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Nominations Now Open For 2014 Roger Award

12 Aug

The Roger Award is for The Worst Transnational Corporation

Operating in Aotearoa/New Zealand in 2014

Here is the link to the 2014 Roger Award online nomination form (the first time we’ve ever had an online one):

You can also download the hard copy nomination form from there.


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Vote to save last of family silver

10 Dec

By Matt McCarten

Reprinted from the Herald on Sunday December 1, 2013

Dad tells his family he’s selling a number of rental properties the whanau owns through a family trust, which their ancestors have built up over generations.

This genius informs his beloved that he’ll use the asset-sale money to pay off household debt. Given the properties earn a healthy 8 per cent return that already services the debts, there’s an uproar.

His children and grandkids point out that while he’s the family boss, he is only a trustee. It’s their heritage he’s selling. They predict that once he has sold off the first round of assets he’ll just keep selling until there’s nothing left.

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Taxpayers foot bill for corporates

17 Sep

By Matt McCarten

Herald on Sunday, 15 September 2013

There’s a blind spot with John Key when it comes to giving taxpayers’ cash to corporate monopolies.

The “trickle-down” ideology once espoused by the far right – that if we made the wealthy even richer their good fortune would trickle down to the masses – has been thoroughly discredited.

But the Prime Minister has taken this nonsense to a new level – Key now trickles money upwards from the poor to the rich.

It’s unnerving that under Key there is a growing list of wealthy monopolies padding their profit margins, with this Government writing out cheques or passing favourable laws for them.

In other countries they call this corruption; our former financial trader calls it deal-making.

On Thursday, a broad coalition of business and community groups (including my union, Unite) launched a campaign against the Government’s stated intention to pass a law allowing Australian-owned company Chorus to be effectively subsided by New Zealanders.

Internet users will be required to pay $12 a month more for copper wires than recommended by the Commerce Commission. This apparently means $600 million will be transferred by internet users to a private business.

It seems Chorus’ profits of $171 million aren’t enough, and we need to shovel even more largesse their way. If that wasn’t enough of a gob-smacker, this week (in defiance of Treasury advice) Key authorised giving $30 million of taxpayers’ money directly to Rio Tinto, the foreign owners of the smelter at Tiwai Point.

At the same time, Government-owned Meridian Energy slashed its power prices to the plant.

The Government claimed it did this to save jobs. Has it suddenly become a market interventionist to subsidise favoured corporations to help job creation? Or is it about Rio Tinto pocketing a windfall from politicians desperate to preserve the sale price of Meridian Energy?

The smart operators at Rio Tinto saw how Sir Peter Jackson and his United States backers got Key to cough up millions of dollars for nothing and thought, why not us?

After the SkyCity deal, where Key gave a monopoly a guaranteed mechanism to make money, his motivation has become clear: these deals help advance the Government’s political agenda and a corporate is guaranteed a profit. The taxpayer foots the bill and the guy who put the deal together clips the ticket.

Something stinks of aluminium, copper and money. It’s a smell that shouldn’t be ignored.

Today, the Labour Party announces its new leader. The party and the three candidates have had a great campaign. Now that it’s over, the victor should ensure his two contesters are kept on the front bench so they can focus on Key and his Government. The leadership has always been Cunliffe’s to lose. But whether it’s Robertson or Cunliffe, they are both capable of holding Key to account. I’m looking forward to it.

(Matt McCarten is National Secretary of Unite Union. His weekly Herald on Sunday column are a commentary on social and political issues in New Zealand. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Unite Union.)

Matt McCarten: An energy plan to hit profiteers

22 Apr

Just when we thought the sell-off of our public utilities was inevitable, the Labour and Green Party jointly announced on Thursday that if they become government next year, they will create an agency, NZ Power, that will be the sole buyer of wholesale electricity.

The Government’s asset sale campaign distracts us from the structural unfairness of power prices. Photo / Mark Mitchell

It will effectively have the ability to set electricity prices by using its monopoly to buy electricity from wholesalers and sell on to retailers, regulating fair profit levels for the players in the sector.

The current situation that allows providers to make exorbitant profits at the expenses of New Zealander consumers will end.

The Government was caught flatfooted, going into panic mode. They knew exactly what this policy would do – kneecap its privatisation agenda.

The only reason the sale of Mighty River and the other companies makes any sense is that their profits are excessive because we all pay far too much for our power.

An agency that restricts excessive profiteering will put off quick-profit investors currently lining up for power shares. The best that unofficial co-prime minister Steven Joyce could come up with was his spluttered comment that the agency was a basket-case idea from Albania. Is that the best he can do?

In any event, the correct international example to use overseas would be capitalist California, which brought in a similar agency to stop its power companies from ripping off its citizens. It has worked fine.

At home, the parallel in the health sector is Pharmac, which uses its buying monopoly to negotiate prices with multinational drug companies. It saves us billions of dollars. I haven’t heard the Government suggesting abolishing it and leaving prescription prices to the international free market.

The National Party’s core constituency, the farmers, worked this out long ago, too. Fonterra does the exact same thing for its farmer members, using their collective muscle to get the best prices for them.

In any event, the Government’s asset sale campaign distracts us from the structural unfairness of power prices. The Labour-Green initiative fixes our power price problem.

Household electricity prices currently increase at double the rate of inflation.

The gap between prices charged households and businesses are the second highest in the OECD.

Two-thirds of our electricity is generated by using free water and dams that were built years ago. The four big generators made $4.3 billion. That’s $1000 profit for every man, woman and child.

No surprises, then, that the Government sees a political upside in selling these companies off at inflated prices to prospective investors who assume this excess will continue.

Labour and the Greens state their policy will save most households a flat $300 a year and businesses will get a 5 per cent cut in their power bills.

They have also produced an independent report that says the changes will create 5000 jobs and boost the economy by $450 million.

In other words, it’s good news on all fronts – price reductions, more jobs, economic stimulus. But the power companies’ excess profits will stop, and the Government’s asset sale programme looks shaky.

If you are one of the people who put their name down to buy power shares, you might want to check with your stockbroker first thing tomorrow morning.

This week, your potential investment moved from a money-for-jam scheme to a decidedly political gamble on who will win the next election.

By Matt McCarten
Herald on Sunday

(Matt McCarten is National Secretary of Unite Union. His weekly Herald on Sunday column are a commentary on social and political issues in New Zealand. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Unite Union.)

Matt McCarten: Big tick for new TV debate show

26 Mar

By Matt McCarten

I was a ring-in for a full dress rehearsal last week for TV3’s new debate showThe Vote. It goes live this Wednesday.

The original concept was devised over a beer between Duncan Garner and Guyon Espiner. Its format is two teams of debaters going head-to-head in front of a live audience. The practice debate was over whether partial asset sales should go ahead.

The audience was polled on the subject at the start and end of the show. They decide the winning team.

Labour finance man David Parker and I were naturally on the anti team captained by Espiner. Garner’s team was former National Party president Michelle Boag and irrepressible right-winger Matthew Hooton. The referee was former TVNZ political editor Linda Clark.

At the show’s start the audience poll had a fairly even three-way split between support, opposition and undecided.

I was always confident that we would win the debate by exposing the reality that the sale of our power companies is all about transferring half of a cash cow, which we all currently own, to the wealthier 10 per cent of the population. It’s effectively a scheme in which a minority of this generation steals the heritage of our grandchildren that was paid for by our grandparents.

The best the opposing team could offer in its opening salvo was the Government’s nonsensical official line that the sale would bring in the money they need to invest in schools and hospitals.

Anyone who knows even basic maths knows that’s a stretch. Our power companies returned $360 million in dividends to the taxpayer last year. Over the past five years the average return has been 18.5 per cent. And the Government can borrow money at less than 4 per cent interest.

In my response, I raised the well-used analogy that if you wanted to build a garage on your house, would you sell your rental property that returned you 18.5 per cent to pay for it? Or would you take out a 4 per cent loan? No-brainer, really.

Our opponents followed up by spouting silliness that the asset sales would create jobs, prices would come down and John Key had a mandate anyway.

Espiner and Parker took them apart. Could the other team name a single asset sale that created a job that we may have missed? Apparently not.

Parker explained patiently that private electricity retailers already charged on average 5 per cent higher than their state-owned competitors – about $200 annually per household. Did the other team have an example of prices that have come down after privatisation? Silence.

We then pointed out that if the Prime Minister believed he had a mandate, why didn’t he hold up the sales until the opposition’s referendum was held? Splutter.

Our opponents retreated to their final refuge. Boag beamed that patriotic mum and dad investors got an opportunity to make a little passive income while keeping ownership in Kiwi hands.

Hmmm. That’s what her party said about Contact Energy, when they sold it in 1999. Today, 80 per cent of Contact is owned by 1 per cent of shareholders. Five of the seven directors are not New Zealanders. Truth hurts.

The final poll vote was 88 per cent to 12 – to our team. Audience members told me they learned more at the debate than anywhere else.

I hope senior politicians front these panels. Imagine Key, Banks and Dunne v Shearer, Peters and Norman.

TV3 should patent the format. It’s a winner.

Herald on Sunday

Matt McCarten: Poor foot bill for asset gluttons

9 Mar

The Government is going ahead with asset sales, despite opposition. Photo / Jason Dorday
The Government is going ahead with asset sales, despite opposition. Photo / Jason Dorday

By Matt McCarten Email Matt
5:30 AM Sunday Mar 3, 2013

This week, the Government confirmed it really is going to flog off our family silver. The asset sales programme was on hold while the Maori Council went to court and gave stopping the sale a good shot.

Alas, the judges gave the auctioneers the green light.

Opposition parties say they have reached the required threshold to hold a referendum on the asset sales.

The Greens are sure 390,000 people have signed the petition, but irrespective we know New Zealanders overwhelmingly oppose the idea of the richest 10 per cent of the population buying something the rest of us already own.

John Key daren’t wait for a referendum. His Cabinet rubber-stamps asset sales tomorrow.

New Zealanders were traumatised when our best public assets were hocked off under the reign of neo-liberals in the 1980s and 90s.

Before everything went, the masses revolted and ringleaders were dumped and exiled themselves into the Act Party.

How fitting that their annual coven was held last weekend in a rich man’s land of concrete, paid for out of the proceeds of past asset sales.

The heart of the asset criminal beats eternal. So with a softer, smoother salesman as Prime Minister, they’ll take half now. They’ll get the rest later.

Gluttons aren’t capable of stopping until they get the whole cake. The mom and pop investors, if they actually exist, can fight over the crumbs.

However, just when you think it’s a grab and no give, the Government generously announced on Wednesday that the minimum wage will move 25c an hour in April. Full-time workers get an extra $8 a week after tax.

I’m not sure where this figure fits into John Key’s public commitment that he has a cunning plan to catch up with Australian wages real soon.

Now that the Maori Council has done its bit trying to hold up asset sales, the Maori Party, in a rare display of independence, stepped up to condemn the sale and the 25c pittance for poor workers.

They boasted militantly that the minimum wage had to rise to a whopping $16 an hour now.

On the basis of the Maori Party’s new staunchness, here’s good advice to them on how to survive at the next election. Withdraw from the coalition unless the Government agrees to a $16 minimum wage, and unless asset sales are put on hold until the referendum is held.

Assuming the Maori Party are just kidding, as I think they are, I’m left giving advice instead to you, the poor worker. When you get your $8 extra in your pay packet, don’t spend it all on a coffee date.

You’ll need it when your power bill rises so the new owners can make a quick profit on their power shares. After all, when the greedy get needy someone has to pay. Why not the poor?

Debate on this article is now closed.

By Matt McCarten Email Matt

Herald on Sunday

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