Editorial: No awards for Hobbit handling

19:36, Feb 27 2013

Did John Key and his ministers concede more than they needed to during negotiations with Warner Bros over the filming of The Hobbit? The emails, released under the Official Information Act, between director Sir Peter Jackson and ministers suggest they probably did.

Does the episode show New Zealand in a good light? No. New Zealand's laws should not be changed at the behest of Hollywood moguls, particularly when the Government has legal advice that the existing laws are satisfactory.

Should Mr Key and his ministers have told Warner Bros to stick to film-making and leave the lawmaking to them? No, or not unless they were prepared to wave goodbye to thousands of jobs and an opportunity to showcase New Zealand's scenic attractions to an international audience.

The released documents indicate officials believed Warner Bros' concerns about New Zealand's labour laws were overstated. So long as the production company making the movie took close account of the law it should have no difficulty distinguishing between short- term contractors and long-term employees.

However, the documents also make it clear that Jackson and partner Fran Walsh genuinely believed New Zealand was in danger of losing the production if the Government did not concede ground. As those with the closest links to Warner Bros, it made sense for the Government to listen to their entreaties.

In all probability the films would still have been made here if the Government had not bowed to Warner Bros' pressure. Jackson wanted to make the movies in his home town, locations had been scouted and the cast and crew were ready to go.


However, there is a possibility that, against the odds, Warner Bros might have picked up its bat and ball and gone elsewhere. Just because its fears were unfounded does not mean it would not have acted upon them.

The Government did what it had to do to ensure the opportunity presented by Jackson's preference for working in New Zealand was maximised. In case the Council of Trade Unions and others still bleating about the deal have not noticed, tens of thousands of New Zealanders are jobless and multinationals are not queuing at the Beehive entrance begging to be allowed to employ them.

Where the Government has let itself down is in attempts to edit and block the release of the documents detailing what took place and in former economic development minister Gerry Brownlee's offhand dismissal of questions about why the Government acted as it did. "I can't recall," he said on Tuesday. "It's a long time ago and I've had an awful lot on my plate."

Maybe so. However, he's also had an awful long time to refresh his memory and as the key minister in the negotiations he should have anticipated questions about his role. The public is entitled to know why its elected representatives act as they do.

Arrogance is a sure sign of a Government losing touch with the public. Mr Key would be advised to remind Mr Brownlee of his responsibility to account for his actions.

The Dominion Post