Friday, April 27, 2012

Dodgy Hobbit Deal Revealed


The Official Information Act and complaints to the Ombudsman finally revealed that the union's version of the Hobbit dispute was true all along. The Government, Peter Jackson and Weta Studios had misled the public about the nature of the dispute and the behaviour of Actors Equity. The threat of boycott had already been withdrawn (and had been a reasonable response to employer intransigency) and an agreement made before the march staged by Sir Richard Taylor. Information now reveals that the issue wasn't around actors work conditions at all but about Warner Bros' ability to bring in overseas actors at will.

New Zealand actors have poor conditions of work compared to most overseas actors and, as Robyn Malcolm had claimed, any increase to the low rate of pay that New Zealand actors received was never going to break the budget and was the equivalent of "coffee money" in the big scheme of things. The real threat the actors' union provided was an ability to vet the use of overseas actors when a local could fill the role. Such was the studio's need for control that the New Zealand government's existing ability to override the unions vetting wasn't good enough, Warners wanted an immigration guarantee from the government that the studio could bring in whom they wanted, when they wanted.

The industrial threat was a useful smokescreen to convince the public that urgent action was needed to enable changes that wouldn't have received so much public support. The government and Warners managed to gag the union after an agreement was made and when CTU leader Helen Kelly revealed the deceit on National Radio, Gerry Brownlee accused her of lying. The ongoing blocking of access to the information indicated how desperate the Government is to hide the true events and even at this stage much of that information has not been accessed.

Gerry Brownlee's phone calls to Peter Jackson to keep him informed on cabinet decisions revealed a privileged relationship and influence beyond what would be considered acceptable and, because there is still a good deal of hidden information, one could guess at even greater subterfuge on the government's behalf.

The emotional attachment and pride that New Zealanders share in the success of the Lord of the Rings movies has clouded the realities of the deals done. In effect the government has ensured that; an overseas company can employ New Zealand workers using employment conditions well beneath what would be acceptable in Australia UK or the US; it has enabled the company to bring in workers from overseas to do jobs that could be done by New Zealanders (and potentially overruling immigration law); and it also subsidized the production of the movie with a $13.4 million donation to advertising and $7.5 million in tax breaks.

Gerry Brownlee's defense of his actions demonstrates the level of National's naivety or corrupted moral views when such behaviour could never be seen as acceptable. When you lump the Sky City deal with the Crafar farm sale and add the Warner Bros fiasco it creates such a steaming pile of corporate influence that you would have to wonder who is really governing our country, and for whom.

Gordon Campbell shares his thoughts and outrage and includes useful links here.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Interesting information, thank you. As a US citizen, I can only say that I have looked into emigrating to New Zealand before, and the policies are very strict. Only people who have some special skill not available in NZ or those who have a fortune that they can move to NZ are allowed to be there on a permanent basis. I suppose many countries are that strict, but it's a shame.


I don't blame Peter Jackson and others for not wanting to have to go through a million hoops to have actors from other countries work in NZ. They already knew from previous films what a struggle that would end up being. There are many states within the US who create favorable tax and work situations trying to attract movie work to them. It seems to me that PJ et al were trying to make sure the work environment in NZ continued to be favorable there.

bsprout said...

I guess there is a balance between protecting the interests of New Zealanders' employment prospects and attracting investment money into the country. Warner Bros walked away with a very attractive deal that will boost their probable considerable profits on the Hobbit movie even more.

New Zealand actors do not have the same level of opportunities to earn an income as they would in a more populous country and for our own government to remove many of their protections was appalling.

The fact that the government tried to hide their activities from the public supported the dodgy nature of the deal. As for Peter Jackson's motives, despite his obvious skill as a director I doubt his motives were altruistic when he supported the cover up of the employment agreement to lever more government support. it was nothing to do about improving actors work environment.