The Government was aware that a union-imposed boycott on Sir
Peter Jackson's film The Hobbit had been lifted, but
continued to insist that it was in place, official documents
released yesterday showed.
And ministers who felt that there was no need to change
labour laws for the filming of The Hobbit yesterday said they
could not recall why they went ahead and changed them.
The Government was reluctant to release its correspondence
with the director and the studio but was ordered to do so
earlier this month by the Ombudsman.
The documents, which contain high emotion from Sir Peter and
Warner Bros executives, reveal the pressure the Government
came under to change employment laws.
Early in the dispute, in October 2010, Economic Development
Minister Gerry Brownlee seemed reluctant to tinker with
In a letter drafted to Sir Peter and his wife, Fran Walsh, on
October 4, he wrote: "While there are inevitable
uncertainties in respect of both the Commerce Act and the
[Employment Relations Act], these are of a type that should
be relatively easy to work through with advice from
specialist competition and employment lawyers."
A spokesman for present Economic Development Minister Steven
Joyce confirmed that this was an early opinion by officials
and was never sent to the director.
In emails sent later in October, Sir Peter and Ms Walsh said
the Government needed to change the law to clarify that
actors were contractors and not employees.
Sir Peter was concerned about a previous court ruling that an
independent contractor working on The Lord of the Rings was
He told the Government Warners was "very concerned" about the
"grey areas in our employment laws".
An email from New Line Cinema executive Carolyn Blackwood to
Mr Brownlee on October 12 said the labour dispute posed a
"real risk" to the company. In a separate email, her
exasperation with the Australian and New Zealand unions'
demands was evident: "I am furious. Furious."
The Government changed employment laws under urgency on
Mr Brownlee could not recall yesterday what took place in
this period which prompted Government to push on with a law
change. But he insisted the move was necessary: "There is no
doubt the prospect of losing the film production to New
Zealand was real."
Labour Party deputy leader Grant Robertson said: "Government
knew that it didn't change the law to meet any concerns about
"They told Peter Jackson that, he no doubt told Hollywood
that. Hollywood comes back and says, 'No, we still want the
law to change,' the Government caves in to them.
"They knew it wasn't the right thing to do. They knew it
wasn't appropriate. But they did it anyway."
The documents also revealed the minister was aware that a
union blacklist - an international ban on actors working on
The Hobbit on non-union terms - was lifted on October 18. At
the time, the Government denied that the boycott had ended.
Mr Robertson noted that the blacklist was used to whip up
opposition to the union.
Mr Brownlee said yesterday it was not clear when this
blacklist was lifted: "If the blacklist wasn't on, then the
MEAA [union] should have announced it."
In another email Sir Peter said the boycott had no bearing on
whether The Hobbit would be filmed here.
This contrasted with comments by Mr Brownlee in Parliament on
October 28 that it was a reason for the law change."[If]
Simon Whipp the Australian unionist had not put the black ban
... we would not be in this situation."
The email was released last year but the section on the
blacklist was cut by officials.
Govt tells Sir Peter Jackson an employment law change is not
required for Hobbit filming to go ahead in NZ.
New Line Cinema executive Carolyn Blackwood says the
employment dispute between unions and Warner Bros is a "real
risk" and expresses concern about high dollar and legal
October 15, 17, 18
Sir Peter warns Govt that Australian union is doing
"incalculable" damage to the NZ film industry and that
Warners is concerned about the "grey areas" in NZ employment
Govt changes law under urgency to clarify actors are
contractors, not employees.
- Isaac Davison of the NZ Herald