John Key pushes Hobbit benefit

FILM FRIENDS: John Key on The Hobbit set with Sir Peter Jackson.
FILM FRIENDS: John Key on The Hobbit set with Sir Peter Jackson.

As Hobbit fever builds, the Government is pushing the benefits of filming the big screen productions in New Zealand - and Prime Minister John Key says chief among them is the creation of thousands of jobs.

"We think around 3000 people have been employed because of the Hobbit,"  Key said today, but citing other benefits as well.

"It demonstrates to the rest of the world we can make great movies [and] it's the reason someone like James Cameron came to live in New Zealand," he said.

"We are a country that's more than just about producing lamb chops and milk.

"We do a lot of other things and that's a great way of promoting it."

The Government backed the Hobbit by changing labour laws in line with demands by movie bosses, which it was heavily criticised for at the time.

The trilogy also attracts millions of dollars in government subsidies - and director Peter Jackson suggested today those would have to be boosted again if New Zealand wanted to remain a hub for movie production.

But Key said the Government was unlikely to move on that front - a message he communicated to studio bosses on a recent trip to the United States.

"I don't think that's likely, it's not on our agenda. When we went to Los Angeles the message we gave those big producers and movie theater companies is to say New Zealand is not trying to have the best incentives in the world.

"We need to be competitive - that's the nature of this industry. and we are looking at some potential changes, maybe around television [productions] but I would be very surprised if we would move beyond where we are at in terms of our incentives."

The changes to funding for television productions were flagged earlier this year when Key said the Government was looking at lowering the threshold of its film subsidy so American television productions would qualify.

New Zealand offers a 15 per cent rebate for major film productions over $15 million.

The Government is looking at lowering the second figure so studios can produce television series in New Zealand. 

Key said a paper would be going to Cabinet next year exploring various options.

Meanwhile, Labour leader David Shearer and local Labour MPs are facing criticism for accepting invitations to the Hobbit premier tomorrow.

Labour opposed the labour law changes agreed by the Government after meetings with movie bosses.

Key confirmed they were invited by the Government.

Shearer today denied he was being hypocritical.

"We've always supported the film industry being here in New Zealand. Most of the incentives were brought in under a Labour government.

"We argued that pushing through the employment law under urgency was the wrong thing to do. We still stand by that."

It was debatable whether the films wouldn't be made in New Zealand without the changes, Shearer said.

Labour had no plans "at the moment" to offer more incentives to international film makers.

"One of the biggest problems we face is that the New Zealand dollar is so high. It is undermining some of those incentives."

Shearer said he was looking forward to tomorrow's screening.

"It's great having a premier of a world movie here in New Zealand. I'm proud the film is being made here."

The Dominion Post