Prue Hyman’s Column



By Prue Hyman

The announcement recently of the ‘winners’ of the latest Roger Award (Rio Tinto with Sky City Casino runners up and Chorus third) is a time to reflect on the over influence of big business on government in general — and on the Roger Award in particular.

It’s named for Roger Douglas (right), Finance Minister in the 1984 Labour government,roger douglasthe first of many from both major parties bent on deregulation and corporatisation (and later privatisation). 

Instituted in 1997, the annual award is organized by the Campaign against Foreign Control of Aotearoa (CAFCA) and GATT Watchdog.

The Worst Transnational

The changing set of judges (I declare my interest as a past judge) decide, with public input, on which was the Worst Transnational Corporation (TNC) operating in New Zealand the previous year. To qualify, the company must have at least 25% foreign ownership.

The Award just announced is in fact– and somewhat confusingly — for the past year’s activities, so is called the 2013 award.

CAFCA’s sole (under) paid employee, the indefatigable Murray Horton,murray horton will be speaking at Paekakariki’s St Peter’s Hall at 7 pm on Tuesday, 27th, May, on ‘Who’s Running the Show and In Whose Interests?’

CAFCA has done a fantastic job over many years on foreign investment issues and much else, and its website has links to the 18 Roger Award judges’ reports and all the issues since 1999 of its important publication Foreign Control Watchdog.

The criteria for deciding the TNC with the most negative impact span some or all of the following types of behaviour and groups affected:

  • Economic Dominance – Monopoly, profiteering, tax dodging, cultural imperialism
  • People – Unemployment, impact on tangata whenua, impact on women, impact on children, abuse of workers/conditions, health and safety of workers and the public
  • Environment – Environmental damage, abuse of animals
  • Political interference – Interference in democratic processes, running an ideological crusade
  • In addition there is an Accomplice Award available for an organisation guilty of aiding and abetting bad TNC behaviour. Unsurprisingly, this has frequently been won by the government.

The ideological positions and neo-liberal fervour of both major political parties have allowed big business to gain ever more economic power over the 30 years since the beginnings of Rogernomics.

Of course, TNCs and overseas investment are a necessary part of the NZ economy to provide jobs together with goods and services in NZ, and as part of our exports.

Worthwhile investment provides new jobs and output

However, such investment is only worthwhile when it provides NEW jobs and output, not in buying up NZ’s infrastructure and firms, often at bargain basement prices – with the dividends in future disappearing overseas and contributing to balance of payments deficits.

Further pressures come from the most recent aspects of globalisation, featuring the race to manufacture in countries with the lowest cost structures, most exploitative of labour.

It is ironic that deregulation has not really meant a more market approach, but instead twisting market power in favour of the top 1% and big business. The financial and lobbying power of TNCs leads to their obtaining privileges with respect to taxation, environmental and privatisation policies worldwide.

 Dangers of the TPPA

The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) currently under negotiation, with its provisions kept secret until too late, would give further powers to TNCs.

It could supersede national policies on investment and a raft of other areas far beyond trade, handing over national sovereignty.

The US seeks to remove our rules on sale and manufacture of genetically modified organisms and labelling GM foods, limit parallel importing, especially for music and computer programmes, restrict intellectual property protection in the digital media and pharmaceuticals, reduce Pharmac powers which cut prices for drugs, and end voluntary local content quotas for broadcasting.

Government might be forced to guarantee rights to foreign firms that it refuses to recognise even for Maori under the Treaty of Waitangi.

Foreign investors would have the right to take the government to international arbitration, claiming compensation for any regulations they claim to have reduced the value of their investment.

(On the TPPA, one of the best sources is ‘No Ordinary Deal – Unmasking the Trans-Pacific Partnership Free Trade’ Agreement ed Jane Kelsey).

The tobacco industry’s moves in Australia to reverse regulations on plain packaging are just one example of how such provisions in so-called free trade agreements limit sovereignty over social, health, and economic policies.

 Rio Tinto’s adverse impacts

Returning to the 2013 Roger awards, a high percentage of the adverse impacts of the criteria are demonstrated by Rio Tinto, with the judges’ report citing its “preferential treatment over pricing levels (in a market which it dominates).

“The resulting effects on residential power bills has had a major social impact… Its political interference in the democratic process was very high, systematic and continually reinforced… Cheap electricity, research and development grants, Emissions Trading Scheme profiteering, a $30 million cash gift from the Prime Minister on behalf of the long-suffering New Zealand public, apparently very little income tax actually paid, especially since the restructuring, and now Rio Tinto is leaving it to the Government to clean up the mess the smelter will leave behind.”

Sky City was not far behind Rio Tinto, with its ‘more pokies for convention centre’ deal with the Government.

The judges’ report concluded on this: “Sky City is attempting to lock future Governments into this dirty deal. (It) is pushing for draconian compensation provisions should a progressive Government decide that it is not OK to pay for a convention centre to be paid for by others’ misery”. 

And in earlier years, this Government has similarly bent industrial relations law in favour of big business and against film industry workers with the Warner Brothers blackmail over re-locating the Hobbit movies.

We are not totally powerless though – there is an election in September!

Lovely story Prue, and how true it is too. You’re right, we’re not totally powerless, and there is an election looming but as always, apathy will be the one thing that lets us down. Whats interesting is, I wonder how much people can be riled before they finally wake up, and the answer to that is probably when its too late.
The next wave to hit us all will be someone eying up privatization of our water, watch this space.