Editorial: The best deal from a poor hand

Last updated 05:00 29/10/2010

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OPINION: Government pragmatism and an extra $33 million of taxpayers' cash have undone the union foolishness that nearly cost New Zealand The Hobbit films.

The deal struck is not pretty, it is not high-minded, but it gets the job done.

New Zealand Actors' Equity president Jennifer Ward-Lealand has expressed her gratitude on behalf of performers for the Government's leadership in negotiating a positive outcome with the studio executives and producers.

It is a pity she did not add that her members were going to have a whipround to pay the $33 million.

It should not be forgotten that the extra spending, and the rapid law change that was being hustled through Parliament yesterday, were made necessary because the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance – based in Australia, but acting on behalf of Actors' Equity – issued a worldwide notice urging actors to boycott the films.

To choose The Hobbit as the focus of a larger industry-wide campaign over conditions was a blunder on a par with turning up with a pointed stick at a gunfight.

There is little doubt that Warner Bros took advantage of the situation, which allowed it to reopen the door on issues that had previously been regarded as settled, including the level of subsidy that would be paid.

However, there is also little doubt that Warner Bros was willing and able to walk away, and that ensuring industrial stability was crucial to its decision.

The law change to make it clear that those in the film industry who sign on as contractors are not going to be classed later as employees has been described by Green co-leader Russel Norman as a decision "to prostitute our industrial law to satisfy a multinational corporation".

Labour MP Trevor Mallard welcomes the fact the films are staying here, but is disparaging of Prime Minister John Key's efforts, telling Parliament "he has been on his knees to Warners ... The prime minister has been royally screwed by Warners, and as a result of that they will be laughing all the way to the Bank of America".

Both Dr Norman and Mr Mallard need to explain what they would have done differently while still managing to keep the films here.

A little more grovelling and a little less posturing might have enabled New Zealand to hold on to the 2003 Rugby World Cup co-hosting rights when Mr Mallard was sports minister.

Declaring that he wanted those who had thwarted New Zealand to insert beer bottles in "particularly uncomfortable places" didn't get the job done.

In contrast, Mr Key has struck a deal that will provide work for thousands of New Zealanders, have hundreds of millions of dollars spent here and boost the tourism industry.

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He has also ensured that New Zealand stays on the list of countries where it is good to make films. Those in Wellington have particular reason to be pleased he succeeded.

It is the credibility of the unions that is now in tatters, not the film industry. Mr Key has achieved the best possible outcome, given the hand New Zealand was dealt by the unions. Mr Mallard should buy him a beer.

- The Dominion Post

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