review of the rules, is open to argument. The argument will be all the better for being an informed one”.
CAFCA is not dependent on the media to get our message to the world. I’ve already mentioned the Watchdog Website, which is maintained by Cass Daley. Bill Rosenberg has been in charge of the CAFCA site since it was established in the 90s and it plays a vital role in putting us in touch with a much, much larger audience than just out actual members. At the time of writing, he wants to hand that over to a replacement ASAP (his job as CTU Economist and Policy Director keeps him extremely busy). Warren Brewer has set up the excellent Watchblog site (check it out at http://www.watchblogaotearoa.blogspot.co.nz/) and has also set up a CAFCA Twitter account https://twitter.com/#!/NZN4S and Lynda Boyd is in charge of our Facebook group at http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=117427631610589&ref=ts, which has over 1100 members i.e. many more than our actual paying members in the “real” world. I don’t use either Twitter or Facebook, so I can’t comment on them, but it is important that we get our message out by all means, including social media. And some of it is still done the real old school way, by speaking to people in person – for example, in 2012 I spoke to Trade Aid’s staff at its national headquarters in Christchurch. Some invitations we decline – I turned down an expenses paid invitation to Auckland from the New Zealand Initiative (the new incarnation of the Business Round Table) to be involved in one of a series of debates it was organising. Life is too short to be bothered about playing nice with the likes of them.
Relations With Political Parties
We are independent of all parties, endorse none of them and reserve the right to criticise all of them, a right which we vigorously exercise (and which can come at a cost. I have already detailed, earlier in this Report, the 2012 resignation from CAFCA by a longtime member, who is also a longtime leading Green party figure. That member was angry at my criticism of the Greens in the December 2011 Watchdog analysis of the election). Not only our membership but also the Committee reflects a range of party affiliations and support – one member is a veteran Democrat activist and regular electoral candidate (on the other hand, the two Committee members who were Alliance activists have since left it. They are now both leading activists in the newly created Hobgoblin network. One of them defines Hobgoblin thus:“A growing group of Socialists with years of experience in various Leftish political parties and campaigns, aiming to draw like-minded activists together, from whatever party or none, to promote socialism. By ‘socialism’, they mean not merely worthy reforms, but a fundamental, radical and entrenched restructuring of the very anatomy of society – the rejection of capitalism”).
But it’s no surprise that of the Parliamentary parties we have the best relationship with the Greens (even though they do persist in charging us a fee of several hundred dollars to include the Roger Award nomination forms with their Party newsletter).CAFCA has had a productive working relationship with the Greens for the best part of 20 years, going back to the days of Jeanette Fitzsimons and the late Rod Donald as its founding Co-Leaders (we’re delighted to have Jeanette writing Watchdog articles for us now). CAFCA’s opinions and expertise are solicited by the current Green leadership – when Co-Leader Russel Norman visited Christchurch in early 2012 he asked to meet me to discuss the issues of asset sales and land sales to foreigners, among other things. We had a long and productive talk, including as I walked him to what he had come for, the first anniversary commemoration, in Hagley Park, of the February 2011 quake. Nor is the relationship a one way street – in 2012 the Greens asked for CAFCA’s help in distributing the national petition calling for a citizens’ initiated referendum on State asset sales. We were only too happy to assist and hoped to include it with the April Watchdog, but delays in getting approval of the petition’s wording from the Clerk of the House meant that it was launched too late for the Watchdog mailout. Never mind, we sent it all members as a stand alone mailout, which cost CAFCA several hundred dollars. We made a point of telling the Greens that, when the boot is on the other foot, we don’t charge them any fees.
2012 saw us get more actively involved with not only the Greens but several other parties, namely through our involvement with the Keep Our Assets Christchurch coalition, which includes the Greens, Labour, Alliance, Democrats, and a number of other groups (the Greens host those meetings in their office, which is a converted house in the suburbs, their central city office having been destroyed by the quake). CAFCA played the leading role in getting that going and I am its Convenor; both of which reflect the respect that those parties and groups have for CAFCA and recognition of our non-partisan willingness to work with those who are willing to work with us. Meaning that we agree to disagree and work together for a common cause. Political coalition work has been our natural modus operandi for decades (for example, in the mid 1990s, when the Greens were part of the Alliance, we worked closely with Rod Donald on campaigns focusing on Telecom, and opposing Westpac’s takeover of the community-owned Trustbank Canterbury). It has been a long time since we worked together with Labour but we’re happy to do so in the assets sale campaign.
NZ Not For Sale Campaign
The creation of NZNFSC in 2010 marked the first time that CAFCA had taken a leading role in a campaign on a proposed free trade agreement, as opposed to a supporting role in a network or coalition. NZNFSC is a network, a loose coalition of groups including CAFCA, set up to fight the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) between 11 countries (it was originally nine) but, most importantly, the means to bring into effect a US/NZ Free Trade Agreement, which both National and Labour have long proclaimed to be the Holy Grail of trade deals for NZ. Every issue of Watchdog throughout 2011 and 2012 and into 2013 has given a detailed analysis of various objectionable and dangerous aspects of the TPPA, so I won’t repeat that here but concentrate on the campaign as such. It was our major project throughout the 2011 election year and, accordingly, I reported on it in detail in my 2011 Report. I won’t go over that again.
Following the election NZNFSC paused for a breather and a stocktake. In 2012 we decided to basically reinvent ourselves as a clearing house, a network rather than a campaign. A major reason for this reorientation was because our network was far from alone in this campaign. The indefatigable Jane Kelsey, the country’s undisputed expert on the TPPA, was instrumental in getting TPP Watch set up on a national basis, with its own very regular electronic newsletter (you can check it out at www.itsourfuture.org.nz). This is a particularly active network, and is part of the international network which is fighting the TPPA in the various countries which are involved in negotiating it. The campaign against the TPPA continued to be a major battle throughout 2012. President Obama originally announced that the US wanted it all negotiated and signed by late 2011.That proved to be wishful thinking, as is so often the case with these so called “free trade” agreements.
Then the Yanks wanted it wrapped up before their election in late 2012. There was a whole schedule of international negotiating meetings held throughout the year, accompanied by counter-activities by the international network fighting it, culminating in a negotiating round and accompanying protests in Auckland, and other NZ cities, in December 2012. This was basically a re-run of the earlier Auckland negotiating round and protests, in December 2010, and was no more successful in tackling any of the hard issues (such as the “holiest of holies” – NZ dairy products’ access to the US market), let alone actually concluding the Agreement. Following his re-election, Obama declared that the US will shift emphasis to the Asia/Pacific region, and that concluding the TPPA is now a major priority of his second and last Administration. He declared that he wanted it all wrapped up by late 2013 (does that sound familiar?).
In 2012 CAFCA changed our focus from the TPPA to the fight against the sale of State assets (see below) but that certainly didn’t mean that we, or the NZNFSC, ignored the TPPA campaign. Warren Brewer does an excellent job running the New Zealand Not For Sale Website http://www.nznotforsale.org/. In November NZNFSC hosted a Christchurch public meeting as part of the buildup to the Auckland negotiating round and protests, in December. This meeting was basically a re-run of the November 2010 public meeting which marked both the public launch of NZNFSC and the Christchurch launch of “No Ordinary Deal”, Jane Kelsey’s definitive book on the TPPA (the book was reviewed by Jeremy Agar in Watchdog 125, December 2010, http://www.converge.org.nz/watchdog/25/11.htm).It featured the same two high powered speakers as two years earlier (Jane and Lori Wallach from Public Citizen in the US), the same chairperson (NZNFSC’s Christine Dann) and was held in the same venue (Knox Presbyterian Church Lounge). The crowd was 40-50, which is not too bad in Christchurch’s current circumstances and preoccupations (I’ve seen Jane fill the much bigger Knox Hall at 1990s’ public meetings about various “free trade” deals). As I’ve already mentioned there were anti-TPPA protests in various cities, not just in Auckland. Long time CAFCA member Mary Ellen O’Connor, who has gone home to Nelson after several years in Wellington, organised one in that city which attracted an excellent 250 people. She also wrote an opinion piece for the Nelson Mail that we re-published as the lead article in the December 2012 Watchdog (I’ve known her and her husband since we were first year University of Canterbury students together, in 1969).
In Christchurch there were many protests and rallies in 2012 but they tended to be almost exclusively about the grassroots response to the shock doctrine/disaster capitalism being imposed on the city and its people i.e. the lack of Government and insurance company response to quake victims; the Government blithely stripping away a whole layer of local democracy; the wanton destruction of great swathes of the city’s heritage; drastic State school closures and mergers; and City Council management indifference to the people who pay its wages, etc, etc. There was little energy for protests outside of these immediate concerns, not to mention the lack of the usual marching routes and rallying places. So NZNFSC didn’t try to organise a TPPA march. A small public meeting was our realistic limit. But we had done more than our bit throughout 2011, when material circumstances in Christchurch were appreciably worse than in 2012. It remains to be seen if 2013 is any more of a realistic TPPA deadline than 2012 proved to be. NFSFSC (and CAFCA) will play our part to ensure that it isn’t.
Keep Our Assets Christchurch
As foreshadowed in my 2011 Report, in 2012 CAFCA shifted our focus from the TPPA to the issue of the Government’s proposal to partly privatise five State-Owned Enterprises. Of course, it’s not as if we suddenly “discovered” this issue. It has been central to our concerns since National won the 2008 election and declared privatisation to be one of its’ main policies, if not the main one. It has repeatedly been the subject of Watchdog cover stories in the years since, including in two of the three 2012 issues. I have already mentioned that we sent the petition calling for a citizens’ initiated referendum on asset sales to our members in a special 2012 mailout. But it was obvious that the New Zealand people can’t rely on that petition alone, or on legal action from the Maori Council to stop the theft of assets that belong to all of us and have been paid for by all of us (which is not to bad mouth either the petition or the Maori Council. Far from it, they have both played a large and vital role in this most important of campaigns).
So CAFCA decided to take the initiative and call together allied groups to form a Christchurch coalition on the issue (as I’ve already explained, we usually prefer to join coalitions already set up by others, but this hadn’t happened in Christchurch – because of the unique circumstances that have prevailed here since the 2010/11 quakes – so we decided to bite the bullet and do it ourselves).The logical groups to approach were the ones already working together on the national petition – Labour, Greens, CTU, Greypower. They all quickly came on board, plus a number of other extra-Parliamentary parties (Alliance, Democrats) and activist groups and NGOs. We unsuccessfully invited New Zealand First to join (which isn’t a bad thing in light of the recent performance by its Christchurch MP Richard Prosser). This new coalition is called Keep Our Assets Christchurch. Several CAFCA Committee members are actively involved – I am the Convenor; Warren Brewer maintains the Website http://www.koa.org.nz/ (check it out – it has excellent resources) and edits the online newsletter. KOA ChCh meets every two to three weeks, hosted by the Greens.
From the outset it was decided that KOA ChCh would have a double pronged focus, on both the issue of the proposed privatisation of those five SOEs, and the threat of privatisation of Christchurch City Council’s assets. The latter threat is a classic example of disaster capitalism or “shock doctrine”, to use American author Naomi Klein’s famous phrase. It goes hand in glove with other shock treatment tactics being imposed on Christchurch people, such as massive upheaval in the State school sector, with closures and mergers. Selling city assets, wholly or partly, is presented as a necessity in order to help pay for the huge earthquake rebuild (at $30 billion, which John Key has described as the biggest economic undertaking in NZ’s history), and to keep down Christchurch’s rates and civic debt.. We agreed to give both prongs of our campaign equal attention and that is fully justified by the size and scale of Christchurch’s assets, ranging from major trading ones such as the port and airport, right through to the fact that the Christchurch City Council is the second biggest landlord in the country after the State. Tory politicians and Big Business have always hated the “People’s Republic of Christchurch” (a title bestowed as an insult in the late 90s but adopted with pride) and see this post-disaster period as providing the perfect opportunity to steal Christchurch’s public assets (CAFCA has experience in fighting to retain public ownership of Christchurch’s assets – in 2006 we were centrally involved in setting up the coalition Keep Our Port Public, to successfully stop the City Council flogging off the Lyttelton Port Company to a Hong Kong transnational corporation. The now renamed Keep Our Ports Public still exists, at least in cyberspace, http://www.keepourportpublic.org/, ready to be reactivated if there is another threatened port privatisation, either in Lyttelton or elsewhere in the country).
And KOA ChCh was very lucky to have the active participation of an expert on Christchurch’s assets, namely Marty Braithwaite, who had done a lot of work on the subject on behalf of the CTU and Unions Canterbury, the local grouping of trade unions (his article “Christchurch Council Under Privatisation Pressure”, in Watchdog 130, August 2012, http://www.converge.org.nz/watchdog/30/02.html, is the definitive work on the subject). Marty and I go back a long way together, nearly 40 years in fact. For example, in 1974, I was the Editor of the University of Canterbury student paper Canta and Marty was the court reporter (Bill Rosenberg was our reporter at University Council meetings). More recently, in the 90s, he was Layout Editor for Watchdog and all other CAFCA publications. Not only are we veteran comrades in arms, but also mates with shared interests – in 2012 we went to a Super 15 game together at the city’s new temporary rugby stadium. But alas, in late 2012 Marty was made an offer he couldn’t refuse by a West Australian union and, in three weeks flat, had moved indefinitely to Perth. However he left us his Christchurch assets files, so that we can soldier on in his absence.
Taking To The Streets
KOA ChCh is – or, rather, has been until now – primarily a lobbying network. But there was one glorious exception in 2012, for which we can’t take the credit. We had decided that it was beyond us to organise a march as part of national protest actions against the asset sales and that we shouldn’t try to do so. We were proved spectacularly wrong by the one woman dynamo Sharna Butcher who moved down from the North Island and, in very short order, had singlehandedly organised a July march as part of a National Day of Action. KOA ChCh had to hastily get onto the bandwagon and it turned out to be a very successful march indeed. It’s a major gamble scheduling any outdoor activity in a Christchurch midwinter; not to mention with the unique problems of the usual marching routes and rallying places being still cordoned off in the central city red zone. Undaunted, Sharna scheduled it for Riccarton Road, which was already one of NZ’s busiest roads pre-quakes, and got the cops to cooperate by allowing the 1,000 plus crowd to march on the road in Saturday afternoon traffic. The rally was held in a little park on Riccarton Road (I was one of the speakers and it was the biggest audience I spoke to in 2012). It was an unalloyed success and full credit to Sharna. To the best of my knowledge it was the only one of Christchurch’s numerous 2012 marches or rallies to be about national, as opposed to local, issues. But there are very good reasons why that was so.
KOA ChCh followed that up with a well attended public meeting in August, with the speakers being Bill Rosenberg from the CTU, Marty Braithwaite from Unions Canterbury and Sharna Butcher from KOA ChCh (I was the chairperson), covering both the national and local aspects of the issue. The Maori Council’s legal challenge to the sale of Mighty River Power temporarily stopped the proposed SOEs sales in their tracks and took the steam out of the issue at the national level for a few months. But that enabled KOA to concentrate on building awareness of the threat to Christchurch’s assets, and we set about lobbying the likes of community boards and then a whole range of community groups (which involved me in the tedious donkey work of compiling the necessary electronic databases and writing to these many and various organisations). Courtesy of the Greens KOA ChCh is the owner of a nice big banner, which was taken on several of Christchurch’s numerous marches in 2012 (on issues such as quake response problems, the loss of local democracy, school closures, etc, etc. The issue of local asset sales is one that that fits right in with those concerns). We’ve produced a leaflet and distributed that at stalls, etc. Looking further ahead, on the Christchurch assets issue – 2013 is local body election year (although, uniquely, Canterbury people haven’t had a vote for our ECan [Environment Canterbury] regional councillors since 2007. The Government sacked the elected Councillors in 2010, promising an election again in 2013. That was a lie and ECan being run by unelected Commissioners has now been extended until the 2016 election). So there is the possibility of KOA ChCh playing some role in that campaign. If so, it won’t be the first time for CAFCA – in 2007 we asked all candidates to sign a pledge against privatisation of Christchurch’s assets (you can read about that in my 2007 Report, in Watchdog 116, December 2007 http://www.converge.org.nz/watchdog/16/07.htm). CAFCA’s major issue throughout 2012 was asset sales and it looks to be set to continue that way in 2013.
That campaign, of course, was not the only thing that CAFCA did in 2012. It was in addition to our usual work, which always includes the hardy perennial of land sales to foreigners (that whole subject got us a lot more public exposure and media coverage than usual, from 2010 right through to early 2012, courtesy of the Crafar Farms saga). And, occasionally, we do something spontaneous. Susan Miller is a veteran West Coast member, who spent a lot of 2012 house sitting in Christchurch (including in the Lyttelton home of our Chairperson, Jeremy Agar, when he was gallivanting around overseas). Susan wanted an update on a story that we had run last decade in Watchdog, namely who does really own the South island power grid? Clue – it’s not Transpower. This had been extensively researched by Sue Newberry when she was still at the University of Canterbury (she’s been at the University of Sydney for years now) and she had got the Press to investigate the subject back then. So we asked Sue to update that and the result was published in the December Watchdog (http://www.converge.org.nz/watchdog/31/05.html), which led to the Press taking an interest in the subject again after several years.
And, by happy coincidence, I learnt that Transpower was holding its Annual Public Meeting in Christchurch in October. Within a short period of time I had knocked out a little leaflet, based on Sue’s work; put out a press release; and we had organised a small picket of the venue, complete with CAFCA’s banner outside and some CAFCA members (including Susan Miller) inside the meeting, distributing leaflets and asking questions of the SOE’s executives. I wasn’t available that day as I had a clash, so my Committee colleague Colleen Hughes did an excellent job of asking the questions and talking to the media. It got good coverage and was a very worthwhile exercise, of the sort that CAFCA hasn’t done for years, to remind the public and media of the dirty deal (a cross-border lease) that saw Transpower effectively going from being the owner of the South Island power grid to simply being the operator, with ownership held by a US bank. Particular thanks to the two Susans and to Colleen.
Insurance TNC Protest
That wasn’t the only outing for CAFCA’s banner in 2012. It was at the midwinter march against asset sales; and Warren Brewer and I took it along to a march against both the Earthquake Commission and Australian-owned IAG (owner of State Insurance, among others). This was held in the most appalling weather, with freezing wind and driving rain, wading through ankle deep water in some places. I wore full wet weather gear from head to foot and still got soaked and frozen. It reminded me of the opening scene in “Les Miserables” with the convicts manually dragging the warship into dry dock, whilst being battered by both seawater and rain. But instead of Jean Valjean singing ‘Who Am I?”, this march featured endless shrill choruses of “Who are we? TC3!” (people living on land classified technical category 3, the worst category of land still deemed repairable. Basically they’ve all been shoved into the too hard basket). Boy, there were hundreds of angry, desperate and frustrated people on that march, many of whom had never been on a protest before. And they took it out on anyone, including poor old Warren and I, who were told by one of them that the CAFCA banner was “inappropriate” (I soon set that person straight, explaining that we were there to show support for a protest against a transnational insurance corporation, one which went on to be a finalist in the 2012 Roger Award. And, what’s more, I have been a State Insurance house and contents insurance policyholder for 30 years, so I had every right to be there because it had everything to do with me). It was fascinating to witness the visceral anger expressed, from very close range, at the Australian Chief Executive Officer of IAG, after she finally deigned to come outside her corporate headquarters.
Indeed, Christchurch has become a city of marches and rallies, nearly all of them to do with protesting the lack of official and corporate response to its people, many of whom are still in dire straits as a result of the quakes catastrophe. There have also been a series of marches and rallies protesting the “restructuring” of the city’ schools; the absence of local democracy at the regional council level; the wanton destruction of the city’s heritage buildings (one CAFCA member was arrested at one of those, having tried to physically stop the demolition); and the overpaid arrogance of the City Council’s top management (we deliberately stayed out of that one. It’s the old maxim of “be careful what you wish for”. The call was for the Council to be sacked and a new election to be called. The Government and Big Business would be only too happy to strip even more democracy away. On the issue of Christchurch asset sales, we find ourselves 100% on the same side as Mayor Bob Parker and the Council who have repeatedly said that they oppose any such suggestion). I and various Committee colleagues took part in some or all of those, but the banner we took to them was the Keep Our Assets one, not the CAFCA one (because it really would have been “inappropriate”).
We don’t just haphazardly decide what issues to focus on or what activities to join. Every year the Committee has a strategy meeting, at which every aspect of our operation is up for analysis and we thrash out what should be our priorities for the year ahead. As part of the preparation we ask Committee members to circulate written comments and suggestions in advance. They are very stimulating meetings, which cover subjects in detail at both the macro and micro level. For example, the 2012 strategy meeting covered everything from setting our priorities (the asset sales campaign) to succession planning. To quote from the minutes: “Paul suggested that Murray should write down a list of everything he does”. Easier said than done; once I started writing down what I do and how each job is done (this is a job I’ve done now for 21 years), it soon became a major exercise. At the time of writing I had filled 30 pages of job description. It was Dennis Small who originally suggested that we have an annual strategy meeting, and he deserves our thanks for such an excellent idea (although, as he hasn’t lived in Christchurch for more than a decade, it’s been a long time since he actually attended one). I can thoroughly recommend them, they’re highly worthwhile. And, in 2012, we capped it off with a damned nice lunch. CAFCA does too little socialising (we don’t have a Christmas party, for example), so that set a very pleasant precedent.
Waihopai Spybase Protest
The other group for whom I am paid to work is, of course, the Anti-Bases Campaign. ABC’s main activity every year is the protest at the Waihopai spy base. Here’s how I reported the January 2012 Waihopai protest in Peace Researcher: “… (It) was one of the best for some time. It had more people; some new faces; some welcome old faces making a return; and just some more oomph in general. And it certainly didn’t hurt that the Marlborough weather returned to the stereotype of what it should be – in both 2010 and 11 there had been wind, rain and cold and our camp had even been rocked by its very own pre-dawn Marlborough earthquake in 2011 (just to make the Cantabrians feel at home). I’m pleased to report that our January 2012 Marlborough weekend featured neither rain, nor wind, nor cold, nor earthquakes. So we were able to concentrate on the tasks at hand.
“Waihopai protests have been going for so long (since the late 1980s, in fact) that there is, inevitably, a repetitive feel to them. The trick is to introduce some new elements and we did just that (in 2012). At the suggestion of our invaluable Blenheim organisers, ABC set up a stall in the regular Saturday morning open air market held in the Railway Station car park. This was staffed for several hours by Committee members Warren Thomson, Jenny Hope-Boyd and Robyn Dann, plus Victoria Davis. The four of them set up our Waihopai display (the first time we had taken it to Blenheim since 2006, when the Marlborough District Library had refused to host it) and distributed our leaflet about the spy base to the hundreds of people who came to the market, plus other ABC material, and took the opportunity to talk to people on a one on one basis. There were no placards or banners there; we made a decision to separate out the stall from the protest activities. We concluded that it was an extremely worthwhile activity, providing the opportunity to interact with the Blenheim public in a way that we haven’t tried before. The fact that the weather was good was also very helpful, as such a stall would not have been possible in rain or wind (the display is not really intended for outdoor use; it was a calculated risk to set it up in the open air).
“There was also a change in the actual protest activities. For years we’ve used Seymour Square as our rallying point before marching around central Blenheim. The reasons are as much historical as anything else, dating back to the 1980s and 90s when ABC specialised in activities leading to mass arrests, with subsequent court appearances being in the District Court in Seymour Square. That still makes sense when there is an actual Waihopai court case. Most recently that was the 2008 depositions hearing for the three Ploughshares Domebusters (Adrian Leason, Peter Murnane and Sam Land; all of their subsequent court appearances, criminal and civil, have been in Wellington). But, otherwise, Seymour Square on a Saturday is not where the people of Blenheim are. Plus, one of the consequences of Christchurch’s earthquakes catastrophe has been the closure of old stone, unreinforced brick and masonry structures all around the country – including Blenheim’s Seymour Square War Memorial clock tower, which had always been the focus of ABC’s activities there. What concluded the decision for us was that we decided to no longer host a sausage sizzle for our lunch, which we had done for years in Seymour Square, at the conclusion of our rally and march through town. The logistics of having to transport our rental barbeque in and out from our camp finally became too much of a hassle. So we provided everyone with a cut lunch and transferred our base into Market Place in the central business district, which is where the people are on a Saturday. That was much more successful.
“It’s worth quoting the Marlborough Express report in full (23/1/12, ‘New blood in spy base protest’, Simon Wong, http://www.stuff.co.nz/marlborough-express/news/6298414/New-blood-in-spy-base-protest): ‘They came, they chanted, they called for the end of the Waihopai spy base. About 50 people converged on Market Place, Blenheim, on Saturday to protest against the Government spy base and its links to American military operations. Among seasoned campaigners such as John Minto, Green MP Steffan Browning and Adrian Leason – who slashed one of the domes at the spy base – were first-timers who had been inspired by previous protests. Golden Bay resident and US migrant Victoria Davis said she grew up as a ‘staunch American’, but had lived in New Zealand for 25 years. She had not been to the protest before. ‘I'm from the US and it's sad the country has engaged in wars which are causing widespread destruction’. Earlier in the morning she had been helping at a stall at the Railway Station market, telling people about the purpose of the spy base. People did not realise the base was paid for by taxpayers, she said.
“’Christchurch man Ron Currie was also at the protest for the first time, but his wife Pam Hughes had been to one before. Mr Currie said he was worried about New Zealand's involvement in the ‘Western war machine’. ‘You can't just stand by and let it happen. I don't want my grandchildren to be conscripted into a war’. He admired the courage of the Waihopai Three who broke into the spy base and slashed one of the inflatable domes. Mr Currie had put the finishing touches on his sign in Market Place which read: ‘Waihopai, We Spy, Bombs Fly, People Die’ when he spoke to the Express. Ms Hughes said the couple came to the protest to voice their concerns. ‘People not saying anything is like tacit approval and the reason why the US can be big bullies in the world’.
“’The group gathered to hear speeches from Mr Minto, Mr Browning, Mr Leason and Murray Horton from the Anti-Bases Campaign, applauding any reference to the 2008 slashing of the inflatable dome that covered one satellite dish at the spy base. Mr Horton called the actions of the Waihopai Three ‘heroic’ and said the money spent on the base each year was ‘criminal’. He said the turnout for the protest was pleasing, considering previous years attracted between 20 and 30 people.
“’The theme of the protest was anti-war and highlighted the connection between the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) and the United States military. The group, comprising mostly older people and some children, then marched through Blenheim chanting slogans and singing a protest song to the tune of Pink Floyd's ‘Another Brick in the Wall’ before going to the spy base on Waihopai Valley Rd. Mr Minto said it was important to return to the spy base every year because ‘this is us speaking truth to power’. As the debate over the base continued, more people understood what it was doing, the veteran campaigner said. The protest met no opposition this year except for one man who drove past the protesters in Market Place and called them ‘weirdos’, and two men who were waiting for the protest at the spy base. The men had hoped to join other counter-protesters who appeared there during last year's protest, but the counter-protesters did not return this year’.
Domebuster The Draw Card
“Adrian Leason was definitely the draw card for the media; just as his partner in crime, Father Peter Murnane, had been at the 2011 protest (Peter is now working in the Solomon Islands). It was his first return to Blenheim and Waihopai since their acquittal in 2010 (bail conditions prevented any of the three of them setting foot in the province of Marlborough, except to attend court or meet lawyers. As their trial was transferred to Wellington they had no legal reason to go to Marlborough. But all that ended with their acquittal). Adi bought five of his seven kids, plus he was supported by a number of other people from the Catholic Worker group, who came from places ranging from Christchurch to D’Urville Island (in the Marlborough Sounds). Immediately prior to the protest he featured in the media under the headline ‘Spy base attacker says he’s sorry’ (Press, 20/1/12). ‘As a Catholic Christian and as a New Zealand State primary school teacher, damaging property is not what I do as a rule. I get no sense of pleasure and regret the inconvenience and time-wasting of the good Police officers of Blenheim and neighbours and anyone else caught in the periphery of the event…I went through quite a lot of soul-searching and what to do when faced with a moral and ethical dilemma. I put my family, career, job and freedom on the line and if doing right means I get in trouble and lose something very precious to me, I’m prepared to stand up and do what’s right’. That’s not the same as ‘saying sorry’ which is what the headline would have us believe he said. He certainly said nothing about being sorry for having slashed the spy base dome in 2008.
John Key & Uncle Sam, Plus Pink Floyd
“Adi was our headlining speaker and he certainly didn’t disappoint. With the youngest of his kids clinging tight to Dad’s hand he spoke extremely well at the band rotunda in Market Place. And as a surprise bonus he brought along a huge John Key puppet head (which he claimed to have found at his local Otaki rubbish dump - an appropriate place for our beloved Prime Minister), which he proceeded to wear through the streets of Blenheim, complete with Tory blue tie and National Party rosette, accompanying us as we marched through town. Even better, John Key joined forces with our old favourite Uncle Sam (played with great enthusiasm by ABC’s Alice Leney - who is actually a man) and they made a striking pair striding hand in hand through town ahead of our march. They definitely attracted the attention of Saturday shoppers and strollers as they strutted and taunted us protesters in the finest tradition of tag wrestling villains. Their grand finale was reached when our march arrived back at the band rotunda and we realised that the local National Party office is right there. What better visual backdrop could there be for John Key and Uncle Sam than the local Tory HQ? It was fantastic street theatre, when added to our usual props of banners, placards, crosses, white face masks and a couple of coffins (to symbolise those killed in the wars in countries such as Afghanistan where electronic intelligence-gathering plays such a key part). But it remains unknown if John Key will make an encore appearance at any future Waihopai protest – Adi told us that he fell off the trailer on the way home to Otaki (accidentally, Adi assured us) and was found in a ditch somewhat the worse for wear. How very symbolic – I have no doubt that John Key really would vow to die in a ditch for Uncle Sam.
“The additional ingredient was the great new Waihopai protest song* by the ABC Committee’s Boyd sisters, Jenny and Lynda, set to the instantly recognisable tune of Pink Floyd’s ‘A Brick In the Wall’*. All of us sang that with great gusto through the streets of Blenheim. Indeed it was a very musical weekend. Jim Consedine, from Christchurch Catholic Worker, closed proceedings outside the spy base gate with a previously unrevealed (to me, anyway) singing ability. He sang, beautifully, that old peace movement standard ‘Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream’.
*Lyrics by Jenny and Lynda Boyd. Tune by Pink Floyd.
‘We don’t need your false security,
We don’t want your bloody war
No more tax dollars on surveillance
We must shut the spy base now
Hey John Key, close Waihopai now
All in all it’s just another USA war’
Repeat as many times as necessary.
Greens Have Always Been Actively Involved
“As well as the Catholic Workers the other group well represented was the Greens. Not only by rank and file Party members but by MPs, namely Steffan Browning and Mojo Mathers, both of whom were newly elected at the November 2011 election. ABC was particularly pleased for Steffan, because he has been one of our key organisers in Blenheim for many years, and has always spoken at our Waihopai protests on behalf of the local Greens. To quote Kermit the Frog it’s not easy being Green, and certainly not in a conservative, National stronghold like Blenheim, which comes complete with one military base (RNZAF Woodbourne) and one spy base. Steffan has quite often felt the heat of local disapproval of ABC’s activities in his home town. So it was great to welcome him in 2012 as one of our speakers, appearing in his capacity as the Greens’ spokesperson on security and intelligence. He has big shoes to fill – that was Keith Locke’s portfolio for many years and Keith spoke at virtually every Waihopai protest dating back to the 1990s, before he became an MP, and when the Greens were still part of the Alliance. For years Keith and Green Co-Leader, the late Rod Donald, were high profile figures at all Waihopai protests (and other ABC activities). 2012 was the first time since the 90s that Keith was absent, enjoying a well earned break since retiring from Parliament at the 2011 election. But he’s promised to come back again (he was at the 2013 protest). ABC greatly appreciates the unstinting support from the Greens since the 90s. Steffan is simply continuing a tradition that has included attendance not only by Keith and Rod, but also former Co-Leader Jeanette Fitzsimons and current Co-Leader Russel Norman.
Welcome Return By Veteran Activists
“The Marlborough Express report quoted above mentioned ‘new blood’. That is correct but it needs clarifying that some of that is old blood coming back. For example, Warren Thomson, who rejoined the ABC Committee in 2011 and stepped up to join me as Peace Researcher Co-Editor. 2012 was the first time Warren had been on a Waihopai protest since 1997, the year he moved to Bangkok where he taught English until returning to Christchurch in 2010. Warren was a founder of ABC, a vital member of the Committee in the 1980s and 90s and our main organiser of Waihopai protests in those years, often single handed. Not only did he organise those protests, he threw himself into them with such enthusiasm that he earned the nickname Waihopai Warren, and was arrested several times (including in 1997). It is great to have him back and, despite the gap of 15 years, he threw himself back into the 2012 protest with as much enthusiasm (although he’s not so re-acclimatised yet as to actually join us in camping for the weekend – he and his wife Noi stayed in a local motel). At the protest at the outer, public, gate to the base he spoke and urged people to consider future action involving going back over the fence (he specified the outer, rather than the inner fence). I could sense the old peace warrior’s non-violent direct action juices flowing again. Watch this space (sure enough, at the 2013 protest he led a group of about 20 people over the outer fence whereupon a ‘scuffle’ happened with the police. Read all about it in my 2013 Report).
“Similarly with Ron Currie, who was quoted in the Express article: Ron had never been on a Waihopai protest before but he was a key activist in the original anti-bases campaign of 40 years ago, long before there was an actual Anti-Bases Campaign. He produced some of the classic posters for protests at the US military transport base at Christchurch Airport (which is still there today, albeit in a much reduced capacity). His wife, Pam Hughes, came with us on a 1980s’ activity at the former US Naval Observatory atop Black Birch Ridge, also in Marlborough. As Ron told me: ‘We retired from politics for 30 years’, but now they’re back and have offered to be actively involved in future Waihopai protests. Great! And they were both in the thick of things at Waihopai 2013, as well as their daughter Rosa, including going over the fence. Ron and I go back nearly 40 years – I’ve already mentioned that Bill Rosenberg and Marty Braithwaite were on the staff when I was the 1974 Editor of the University of Canterbury student paper Canta. Ron was our Layout Editor
Aussies Join Us In Common Struggle
“The other thing that many Waihopai protests have had is international participants (in 2011 it was a Canadian couple and an American speaker at the base). In 2012 it was an Irish/Scottish couple travelling around NZ who joined us; plus my oldest and dearest Australian friend, Lindy Nolan and her husband Peter Nelson. I’ve known Lindy since we were fellow Sydney activists in the maelstrom of Australian politics in the mid 1970s (when the Whitlam Labor government was sacked by the Governor-General in a bloodless coup), and she has been involved in the whole spectrum of Left and union activism ever since, including a stint with the Australian Anti-Bases Campaign Coalition. It is a common struggle – for decades Kiwis, including me, have taken part in protests at US bases in Australia (indeed the participation of a group of Kiwis, including me, in the 1974 Long March across Aussie by bus to the then US Navy communications base at North West Cape, Western Australia, was the inspiration for the 1975 South Island Resistance Ride, the organising of which necessitated the creation of what is now CAFCA); and we’ve had several Aussies take part in previous Waihopai protests over the years (although the issues they face make ours look like child’s play). For example, Peace Researcher 27, August 2003, includes an article co-written by Lindy and I entitled “Militant Protest At Pine Gap Warbase”, http://www.converge.org.nz/abc/pr27-75.htm. Lindy and Pete came to NZ in January 2012 for two reasons – to visit their Kiwi friends in both Islands; and to take part in their first Waihopai protest. Lindy made a bloody good speech outside the base gate (where ABC always offers an open megaphone for participants to speak). It was great to have them join us for the weekend and it was great to see them again, for the first time since Becky and I attended their Sydney wedding 20 years earlier. The four of us had a funfilled few days together in Christchurch after the Waihopai weekend.
“To conclude: there was renewed energy in the 2012 Waihopai protest, which makes ABC more determined than ever to keep up this marathon of a campaign. That spy base is a blot on the conscience of all New Zealanders (as well as a blot on the Marlborough landscape) and we won’t stop until it’s closed. We’ll keep doing it for as long as it takes. So, we look forward to seeing you back there again next time. Spread the word and bring your friends. This affects all of us because it’s being done in our name and with our money. Time to say: ‘Enough is enough; close Waihopai now!’” And we did do it all again, in January 2013, but you’ll have to wait for my 2013 Report to read about that. As I’ve already mentioned it was the most actionpacked Waihopai protest for years (although still only a pale imitation of what they used to be like in the 1980s and 90s. Maybe it’s because we’re all getting old and need a hand to climb over the fence).
I mentioned in my 2011 Report that I was back on track as PR Co-Editor, with Warren Thomson, after having basically ground to a halt in 2010 after years as sole Editor. That’s, hopefully, all behind me now, which is great, because PR is a damn good little newsletter. Actually it’s not so little any more – the two 2012 issues were 56 and 60 pages, respectively, the latter being the biggest ever (about the size Watchdog used to be decades ago, before CAFCA supersized it). I enjoy writing for PR (when I can make the time to do so) because it enables me to write about topics that I don’t write about in Watchdog (such as the Kim Dotcom/Government Communications Security Bureau tragi-comedy) This is the sort of stuff that I cut my teeth on when I first started as a political activist, long before I could bring myself to take an interest in boring old economics. Actually, between the two publications that I edit, we were able to cover two quite separate aspects of the Dotcom saga. In Watchdog 129, August 2012 James Ayers wrote “Kim Dotcom And The Good Character Test: Money Versus Power”, http://www.converge.org.nz/watchdog/30/06.html, which is an analysis of the Overseas Investment Office’s file on Dotcom, which CAFCA obtained under the Official Information Act. And in Peace Researcher 44, November 2012, I wrote “A Dotcomedy Of Errors. GCSB Illegally Spies On New Zealanders: We Told You So” http://www.converge.org.nz/abc/pr/44/pr44-001a.htm.
I felt that this PR article deserved wider circulation because of its newsworthiness, so I sent it to the media. It got an immediate response from a senior journalist at the New Zealand Herald but not about what I was expecting. Buried in it is a reference to a 1997 PR cover photo of veteran GCSB heavyweight Hugh Wolfensohn, who was still around in 2012 as a lead player in the Dotcom/GCSB saga (which finished his career and saw him taking the rap in 2013 as the fall guy for the GCSB’s innumerable transgressions). The Herald man explained that the country’s biggest daily paper could not find or take a photo of this shy spy and could it have ours? Unfortunately, it’s not a good photo, with his face in shadow and turned away from the camera (it was taken outside the Blenheim District Court during the hearing of charges against the 20 people arrested at the 1997 Waihopai spy base protest). But we couldn’t oblige, at that time. Bob Leonard kept all ABC’s photos (and furthermore, it was taken by Bob on film and is not available electronically). But when the ABC Committee went into his unoccupied and badly damaged house in February 2013, two years after he and Barbara had to permanently flee it, a file box of 1990s’ ABC photos was among the material we retrieved. I couldn’t find the actual photo but I did find the negative, plus several other photos of Wolfensohn taken at the same time (since then the camera shy GCSB boys have learnt to stay away from such court hearings. They were nowhere to be seen at the 2010 Domebusters’ trial in Wellington). Having ascertained that you can still get photos printed from old negatives (something that I hadn’t done since the advent of digital photography), I was able to oblige the Herald several months after the journalist asked me about it and one of Bob’s photos, duly credited to him, illustrated an article about Wolfensohn in March 2013.
You can view this rare photo of one of the country’s top spies on the cover of PR 13, August 1997 http://www.historicalpeaceresearcher.blogspot.co.nz/2010/06/peace-researcher-vol2-issue13-august.html. The fact that you can do so is a tribute to the work of ABC (and CAFCA) Committee member Lynda Boyd who uploaded all the historic PRs some years ago (as she also did for the historic Watchdogs, a much bigger job). The efficacy of this was borne out not only by that Herald inquiry but also by a stranger from the other side of the world contacting us about a tiny report that had appeared in a 1994 PR.
A Very Useful Specialist Publication
Warren Thomson is a prolific writer and, in marked contrast to me, he writes short, snappy articles. His cover story in PR 43, May 2012, “Manoeuvred Back Into ANZUS: Subversion Of NZ’s Independence” http://www.converge.org.nz/abc/pr/43/pr43-001.htm, attracted wider attention. Dennis Small, himself a former PR Editor, writes articles for it that are just as long and as fascinating as his regular contributions to Watchdog but on completely different subjects (Dennis is the only NZ writer that I know of to doggedly publicise and analyse one of the great unpunished crimes of the 20th Century, namely the massacre of maybe a million Indonesian “Communists”, aided and abetted by the US. Unlike what is happening with surviving Khmer Rouge leaders in Cambodia, there are no mass murder trials for the surviving Indonesian perpetrators). In 2013 Dennis has told us that he wants to step back to being an occasional writer, same as with Watchdog.
Maire Leadbeater and her brother Keith Locke were PR’s other writers in 2012. Maire wrote a history of 1970s, 80s and 90s protests against the US military transport base at Christchurch International Airport (“The Campaign To Demilitarise Harewood”, PR 44, November 2012, http://www.converge.org.nz/abc/pr/44/pr44-003.htm). That reminded us that ABC grew out of the earlier CDH (Campaign to Demilitarise Harewood), and that CAFCINZ/CAFCA was heavily involved in that Harewood campaign in the 70s and 80s, because CAFCA was a product of the original anti-bases campaign (before there was an actual Anti-Bases Campaign). Maire has promised PR a similar article about historic Waihopai protests. Keith wrote us a fascinating article “Trying To Make NZ Intelligence Agencies More Accountable” My Efforts In Parliament” (PR 43, May 2012, http://www.converge.org.nz/abc/pr/43/pr43-003.htm). Jeremy Agar is Reviews Editor, as he is for Watchdog – there is a degree of overlap of his reviews but some of them are for PR only.
The whole thing looks a million bucks, due to the meticulous work of our Layout Editor, my wife Becky, who has done it for more than a decade and who will go to exhaustive lengths to get it just right, sometimes working right through the night. And since belatedly discovering that the software on this CAFCA computer includes the ability to convert her Publisher layout into a PDF, it has made getting PR printed a breeze. In the past there have been embarrassing glitches (involving text moving – in one famous case the bloody front cover masthead – between lay out and printing and not being discovered by yours truly until too late. That problem was caused by incompatibility between what was used to lay it out and print it). Cass Daley is the Web Content Manager for the ABC site (as she is for Watchdog) and does a very good job of getting PR online. It is very useful having it in cyberspace. When it was reported, in early 2013, that Rob Gilchrist is suing his former Police employers for damages for “mental pain”, I was immediately able to circulate three detailed articles from PR 38, July 2009, about his decade-long career as a Police spy and agent provocateur (ABC, CAFCA and PSNA were among the many groups that he spied on).
The benefits of having PR online can be unforeseen. For example, in 2012 I was contacted by a Swedish stranger who had read an online 2010 article about the unsuccessful attempt to secure Owen Wilkes’ Security Intelligence Service Personal File. He wrote to say that he worked with Owen at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute in the late 70s and early 80s, and had come out here and lived a year with both Owen and his brother Jack on the West Coast in the early 80s, following Owen to Wellington when he had become a fulltime peace movement organiser and researcher. The correspondent, who now works as a Eurocrat, wanted to re-establish contact with Jack and his other NZ friends from 30 years ago.
Since the Catholic peace activists Adrian Leason, Peter Murnane and Sam Land so wonderfully deflated one of the Waihopai spy base domes in 2008 ABC has championed their cause. They were acquitted of criminal charges by a Wellington jury in 2010 but the humiliated covert State is out for vengeance and sued them personally for every last cent that it cost to replace that dome (right down to every coffee, pie and beer consumed by the workers) – more than $1 million. In 2011 the full amount was awarded against them but the Domebusters are appealing that, with the appeal scheduled to be heard in 2013. I wonder if the GCSB will accept payment in pies and beer. ABC has been delighted to have had both Peter Murnane (2011) and Adi Leason (2012 & 13) as lead speakers at our Waihopai protests. These guys have become both valued colleagues and friends. We will continue to support them as much as we can.
In It For The Long Haul
As with CAFCA, ABC has an annual strategy meeting (the 2012 one was held in the then Little River home of Committee member Jenny Hope-Boyd, which gave us a day in the country, a bloody nice lunch and a chance to pay a visit, my first ever, to Rod Donald’s grave in a local churchyard. That was very appropriate because Rod was a very good friend to ABC, and a leading figure at all our Waihopai protests right up until his tragically early death in 2005). Various decisions came out of that – for example, we decided to try and raise our profile by putting out ABC press releases other than at the time of the Waihopai protests. In other words, to comment on things, rather than simply announce an event, and hopefully build a media profile to the point where they contact us for comment (as has happened with CAFCA for many years now) rather than us chasing them. That hasn’t happened yet but we will keep trying. You can read our modest output at http://www.converge.org.nz/abc/press_release_hp.htm. Warren Thomson has been very good at writing them (they go out under my name) – plus writing letters to the editor. And, another strategy meeting micro-level decision was that, after years of using CAFCA’s e-mail address, it was time we had our own (and it has caused confusion. I have stood next to a Green Co-Leader at a Waihopai protest who mistakenly thanked CAFCA for organising it). So, after the inevitable hassles - necessitating the first ever personal visit to my home office by our Internet Service Provider’s Managing Director and his deputy - ABC got its own e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org. We also decided to pay more attention to updating our Website www.converge.org.nz/abc (managed by Cass Daley). For the first time ever you can now find links to media coverage, and other material related to a Waihopai protest (the 2013 one), at http://www.converge.org.nz/abc/waihopai2013/waihopai13.html.
I have mentioned the effect of the quakes on some of my CAFCA Committee colleagues. The same applies to the ABC Committee. Robyn Dann, the ABC Treasurer, owns a 1850s’ Woolston cottage across the street from the Heathcote River. The place has a lot of old bricks in it and those parts of the house have taken a pummelling. She and her teenage daughter are allowed to live in it, pending a decision on repair or rebuild, but the bedrooms are too dangerous to sleep in, meaning that they’ve been living in the lounge and dining room for two years now, with no end in sight. That means Robyn can no longer host ABC meetings, which she had done for the decade prior to the quakes (our place is now the ABC meeting venue, until further notice). In my 2011 Report I detailed how Warren Thomson had lost his job at a central city English language school when it (and the rest of that sector) was wiped out by the February 2011 quake. Warren had months of unemployment, followed by months of highly erratic part-time work as his school struggled to survive with a drastically reduced number of foreign students. But in 2012 the school re-established itself out in the suburbs and he got back close to fulltime work again. And his hillside house was repaired (he and Noi lived in it for several weeks while it was fixed, just as Becky and I had done for two months while our place was fixed in 2011). On the other hand, Jenny Hope-Boyd had a non-quake emergency in 2012, when her rental home on the main street of Little River very nearly got inundated by a major midwinter flood – she had to wade through thigh-deep water to get inside.
Like CAFCA, ABC is in it for the long haul. We are very patient. Warren Thomson, who was one of our leading figures in the 80s and 90s, taught in Bangkok from 1997-2010 inclusive. He rejoined the Committee in 2011 and resumed co-editing PR (with me), which he’d last done with Bob Leonard in the 90s. Then, in 2012, his daughter Melanie came home from nearly 12 years teaching in London. In the 90s she had been an ABC Committee member and leading Waihopai activist (plus she used to do the PR lay out and she created the ABC Website). Warren came home with a Thai wife; Melanie with an English husband and six year old daughter. They live in Ashburton, because that’s where Chris got a job (and Melanie is teaching there now). But it’s great to have her back, she’s rejoined ABC (and CAFCA) and the whole NZ/Thai/English Thomson clan came to the January 2013 Waihopai protest.
ABC is much more of a single issue campaign than CAFCA, with a specialist publication, so it always has been, and probably always will be, smaller than CAFCA (at the time of writing, and pre the annual purge of non-payers, ABC has 123 members and $10,000+ in the bank). But, as with CAFCA, it punches way above its weight and always generates media coverage disproportionate to its size. The Committee -Warren, Robyn, Jenny, me and, from a distance, Lynda Boyd, who has lived in Auckland for years but tells us that she is coming home in 2013 - is small but we are all very good friends, not just colleagues, which means that our activities are always fun.
Becky and I spent both Christmas and New Year’s Eve with Warren and Noi and family. I attended my second ABC wedding in a year, when Becky and I were among the guests at Jenny Hope-Boyd’s in February 2013 (the February 2012 one was that of our former long time Committee member, and current Christchurch City Councillor. Yani Johanson). Jenny and Richard were married in a beautiful hilltop setting, with a full length view of Lyttelton Harbour as the backdrop, on a day that was warm, sunny and (miraculously) windless. It was lovely to socialise with Jenny, Lynda, Cass and their family. Particularly as the previous weekend Lynda and I had been engaged in the sad, dirty, dark and dangerous task of retrieving ABC material from Bob Leonard’s quake-damaged and abandoned house. Being friends makes a big difference when you’re fighting some of the biggest, meanest, most secretive and murderous forces running the world. We enjoy our work.
The other group for whom I work, but in an unpaid capacity, is the Philippines Solidarity Network of Aotearoa. 2012 was a quiet year for PSNA, as was 2011, and it is likely to remain that way until further notice. PSNA last organised a national speaking tour in 2010 and since then has just basically ticked over. From 1993 until 2009 I was the Editor of Kapatiran (“Solidarity”), which was PSNA’s newsletter. It was a good little publication (Becky was the Layout Editor and Webperson). But once I became Editor of Peace Researcher as well as Watchdog, it became harder and harder to be able to produce a third newsletter as well. 2009 was the last time I got an issue out and at the beginning of 2012 I bit the bullet and announced that there won’t be any more. Nor will it appear online, because I don’t have time to write and edit the copy. I e-mailed members and supporters the copy that had been prepared for the next issue (which never appeared – some of it was two years old by that stage) and bowed out. Sad, but it had lasted 16 years, which is no mean feat.
That is not to say that PSNA did nothing in 2012. Far from it. For example, in October, President Benigno Aquino made a State visit, the first by a Philippine President since 2007. I took it upon myself to write an article for the New Zealand Herald (Dialogue, 19/10/12, “Filipinos Deserve Real Democracy”, http://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=10841416). This appeared before the President arrived in Auckland and stirred up quite a lot of comments, for and against. It was certainly taken seriously at the highest level of the Philippine government, with a Presidential spokesperson having a reply published in the Herald several days later. “Mr Horton's views resemble misinformation commonly being disseminated by a number of individuals and organisations with ties to extreme Leftist elements in the Philippines”. That old shibboleth, in turn, led to a further flurry of media debate in the Philippines. Nor was that my only appearance in my PSNA capacity in either the Philippine or NZ media.
Auckland Philippines Solidarity and Migrante Aotearoa (which organises Philippine migrant workers in NZ) are very active and kept up a steady stream of press releases to the Philippine media throughout the year. A number of these were issued in my name (although not written by me but by Amie Dural, an invaluable addition to the ranks of Filipino political activists now living in Auckland), meaning that I made several appearances in the Philippine media in 2012. More unusually I also made some appearances in my PSNA capacity in the NZ media, which was very interested in whether there were going to be any protests against Aquino’s State visit. Despite being told no, I still ended up doing a couple of mainstream radio interviews. And I also arranged national NZ media interviews with Cameron Walker of Auckland Philippines Solidarity who, during a visit to the country to attend a conference, was trapped with storm victims in the southern island of Mindanao when it was pummelled by a typhoon in December 2012.
Natural Disasters: Philippines
In fact, responding to Philippine storms took up plenty of my time in the final few months of the year. PSNA is not a relief agency but we can’t just stand idly by while the poor people of the country with whom we are in solidarity get hammered by natural disasters worsened by climate change and compounded by the criminal negligence of their ruling class. So we ran two appeals within a few months (we’d done one earlier one, back in 2009), for the victims of catastrophic floods in Metro Manila and storm damage (mainly from wind and landslides) in Mindanao. I circulated the appeals widely, including to CAFCA and ABC members, and both of them received an immediate and generous response. PSNA raised a few thousand dollars (a modest amount, but better than a poke in the eye with a burnt stick), which was forwarded via our good friends at Christian World Service. And, speaking as the resident of a city that has recently experienced catastrophic natural disasters, I have an inkling of how it feels and Cantabrians certainly appreciated the generosity of people from throughout the country and overseas. You can check out PSNA at www.converge.org.nz/psna (my wife Becky is in charge of the Website and goes to some trouble to make it look good).
As is the case with the CAFCA and ABC Committees, the PSNA Committee members – me, Becky, Leigh Cookson, Paul Watson and Trish Murray – all suffered quake damage to our homes and workplaces to a greater or lesser degree. Leigh and Trish both spent several weeks out of their homes in 2012 while they were being repaired. Trish works for Christian World Service, which was uprooted out of its central city building by the February 2011 quake and was nomadic for some time before getting back into a building in 2012 in a less salubrious part of the central city. They’ll be very secure though, as they’re next door to the city’s new temporary Police Station. Paul worked in the Trade Union Centre, which has been demolished and can’t be rebuilt where it stood as the Government has acquired the land under its new central city rebuild plan. And, in 2012, Paul’s whole Avonside street was condemned and every house in it is to be demolished (they’re getting a new house built not too far away). He and Lorraine and their two kids are among the thousands of red zoners whose houses have been, or are going to be, demolished. As in so many other cases, their whole neighbourhood is being flattened.
That saddens me greatly, as I used to live in that street just over 30 years ago; it was the last house I rented before becoming an owner. Just before Christmas 2012 I walked from where I now live (Addington) to where I used to live (Avonside) to attend a party. I walked along condemned streets full of abandoned and overgrown houses on either side of the Avon, remembering when I used to bike along those very same streets on my way to and from work (on one particularly memorable morning I had to swerve onto the wrong side to avoid a bloody great sea elephant basking in the middle of the road. That was Elizabeth, the city’s resident sea elephant in those days and, what’s more, she reared up and roared at me. It’s the only time I encountered such a sight on my morning commute). It was a beautiful part of the city in which to live and, if I’d had the money, I would have bought a house there. Thank God I didn’t but had to settle for shabby old Addington, which has the priceless attribute of being on stable land and nowhere near a river.
Natural Disasters: Christchurch
That leads naturally on to the effect of the quakes in 2012, a subject that filled pages of my 2011 Report. Our house was fixed in 2011 (although there’s still a few minor cracks to be attended to and we still haven’t put anything back on the walls or put any lightshades back up) - 2012 saw us get our minimally cracked drive completely replaced (that constituted our only dealings with our insurance company; the rest had been handled by the Earthquake Commission). This involved several weeks of inconvenience, as the drive constitutes the only access to the house – I had to hastily cut a path through our front hedge, which was promptly christened the Ho Chi Minh Trail. While the concrete set everything had to go through that gap in the hedge – people, groceries, wheelie bins, my bike, etc. Fortunately, the neighbouring old people’s home kindly let us park our car free of charge in their carpark during the weeks it had to be off our property. The damaged drive had only been there since 1996 and, I’m pleased to report, there was no repetition of the incident where some local wit crept halfway up the newly laid drive and carved “Fuck You” into the wet cement. It took years to fade out. This time around we didn’t even get every neighbourhood cat running through the wet cement – apparently cement no longer contains the ingredient whose smell used to prove an irresistible attraction to every bloody cat (and dog) in the area.
It’s worth pointing out that State Insurance refused to consider doing anything about the driveway claim until we paid, in advance, the $350 excess. This was a new one on me (a State customer for 30 years and a previous non-quake claimant several times over that period). The embarrassed call centre telephonist told me it was State’s new policy for all Canterbury earthquake claims. Insurance companies, don’t you love them. I hasten to add that this was all a very minor inconvenience compared to what countless thousands of my fellow Cantabrians are still enduring, including colleagues on the CAFCA Committee. I have already mentioned the damage to the homes of both James Ayers and Jeremy Agar. Colleen Hughes lives in one of the worst affected eastern suburbs, very close to the red zone, in a street that floods every time it rains. All of those three are still waiting for their houses to be repaired. I was also involved in the grassroots community response to the quakes, namely by actively participating in a couple of City Council consultation meetings with residents to discuss the rebuild of our local suburban shops, which is scheduled to start at the end of 2013 (it is currently a large overgrown empty section).
2012 was a time to take stock and reflect on what had happened in 2010/11. As someone who was upstairs in the former CTV Building for a 10.15 a.m. interview on February 22nd, 2011, (the 25 year old journalist who interviewed me was among the 115 people killed when the building collapsed and burned two hours after I left) I took a more than academic interest in the inquests and the inquiry into what caused that building to instantly collapse as catastrophically as it did. The conclusions reached were that the whole bloody thing was a disaster waiting to happen from the time it was started to be built in the riproaring Rogernomics’ 80s of “market forces”, corner cutting and “lighthanded regulation”. That particular product of “market forces” proved no match for natural forces and was a perfect illustration of what I’ve always said – capitalism kills people (Pike River re-emphasised that point, plus the urgent need for the crime of corporate manslaughter to be added to NZ’s statute books). A number of people have been publicly shamed as having blood on their hands. But I was pleased to see that the late Graeme Tapper can posthumously hold his head up high. He was the 1980s’ Christchurch City Council engineer in the building consents section who did not want to sign the permit allowing that building to be constructed, because he wasn’t satisfied that it was safe. As the inquiry revealed, the developer went over Graeme’s head, and got it signed off. I never knew Graeme when he was at the Council but I certainly knew him, and worked with him, when he was Greypower’s Christchurch President in the 90s. You can read my tribute to him in Watchdog 106 (August 2004, http://www.converge.org.nz/watchdog/06/17.htm). He was a grumpy, angry old bugger but as straight as a die and, fundamentally, an honourable man.
Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due
2012 was also a time to give credit where credit was due. In my 2011 Report I wrote: “Special thanks to the Boyd sisters, Lynda and Jenny, who brought us a boot full of water bottles (survival hint – have a bath in your house; it’s a great storage repository for water). Thanks to our local butcher who stored all our freezer contents in his shop freezer, so we didn’t lose any food. He also supplied a barrel of fresh water outside his shop every day for people to help themselves – that’s the first time I’ve ever had to carry buckets of water home. I felt empathy with African women, except, of course, that I didn’t have to do it every day, or walk for many kilometres or carry it on my head. Thanks to our local café who gave me, free of charge, three big slices of carrot cake when I called in on the afternoon of the killer quake (as they had no power or water they were going to have to chuck them out). We lived on that, plus canned food cooked on our gas stove, for several days”. In 2012 I was able to take that further and nominate all of the above for Christchurch City Council’s Earthquake Awards. And I’m delighted that they were awarded both to my local butcher (who has the framed photo of him and Mayor Bob Parker displayed in his shop strung up on a meat hook, a setting in which lots of Christchurch people would like to see Bob); and the Boyd sisters, both of whom are on the ABC Committee, with Lynda also on the CAFCA Committee. But some wanker on the Council rang me to say that they refused to accept my café nomination because it was “frivolous. We don’t care if you like carrot cake and cappuccino, Mr Horton”. What’s more, he told me that if I didn’t withdraw that nomination, the Council wouldn’t accept the other two. How’s that for blackmail? So I take this opportunity to publicly thank Jenny the manager and the staff of Oddfellows Café, Disraeli Street, Addington for their kindness on February 22nd, 2011. Stuff the Council! Mind you, the bureaucrat was right about one thing – he told me that nobody in the City Council could read my handwriting. Neither can I. I’ve used a machine to write since the 1960s (starting with a typewriter) and my handwriting has deteriorated alarmingly. Good luck to any future student or historian who has to read the CAFCA Minutes. You’ll need a degree in cryptology or hieroglyphics.
Some Unique Experiences To Be Had
Regardless of where you live in Christchurch there is no escaping the quakes’ legacy. We have had continuous major roadworks in nearby streets for a year now and, as a cyclist, I’ve become very adept at hurtling along footpaths, dodging cones, “road closed” signs, trenches, potholes, sinkholes, workmen, large lethal machines, and queues of pissed off motorists. And, of course, Christchurch presents a constantly changing landscape as it rapidly evolves into a no skyline city. Personally I find it a uniquely fascinating time to be living and working here, watching so many familiar places coming down and a small but growing number of old favourites which have reopened, plus new places being built. There are definitely some unique experiences to be had in Christchurch at present. When the multi-storey Newstalk ZB building in the CBD was demolished by implosion several kilometres away from us one winter Sunday morning in 2012, it nonetheless sounded like an artillery barrage was being fired right outside our place. It certainly got the undivided attention of Beastly the cat who rushed to the window and tried to locate the source, staring out anxiously with a WTF expression on her face. She probably thought it was an opening “shock and awe” salvo from Gareth Morgan coming to get her.
Of course the aftershocks have gone right on rumbling and jolting all the way through 2012 and into 2013 (I’ve felt the odd one while writing this) but at nothing like the same frequency or magnitude as in 2010/11. In 2012 the only alarming thing that woke us up by going bump in the night was when a hapless wandering drunk literally crashed into our front door (which is next to our bedroom) one pre-dawn morning. I decided discretion was the better part of valour and rang the cops who came promptly and, witnessed by me in my senior citizen’s traditional costume of dressing gown and pyjamas, handcuffed him and bundled him into the car. His plaintive cry was “What about my shoes?” When dawn broke Becky and I found one footprint (not a shoeprint) in a stagger pattern right up our nice new drive (fortunately the concrete had set by then). We never found his shoe/s and we never heard from the cops again, so I can only assume they let him go when he sobered up. At the 2013 Waihopai protest camp I had a lively discussion about this with one of my fellow participants, an anarchist who has a blanket policy of no dealings with the cops (a perspective enhanced by having been one of the “Urewera terrorism raids” defendants). But I see no contradiction whatsoever in my being a political activist, even one who gets into “scuffles” with cops at Waihopai, and my dialling 111 in the dark because a drunken stranger is crashing into my front door. That’s what I pay taxes for. I’m not going to confront a young guy who’s out of it and who, for all I knew, could have had a knife. Nor was I going to invite him in for breakfast.
And the only threat to my life and health in 2012 came not from earthquakes but from snow and ice. Christchurch had one good snowfall, right at the start of winter. The day after, I had an appointment with CAFCA’s bookkeeper (who had had to relocate to Riccarton Road from a now demolished multi-storey central city building), to collect the CAFCA and Watchdog accounts. Off I went on my bike through the snow. But it’s not the snow that is the problem; it is the invisible black ice. One minute I was pedalling along one of the country’s busiest roads; next second I, and the bike, were sprawling sideways across it. It all happened so fast that I had no time to tense up, so I hit the road perfectly relaxed and didn’t sustain a single bump or scratch. Fortunately, there was no comic book steamroller following close behind; not even one of the rubble-bearing truck and trailer juggernauts that fill Christchurch’s streets day and night. So I do hope you CAFCA members appreciate the dangers I face to ensure that you receive the annual accounts. Apart from that the only health issue to report was that I managed to include one of my fingers in the things being trimmed when I was cutting the hedge with my battery powered trimmer. It was quite a difficult thing to achieve, but I still managed to do it, necessitating a couple of stitches from an after hours clinic, and confirming my wife’s opinion that: “I’ve married the only man in New Zealand who is useless at DIY”.
I said in my 2011 Report that the lesson from the quakes was to enjoy life while we’ve got it, because Cantabrians have learnt that everything can be irreparably changed in seconds, without warning. Life itself can be snatched away in the blink of an eye. In light of that I made sure that I enjoyed life in the “new Christchurch” in 2012. We went to plenty of movies and I particularly want to pay tribute to Alice in Videoland for its wonderful new arthouse “picture theatre” in the heart of the central city. What an oasis in the desert! And what a delight it was when Alice reopened its building (the old 1930s’ High Street Post Office; obviously they built them to last in the days when the mail really did have to get through). I was hiring DVDs from them online before their red zoned building was able to reopen (the very first one I got out was the eight hour long “Carlos The Jackal”. That’s my sort of movie – or, several movies, in that case). I salute the Court Theatre for relocating to suddenly trendy Addington, which means it is now walking distance from home. Becky and I strolled around there to check out the world premiere season of “Man In Suitcase” (brilliant) and I ran into my old lawyer, who is now a judge (the last place I’d seen him was at the old Court in the Arts Centre. How appropriate to be chatting to a judge at the Court). All sorts of interesting places and things are now within easy walking distance in Addington, including rallies and marches, because many of the corporate and bureaucratic villains have moved into new offices here. But I didn’t take up all of Addington’s social opportunities – a total stranger came to the door, told me that “everyone in Addington knows you”, so how would I like to be MC at the Addington Fun Fair? I politely declined, saying that it wasn’t my thing, and why didn’t they invite one of the city’s professional entertainers? He then deflated my ego by saying: “They cost money”.
I went to several rugby matches at the city’s new temporary stadium, which is also within easy walking distance, in Addington. I made an effort to go a Super 15 match involving a South African team, because I realised, with a shock, that I hadn’t watched a South African team play live since 1965. Time to let bygones be bygones. For another game I was delighted to discover that I was sitting in the same row as the old fossils, Canterbury’s All Black legends from yesteryear. I had a chat to a famous All Black captain from the 70s, who was sitting next to me, whilst thinking that if we’d met decades ago we would have probably come to blows over sporting ties with apartheid South Africa. I was delighted that Becky and I were present, me resplendent in a red and black scarf, when Canterbury won its record breaking fifth consecutive provincial title. As I listened to the stereotypical one eyed Cantabrian next to me bellowing non-stop insults about Auckland and Aucklanders, I thought: “Well, don’t go asking for their help next time an earthquake knocks you flat”.
As I say every year in this Report my ancient past always catches up with me in one way or another. 2012 was true to form. I was contacted by a would be biographer of the late Tony Fomison, a famous painter, a good friend and a CAFCA member through the 80s and right up until his premature death in 1990 (you can read my obituary of him in Watchdog 63, April 1990, http://www.historicalwatchdog.blogspot.co.nz/2009/12/foreign-control-watchdog-april-1990.html). The would be biographer was particularly interested in a collection of letters that Tony wrote to me in the 80s (in the days when everyone communicated by letter – in spidery handwriting in Tony’s case). I really had to hunt high and low to find them (literally, I needed a ladder to find them in a box of old letters on top of the top shelf in the office). I had not looked at them, or thought about them, since a similar request in the mid 90s from the curator of a posthumous exhibition of Tony’s paintings. In the intervening years they had had to survive the upheaval caused by major house renovations in 1998 and earthquake repairs in 2011 (in the latter case, having to spend two months in the garage during one of the coldest and snowiest Christchurch winters on record). I found them (they’re fine), the writer flew down from Auckland to check them out and he offered to pay to have them scanned and preserved digitally, which guarantees their survival. They really are a unique and fascinating read. But it alarms me to think how future biographers and historians will be able to do their research – who writes letters now? It’s all electronic and, if other people are like me, it’s not kept. That’s a sad thought.
Spoilt For Choice Of Issues To Get Stuck Into
My conclusion for this Report is pretty much the same as for its immediate predecessor. From CAFCA’s pojnt of view, asset sales are the big issue of 2013; the Government is indecently eager to flog off this year two of the three electricity generation SOEs earmarked for partial privatisation. And it wants to make that a fait accompli before the citizens’ initiated referendum* on asset sales can be held – because it knows that it will lose that vote, which won’t be a good look. In Christchurch there will be increasing pressure from the Government and Big Business for the city’s extensive portfolio of public assets to be fully or partly privatised, all in the name of “paying for the rebuild”, particularly as the Government has made clear that it expects Christchurch ratepayers to pay for its white elephant projects, such as a monstrous convention centre and covered rugby stadium (to name but two).*Since this was written, the Clerk of the House has rejected the petition calling for the referendum, declaring approximately 100,000 of its signatories to be invalid. This means that the organisers have two months to come up with an additional 16,000 valid signatories, which also have to be authenticated by the Clerk.
National is committed to throwing NZ open to transnational mining companies, including nasty environmental threats such as more coal mines, offshore oil drilling, and fracking. This has stirred up a hornet’s nest around the country. The political and economic bankruptcy of running the country as one big garage sale has become more and more obvious. The TPPA will be a major campaign this year, as the Americans try, once again, to get it sewn up. Not to mention the standard Tory fare of bashing the “undeserving poor”, besmirching beneficiaries as bludgers, and keeping workers deunionised and as the working poor (they’re the “deserving poor”, to be constantly threatened with being tipped into the ranks of the undeserving poor).
The Christchurch earthquake recovery is a political battlefield, with the Government mindlessly leaving it up to “the market” to sort it all out, meaning that the insurance transnationals are playing hardball, holding their own customers, the city, and the country, to ransom. This is nothing less than a capital strike and we all know what the political and media response would be if it was a labour strike. In 2012 the Government casually announced that, contrary to the promise it made when it sacked the regional Council, ECan, in 2010, there will be no vote for Canterbury regional councillors at the 2013 local body elections and that it will stay unelected until at least the 2016 election. So much for democracy. And while it was at it, the State school sector in Christchurch was subjected to a textbook case of shock doctrine disaster capitalism (my old primary school is among those to be closed; my high school has been spared but has to relocate in a few years). Meanwhile, landlords charge astronomical rents to anyone unlucky enough to be renting at present, meaning that the poor, both “deserving” and “undeserving” are reduced to living in dangerous quake- damaged houses unfit for human habitation, or even in caravans, garages, sheds, tents and cars. What’s this called, again? Yep, you guessed it, capitalism.
By and large I am proud of the way my fellow Cantabrians have coped with the consequences, both natural and manmade, of the prolonged subterranean warfare waged on us by Mother Earth. But there definitely are some scumbags and I include greedy landlords, specific Cabinet Ministers, pigheaded bureaucrats and insurance companies in with the usual villains of looters and arsonists. Christchurch has become a city of angry people who are fighting back on several fronts and becoming both politicised and radicalised in the process. Protest is not a hobby or a lifestyle choice but a response to desperate situations involving their homes, their livelihood, their communities, their schools, their local democracy, their heritage, their city itself.
All this is taking place in the context of the capitalist world’s global financial crisis, one caused by outright criminality, and one which shows minimal signs of improving after several years (although the corporate criminals who caused it all are still creaming it big time). Over and above all that is the existential threat posed by global climate change, a problem driven by the very same industries and transnational corporations with whom National is getting into bed. We see the evidence of climate change all around the world – look no further than the inferno of a summer that Australia endured at the beginning of 2013. There is no shortage of things for CAFCA to get stuck into; the only issue is where to start and which one/s to target first. We’re spoilt for choice but undaunted by the prospect. We’ve been around for a long time and are not afraid of hard work or of getting our hands dirty. Bring it on, I say, let’s get stuck in.