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Govt lied about Hobbit dispute timeline - union

Published: 5:40AM Wednesday February 27, 2013 Source: ONE News

The Council of Trade Unions says Hobbit related emails released yesterday confirm the Government was lying about when the dispute was resolved.

The Government released a tranche of email exchanges between Sir Peter Jackson and ministerial officials, which lay bare the director's frustration during the employment dispute which apparently threatened to force the production overseas.
The emails show the depth of the film maker's anger with unions in the drama behind the making of The Hobbit movies.

Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly wants to know why the Government reversed its position and changed employment law in a day, in response to the Hobbit dispute.
She told TV ONE's Breakfast that the dispute was already over when the deal was done.

"What these documents show is that there was a deliberate attempt to fool the public about when this dispute was settled.

"It was resolved on the 18th of October on the 20th there were demonstrations in Wellington saying lift the boycott, the boycott had been lifted.

"Gerry Brownlee came on TV ONE called me a liar when I said the boycott had been lifted now they've released the documents, they tried to withhold them, which actually show we were telling the truth at that point. The deal didn't need to be done as the dispute was resolved," Kelly said.

Kelly tweeted a copy of the emails under the title 'spot the difference' last night.



The Government is insisting threats were made to take the Hobbit movies offshore despite a denial by the trilogy's Hollywood backers.

The documents show that on October 12, 2010 New Line Cinema's senior vice-president of business affairs, Carolyn Blackwood, emailed the office of former economic development minister Gerry Brownlee, saying there was no such threat.

She was concerned Brownlee had given producer Sir Peter Jackson "a very different impression" about a conversation they had had.

"When you asked me if the decision had been made to move the films offshore, I told you that that decision had not yet been made. And it hasn't," Blackwood wrote.

But Prime Minister John Key says the government was "totally justified" in the decisions it made to keep the movies in New Zealand.

"Essentially, threats that were made about making the movies overseas were real," he said.

The government passed an urgent law change on October 28, 2010, ensuring film industry workers were contractors, not employees.

It maintained the threat of a union boycott nearly drove the films offshore, and there was a threat that would happen if the law wasn't changed.

The documents also show producers had received an offer of "a very attractive incentive" from the New South Wales government and they asked the government to "explore all the options" around the movies being made in New Zealand.

And Sir Peter told Brownlee's office: "What Warners requires for The Hobbit is the certainty of a stable employment environment."

Eventually the Government changed the labour laws and gave Warner Brothers a tax break worth $25 million to secure the filming in New Zealand.

The production company behind The Hobbit, WingNut Films, said it welcomed the release of the information and hoped the emails would "put to rest the unfounded conspiracy theories that sought to characterise these events as a Hollywood studio dictating terms to a sovereign government."

Comfortable with decision

Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce says he is "comfortable" with how the Government responded.

"We are very comfortable about the decisions we have made to enable The Hobbit movies to be made here in New Zealand, we're very comfortable with the hands on approach we have taken," Joyce said today.

"The Government has to decide in all these situations, are they prepared to change the regulations and encourage an industry or not, and we made the call and the movie was produced here and other ones are being produced here."

The emails have led the NZ Actors Equity guild to question who is responsible for making laws.

Labour says the documents show the Government's own advice on employment and commercial law says there was no need for a law change in the situation.

"The Government knew it could deal with all the employment issues without changing the law but they went ahead and did it anyway, just like SkyCity - they are selling off our laws," deputy leader Grant Robertson said.

Jackson's frustration

In one October, 15, 2010 email between Jackson and Tim Hurdle, a senior adviser in Gerry Brownlee's office, the director's exasperation is clear.

Jackson said he believed Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA) union boss Simon Whipp was attempting to derail the production.

He said the Government had "engaged with a snake, who now feels quite fearless".

"He is in revenge mode, intent on inflicting as much damage as he can to our film, our film industry, to our country," Jackson wrote.

"I really can't tale [sic] much more of this toxic nonsense. All I want to do is make films! I haven't been able to think about the movie for 3 weeks.

"Warners are coming down mid-week - I hope you can all sit in a room and get a positive result."

In another email the same day Jackson and his partner, Fran Walsh, said Whipp had "played us for fools".

He was using the Hobbit films to get his way into the New Zealand film industry and control all contracts for every actor, Jackson said.

"We cannot carry on for much longer in this insanity."

- With AAP