An Anti-Bullshit, Demystification Exercise

- Murray Horton

Speech for 2012 Roger Award Event, Wellington, 1/5/13

It is three years since the Roger Award event was last held in Wellington. Obviously, things have changed since then. The Roger Award is organised from Christchurch and you don’t need me to tell you how things have changed there. As the joke goes, Cantabrians have undergone a mass religious conversion – we’ve all become Quakers. Actually as hundreds of thousands of us negotiate endless kilometres of roadworks every day, I think we should be renamed coneheads. But I’m proud of the fact that the Roger Award organisers have carried on regardless, we haven’t missed a beat. The killer quake was on February 22nd, 2011 – the Roger Award was still held, as scheduled, in Auckland at the beginning of April that year. We’re a tough lot – the last time I came to Wellington, in winter 2011, I flew home to be greeted by a heavy snowstorm and back to sleeping on the dining room floor where my wife and I spent two months while most of our house (which is also my workplace) was being repaired.

CAFCA & ABC Issues Converge

There have been changes in the political and economic landscape as well. I work for two groups – CAFCA and the Anti-Bases Campaign – so I have been enjoying the rare spectacle of seeing two of my oldest adversaries, namely Rio Tinto’s Bluff smelter and the GCSB (NZ Government Communications Security Bureau) – squirming in the spotlight of unfriendly political, media and public attention. And those two seemingly disparate subjects are, in fact, closely interrelated because the Government now intends to legalise the GCSB spying on New Zealanders on behalf of the SIS, which has been empowered since 1996 to spy on those who “threaten New Zealand’s economic interests”. Think of the Aziz Choudry and David Small cases from the 90s. And now, they will be spying on those, for example, who campaign against the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement. It’s all connected.

My two employers have been calling for decades for the closure of both the smelter and the GCSB and its Waihopai spy base, as not being in the national interest, and we are pleased to now be joined by a host of others, including the likes of editorial writers for the Dominion Post. Let’s see what happens; we are prepared to be patient; we’re in it for the long haul. Of course, Rio Tinto is one of the eight finalists in the 2012 Roger Award (it is the defending champion, having won the 2011 Roger), but my comments should not be interpreted as indicating who is tonight’s winner. All I’ll say on that subject is that I nominated one of tonight’s finalists but it is not Rio Tinto and it is not the winner.

I have two functions for this event. I am responsible for the plaque engraved with the name of tonight’s winner (joining all the other distinguished Roger Award winners). That will be duly reattached to the uniquely hideous trophy itself when John does the honours. At that point you will also be given a copy of the Judges’ Report detailing why they selected the winner. And that will be uploaded to our Website tonight. My other function, the here and now of it, is to be the opening act, the warm up act, and speak on behalf of the Roger Award’s organisers (but definitely not to give you any hint as to the winner, that is John’s job). To give you a little bit of the history of the Award and everything that has flowed from it. On behalf of the Roger Award organisers, I’d like to thank Unions Wellington for hosting this event. It’s wonderfully appropriate for an event to adjudge the worst transnational corporation to be held on May Day.

Essentially this is an updated version of the same speech delivered annually (those of you who attended in 2010 might experience more than a vague sensation of familiarity with what I’m about to say). When I spoke at this event here three years ago I highlighted the fact that we were living through most unusual times, namely the global economic crisis, the recession. And we still are (except in Christchurch, of course, which is now a boom town. Disasters are good for business. That’s something for you Wellingtonians to look forward to. Prescient words, eh. MH). Politicians and the transnational corporate media would have us believe that “we” have now weathered the worst of it and “we” can now get back to business as usual. Tell that to the record number of unemployed. Tell that to the people of Cyprus, who have just been subjected to the world’s biggest bank robbery. Mind you, Wall Street and City of London bankers, having been bailed out by the biggest act of corporate welfare in global history, have jumped straight back into the diamond studded trough. Suffice to say that the fun is far from over yet and that flapping sound you can hear is of some extremely chickens coming home to roost.

Not About “A Few Bad Apples”

The Roger Award is for the worst transnational corporation (TNC) operating in Aotearoa/New Zealand in the calendar year in question. So it is awarded for behaviour that is truly, outstandingly bad, the worst of excesses of transnational corporate capitalism, economic imperialism. I need to clarify one aspect – I don’t want to give the impression that if “a few bad apples” cleaned up their act (or went out of business, which is what has happened, with breathtaking speed, in plenty of cases), then all would be well. No, what we have been experiencing is a fundamental systemic crisis of capitalism, a system which is both inherently unstable and criminal; a system which carries within it the seeds of its own destruction. I don’t subscribe to the view that capitalism will collapse of its own accord and, thus far, the facts have borne that out. The criminals have gone straight back to their life of crime, leaving us to pay their bills and suffer the consequences of their criminality. It is a culture of impunity. I happen to agree with my old mate Chairman Mao who said “if you don’t hit it, then it won’t fall”, but that’s a whole different subject.

So, if the whole economic and political system under which we live is currently being demonstrated to be fatally flawed and bad for the health of the planet and all its inhabitants, is there any point in continuing to have something like the Roger Award? The answer is yes, because the Roger is about evidence and examples. Every year since 1997 it has skewered the lies and bullshit that are sold to us on a daily basis (if it’s done by other people, it’s called propaganda; but if it’s done by “our side”, it’s just the way things are). The Roger Award is basically a New Zealand people’s court which hears evidence presented to it by ordinary New Zealanders about the specific corporate crimes committed by specific transnational corporations in a given year. It’s not about rhetoric and slogans, but facts and figures. The Roger fulfils an invaluable role in proving, time and time again, just why it is such a bad thing to have allowed our country to have been colonised by transnational corporations. And it will continue to be needed in the future. Unstable capitalism goes through endless booms and busts. So, inevitably, the global economy will come out of this slump and once again we will be told that capitalism is the best possible system. Once again the answer will be “bullshit” and the Roger Award will keep on doing its invaluable national job of demonstrating why that claim is bullshit.


The Roger Award grew out of a 1996 brainstorm meeting in Christchurch, a meeting called to discuss some new ideas and strategies on how to counter the relentless tide of corporate crap which was in danger of drowning us all in that benighted decade, one in which we were told that “history has ended” (and many of the same Tory hacks, halfwits and hasbeens who held office in that last National government are back in office now. They are conclusive proof that the zombie apocalypse is already here). The philosophy of these dinosaurs is that if they can just keep on doing what they were doing then, only more so, it might just work. They come from the school of “if digging yourself into a hole doesn’t work, then dig a bigger hole”. And then offer shares in the hole for sale. You don’t need me to spell out the details of what they’re doing now, it’s all around us. I only need to mention asset sales. The prevailing philosophy of the 90s was “what’s good for Big Business is good for New Zealand” and that is exactly what is being dished out to us now as a substitute for thought.

So, it was in that 90s’ atmosphere of full on class warfare against the working class, unions and beneficiaries that the Roger Award was conceived (the credit belongs to David Small; I take credit for the name). The idea was simply to fight back in the propaganda war, to point out the obvious fact that these transnational corporations are the most important players in the NZ economy, that what they do affects every one of us in all aspects of our daily lives, and to hold them publicly accountable for the enormous negative impact they have on our country. When we came up with the idea at that brainstorm meeting 17 years ago, we had no idea that it would last this long, become a national institution, and generally be a raging success.

Since the inception, the Roger Award has been organised by two Christchurch-based groups, namely the Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa (CAFCA) and GATT Watchdog. GATT was the acronym of the organisation now known as the World Trade Organisation. And Christchurch-based Christian World Service has been an active supporter from the outset. The procedures involved in finding the Roger Award winner every year have remained consistent throughout. We circulate nomination forms to our own members and enlist other groups (which have ranged from the Green Party to trade unions to special interest groups) to circulate them to their members. The form asks people to send in a nomination for the worst transnational corporation of the previous calendar year based on broad criteria, which we review every year. We restrict the eligible companies to those which meet the legal definition of a foreign company, that is, more than 25% foreign owned. Every year we have to reject several nominations as ineligible for this reason – Fonterra has always been the main wannabe (because it is New Zealand-owned). Maybe next year Mighty River Power, Meridian and Genesis will be eligible for nomination. Speaking in my capacity as Convenor of Keep Our Assets Christchurch, I say, over my dead body. But I think it’s a safe bet that Solid Energy won’t be.

What Roger Award Is, & Is Not, For

The Roger Award is not for the worst corporation of the year, but for the worst transnational corporation. In the past we have received (and ruled ineligible) perfectly serious nominations for the likes of Victoria University and even Greenpeace.  We also receive less serious nominations for the likes of “all of them”. My favourite in recent years was for the Catholic Church. It was phrased in the language of Revelations, describing the poor old doolies as being “the Beast and the Whore of Babylon”. We recognise that the blame does not lie exclusively with the transnationals, which is why we instituted the annual Accomplice Award. The Government is the defending champion of that and is a joint finalist for it again for the 2012 Roger, along with a New Zealand company. John will tell you how they got on. And, for the first time, the 2012 Roger featured a People’s Choice Award, determined exclusively by an online poll. Once again, John will give you the result of that. It may just be a one-off experiment; whether it has a future is yet to be determined. But it got a good response.

There are two other major conditions attached to nominations – the corporations are only to be judged on their activities in NZ during the calendar year in question. We routinely receive accompanying material about the overseas activities of various companies, some of it going back years. Whilst interesting, we only view that as background or context. To keep it strictly relevant to New Zealanders, we confine the Award to what these companies have done here, and very recently. There are all manner of TNCs who behave appallingly overseas who never get nominated for the Roger, because they are just not on the radar in this country or don’t even exist here. So, the Roger Award is not for the worst TNC, but for the worst TNC operating in NZ during the previous calendar year. This policy of keeping it strictly focused on NZ here and now is another major reason for the Award’s success.

The secret of the Roger Award’s success is that everyone involved takes it very seriously. Despite the utterly phantasmagorical appearance of the trophy itself (it looks like an airport security man’s worst nightmare), the endless media references to rogering, and the highly enjoyable events themselves, the Roger Award is not a joke or a spoof. We play it straight, we play it seriously, and we mean what we say. Serious, of course, does not have to be deadly serious and it sure as hell isn’t boring. The best way to sum it up is that the Roger Award is serious fun.

The nominators are the vital first step in this process and they take it very seriously indeed, some of them absolutely swamping us in accompanying material (I’m thinking in particular of one guy who regularly nominates one or more tobacco companies. He did it again for British American Tobacco which is a finalist tonight). The organisers select the finalists and send them to the judges. The calibre and dedication of these completely unpaid people, who give up part of their summer holiday to cruise through this corporate sewer in a glass bottomed boat makes all the difference to the success of the Award. The organisers and the judges are, very deliberately, quite independent of each other (the 2012 Roger judges are scattered from Auckland to Blackball). So, let’s hear it for the judges.

Judges & Report Writers

It’s always a total lottery inviting people to be Roger Award judges. There is absolutely nothing in it for them.  We currently have four men and one woman, three North Islanders and two South Islanders. We’ve had some high profile people as judges – Anton Oliver, who was a 2007 judge, was our first All Black (indeed, he had been All Black captain) . I’ll let you into a secret. For the very first Roger, we invited Ian Wishart to be a judge. Thank Christ he turned us down, because we then approached our first “reserve”, Dunedin’s then Mayor, Sukhi Turner. To our surprise she said “yes”, she did it for several years and she became the face of the Roger Award, giving as good as she got when subjected to enormous political and media criticism for her association with it. Stroppy sheilas have always been a feature of the Roger Judges. One year Sukhi’s husband, the world famous cricketer Glenn Turner, joined her as a judge. This was too much for the Otago Daily Times, which rang me up to ask: “We expect this sort of thing from Sukhi but what is Glenn doing getting involved with people like you?” It just wasn’t cricket, apparently. The 2012 judges are a mixture of activists, academics, writers, artists and union officials. All of them have also had years in the progressive movement. The people who write the Judges’ Reports every year do an excellent job, under a very tight deadline. They have included some well known figures who have always preferred, for a variety of reasons, to keep their names out of the limelight. The 2012 one is unique is that it is a joint production. When you read it you will agree that it is a devastating indictment, not only of the winner, but also of the wider context.

Events Always Great Fun

Equally dedicated are the people around the country who every year organise the keenly awaited Roger Award event, the highlight of many people’s social calendar (we actually had a national paper’s gossip columnist threaten to attend one year in Auckland – she didn’t). They are the secret as to why the Roger may be serious but not deadly serious; they are the people who really make it fun. The Roger Award is organised out of Christchurch but it belongs to all of New Zealand – most of the judges have come from outside Christchurch; and the event has been held outside Christchurch more often than in it. The last time it was held in Wellington, in 2010, it was in the back bar of the Southern Cross pub, co-hosted by Drinking Liberally. It was a great evening of speech and original music and song written specially for the event. There was even some drinking. As I pointed out at the time, not only were we drinking liberally, we were rogering enthusiastically. And it was part of a memorable week of activities in solidarity with the three Christian peace activists who were on trial that week in Wellington for their 2008 deflation of one of the domes at the Waihopai spy base (even better, they were acquitted). CAFCA deliberately held the Roger event in Wellington that week to show the links between the two. Waihopai is a small but vital cog in a global system of exploitation, intimidation, war and mass destruction that exists to make the world safe and profitable for the transnational corporations, many of whom are an integral part of that global war machine. That link is even more explicit now, as I’ve already mentioned, what with the GCSB and Waihopai being given new spying powers. And, in even more of a coincidence, the Waihopai Domebusters are due back here in Wellington on May 8 & 9 for the Court of Appeal hearing of the GCSB’s $1.1 million civil claim against them (the decision was reserved and had not been delivered, at the time of writing. MH).

The event has been held in Auckland five times and they’ve always been great fun. Those bloody big city skites held the first one entirely outdoors and in the central city – just to rub into our faces that if we tried that in Wellington, we’d get blown away or frozen, in the case of Christchurch. They tried the same the second year but I struggled to keep a straight face as it pissed down with rain, so we retreated into a building where it continued to rain because it was an authentic Auckland leaky building. It was leaking all over their sound system control panel, which made for an interesting evening.  The last time it was held up there, in 2011, it was won by Warner Brothers whose winner’s certificate was accepted by Bugs Bunny. He made a speech too. It has also been held once in Dunedin, and that was notable for the speech by our Chief Judge, Mayor Sukhi Turner. I gave her a speaking time of 15 minutes and she spoke for 50, stopping to direct ad lib remarks and challenges to the reporters present, saying “I bet you won’t print that”. They did, actually. At this point I would like to pay special thanks to tonight’s main organiser, Sam Huggard, who is the only person to have organised Roger events in two cities, namely Dunedin and Wellington.

It was held in Christchurch in 2012 and featured a wonderful poem about Gerry Brownlee recited by the writer, Fiona Farrell, plus a group of musicians whose 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. They 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. I tell you, it’s definitely a case of make your own fun in Christchurch.

And finally, the really big secret of the Roger Award’s success is the truly breathtaking standard of bastardry of the contenders who year after year thrust themselves forward to be picked as the worst in the country. We’ve always been spoilt for choice. 2012 was no exception, as John will tell you in detail. Nor is there ever any shortage of contenders for future years. So much so that we, the organisers, have proactively set up a watchlist of TNCs that may very well be contenders in future years. We’re thinking of the likes of companies involved in fracking, mining and offshore drilling, all of which loom large in this Government’s plans in the next few years and which should provide plenty of grist for the Roger Award’s mill. Or how about Talent2, the Aussie geniuses behind Novopay?

Does It Matter?

Which brings us to the central question about the Roger Award – does anyone care about it, does it matter? Take my word for it, the media certainly care about it, they play it straight, and it gets covered somewhere in the mainstream media every year. I will use the example of the last time that the event was held in Wellington, which was for the 2009 Roger. Major media coverage of that one spread across the Tasman, doubtless because it was won by an Australian bank, the ANZ. Indeed, the Sydney Morning Herald reported it not once but twice. Here is one of those reports, in its entirety: “ANZ Bank has failed to live up to the NZ in its name, according to some of our friends across the Tasman. The bank won one of the so-called Roger Awards last night - for supposedly being the worst transnational company operating in the group of islands south-east of Lord Howe Island. Unlike here in Australia, apparently the bank in New Zealand has been practising a form of 'pure greed capitalism’. The award ceremony was held in a Wellington pub and was hosted by the anti-free-market activist group, Campaign against Foreign Control of Aotearoa. Rather than alluding to any particular act of getting done over by someone, the Rogers are named after the former New Zealand pro-market finance minister Roger Douglas”. And it was not only the main winner which was the subject of media and public interest. For example, papers in both Waihi and Waiheke Island were very keen to publicise how “their” finalists got on, namely Newmont Mining and Transpacific Industries.

The Auckland City Council and its officials won the 2009 Accomplice Award for contracting out Waiheke Island waste services from a local community company to transnational corporation Transpacific Industries, which had political consequences both in Auckland and on Waiheke. The two Auckland judges for 2009, Joce Jesson and Wayne Hope, both attended the Wellington event and they enthusiastically accepted the winners’ laminated certificates for the Auckland City Council and its officials (two certificates, one for the Mayor; the other for the Chief Executive Officer) and undertook to get them presented. One of those certificates duly came before the Council’s City Development Committee in April 2010, having been referred there by the CEO, rather than to the full Council. The Committee Chairman refused to accept it, merely “noting” the Accomplice Award. This actually attracted quite a bit of media attention in Auckland. And to cap it all off a special event was held on Waiheke Island in May 2010 to present a sympathetic Auckland City Councillor, Cathy Casey, with that laminated certificate. This was the front page lead story, plus photo, in the Waiheke Gulf News. Gulf Islands Councillor Denise Roche said: “The ‘Accomplice’ Award went to the ‘running dogs’ for encouraging multinationals. Traditionally every year nominees have been the Business Round Table. This year, Auckland City Council beat even the Business Round Table in the stakes for the organisation ‘that has done the most in extracting New Zealand capital and taking it overseas’”. As recently as the last few weeks I have been approached by a person adversely affected by the particular aspect of ANZ’s operations that won it the 2009 Roger Award. That person has written a book about it and plans to self-publish (“it’s currently at the libel lawyers”) and wanted to know if anyone involved with the 2009 Roger would read his manuscript and provide a written endorsement. Our Chief Judge from that year, Christine Dann, has offered to read it.

TNCS Take It Seriously

And the transnationals themselves take it very seriously. There’s no mystery why they do – like all big bullies, not only do they want to be feared, they also want to be loved. And the Roger Award tells them in very detailed terms that they aren’t and why they aren’t – it is an anti-bullshit, demystification exercise. It has a been a regular occurrence  that either they themselves or their hired guns in PR usually try to beg, threaten or cajole as a result of their appearance in the Roger. I will again use the example of that 2009 Roger. When the finalists were announced, the heads of two of them approached either me or one of the judges to demand that they be removed from the list. Not because they denied any of the serious accusations against them, they didn’t even bother to address that subject, but because they said they are ineligible because they claimed to be New Zealand-owned companies. For the record, those two companies were Infratil and Rymans Healthcare and, also for the record, they qualified as foreign-owned companies. Months after that 2009 Roger event had been and gone I received another e-mail from a senior company executive of Infratil wanting, once again, to argue that it is a New Zealand company. “It is unfair to brand Infratil as “Foreign Owned’ just because of a technical ‘line in the sand’ in one Act. It is very unfair, and incorrect, to suggest someone here is attempting to fool people into thinking anything false”. Ouch, obviously the truth hurts. And that “technical ‘line in the sand’ in one Act” just happens to be the NZ legal definition of a foreign-owned company, a definition which has been in place, unchanged, since the original 1973 Overseas Investment Act.

When the former Tranz Rail had an absolute lock on the Roger (we eventually shunted it - pun intended - into the Hall of Shame, where it remains the sole occupant, to let somebody else have a go) senior management actually contacted all the judges individually and then me as organiser offering to meet us in person to advise on how it had improved its behaviour and urging that it no longer feature in the Roger. Some companies have sent us corporate handouts to justify their existence – we’ve had glossy booklets from British American Tobacco (with tobacco leaf shaped cutouts in the pages) - it is a finalist again tonight - and a video from the former owners of Waste Management about how their Auckland rubbish dump is good enough to eat. Phone calls or e-mails from company managers or PR hacks wanting to argue the toss have been quite common. Sometimes the transnationals go to the top to have a go at us – one year Jim Anderton wrote to me in his then Ministerial capacity demanding that the Roger Award organisers apologise to Ernslaw One, a Malaysian forestry company which was a runner up that year. We caught Jim out using exactly the same wording as the company’s CEO when the latter complained about it winning the Roger. His name was Mr Song, so we went public, telling Jim he needed to get a new songwriter. And the only time a Japanese company has won (Juken Nissho, the only Asian Roger winner thus far), I was rung by the Japanese Embassy with a string of questions about how we selected our judges, why was the Mayor of Dunedin involved, and the killer question, did I think that this would adversely affect Japanese investment in NZ? I said that I hoped so, but that I doubted it. We haven’t had any such approaches in the past couple of years, so maybe the TNCs and their PR mouthpieces and tame politicians have seen that their tactics are counterproductive. So let’s hear it for the transnationals, without whom none of this would be possible. Let’s give them a resounding boo.

More Necessary Than Ever

To conclude – the Roger Award is more necessary than ever. We’ve now had eight years of the 2005 Overseas Investment Act and the “oversight” regime that was introduced with it by Labour. CAFCA said at the time that the new law had only one goal – to make the transnational corporate takeover of New Zealand even easier. Everything that has happened since then in relation to foreign “investment” has proved us right. For “investment” read “takeover”. They get the takeover, we get the hangover.

And in a related move, negotiations are well underway, and have been for several years, on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement between NZ and a number of other countries. This is intended to bring into effect a “free trade” agreement with the US, one which will benefit only that country’s transnational corporations and which will have severe negative impacts on New Zealand. All around us is the evidence of the moves that National is taking to “make the New Zealand economy attractive to foreign investment”. Both major parties are equally guilty of blindly promoting this obsessive compulsive belief in foreign “investment” and “free” trade as their major policy. The only difference is one of degree. Having said that, there are hopeful current signs, both at the political and grassroots levels, on the whole issue of the transnational corporate recolonisation of Aotearoa.

When you read the Judges’ Report tonight on the eight transnational corporations who were the finalists for the 2012 Award, that will remind you of the huge crime perpetrated on the people of New Zealand by a system that permits our country to be run as one big garage sale for the benefit of the giants which dominate and plunder the global economy. I recently had occasion to re-read part of the ever fascinating SIS file on CAFCA (they spied on us, and me personally, for the best part of three decades). Their spy at our 1978 Annual General Meeting reported on my role in that, writing …”at one point (Horton) spoke out strongly against both capitalism and imperialism, stating that ‘if you support one you end up with the other’”. So, nothing’s changed then in 35 years, I’m pleased to be reminded by the spies that I have always been consistent; I still believe that capitalism and imperialism are intimately interconnected. Is it all hopeless? No bloody way. Are we up shit creek? Yes, but not without quite a few paddles and there’s one of them on display here tonight, good old Roger. Look at him; he’s a sharp and prickly beast, all the better for jabbing and poking the bastards that are trying to squeeze the life out of us. So let’s get on with it.


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