A sudden songwriter controversy!

Winston Watusi
Music Plus

The last two columns have been about gigs – it must be time for some controversy.

Because something controversial happened last week and it seems to have received very little by way of media comment. One report I read had a content warning so, uncertain as to the etiquette with such things, I repeat it here: This article covers sexual assault and harassment and may be triggering for some readers.

I should also mention that it may contain opinions you disagree with – which seems a bit of a trigger these days – and that those opinions come from a not-entirely-young-any-more white male, also an iffy proposition in certain circles.

And, just in case, here's a trigger warning for dog-lovers: I am in fact a cat person. And though not actually planning to mention the cats today, you should probably brace yourself in case one of them accidentally slips in. First, a little background...

Thomas Oliver is a New Zealand singer, musician and songwriter. Last month, in a lengthy statement on his Facebook page, he admitted to assaulting a woman in 2017. He followed as she was trying to leave a party and “grasped her throat with my hand”, after she had previously declined his request to kiss her. The woman’s allegations had earlier been shared anonymously on a social media forum.

He said he was “blackout drunk”, had no memory of what happened, and had pieced it together after speaking with the woman and an RNZ Music employee.

Thomas Oliver.


In his statement Oliver said he took responsibility for his actions, which were “completely unacceptable” and that he was deeply “regretful”, “remorseful” and “sorry”. The incident prompted him to quit drinking, he said.

That was followed by a second Facebook post; Oliver said he now realised he had not owned his actions. “This situation is not about my feelings and alcohol is not an excuse. What I did was inexcusable, and it doesn’t warrant an explanation.”

On May 15 he said he was stepping away from music for the foreseeable future.

I’m not going to relitigate that, or the fact it would seem that NZR Music failed to properly support the woman, their employee. I want to consider the reaction from APRA, the Australasian Performing Right Association, which collects royalties owed to songwriters and holds the Silver Scroll Awards, annually crowning New Zealand’s best song.

Thomas Oliver won that award in 2016 for his song If I Move To Mars. APRA’s statement says: “We have reached out to Thomas and his management and advised them that his APRA Silver Scroll Award title from 2016 will be revoked, and his name will be removed from our award records and from the trophy.”

Terms and Conditions

The APRA statement also says: “As part of our direct involvement in that (i.e. stopping music industry bad behaviour), APRA is reviewing all our terms and conditions for participation in our awards and programs, and also reviewing our complaints procedures.”

So if I’m reading this correctly, there will now be some sort of behavioural test for songwriters. What will the rules be for songwriters if they want to win an award? I note that what Oliver did, bad though it was, has not seen him charged with anything. So he hasn’t ‘broken the law’ per se.

But what if Thomas Oliver had robbed a bank? How about fraud - that's not as bad as robbing a bank is it? What if he was busted for drugs? Does it depend on the type of drug (marijuana okay but P bad)?

Which previous winners have criminal convictions? Should lawbreaking disqualify you, or is some lawbreaking alright? Or is it only about physical violence? What about the Silver Scroll ceremony after which a fight broke out between members of Herbs and The Exponents? Or is it only violence towards women?

I guess the big question is – do you need to do something illegal? Or just something frowned upon by a group of no doubt carefully selected people of all races, sexes and socio-economic groupings. APRA appear serious about applying a morality test to a songwriting competition. I suspect they’ve opened something resembling a can. Beware, lest it contain worms.

Where to get help

If you have been affected by sexual violence and need support contact Tautoko Mai Sexual Harm Support (formerly BOPSASS) on their 24/7 support line, 0800 227 233.

Other agencies

NZ Police

Victim Support 0800 842 846

Rape Crisis 0800 88 33 00

Rape Prevention Education

Empowerment Trust

Safe to talk: a 24/7 confidential helpline for survivors, support people and those with harmful sexual behaviour: 0800044334.

Mosaic - Tiaki Tangata Peer support for males who have experienced trauma and sexual abuse: 0800 94 22 94


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