Union: Hobbit undermined immigration process

02:49, Apr 27 2012

The Government "undermined" immigration processes for foreign actors during previously secret talks with Kiwi director Sir Peter Jackson over The Hobbit, a union says.

After complaints to the Ombudsman, former economic development minister Gerry Brownlee yesterday released a series of documents relating to the controversial deal struck between the Government and Warner Brothers in October 2010.

The documents show Kiwi director Sir Peter Jackson, who received personal post-Cabinet briefings from Brownlee, rated the union vetting of foreign actors as one of only two "key issues" in the debate.

Days before Prime Minister John Key announced a deal had been cut with Warners to keep The Hobbit production in New Zealand, Brownlee's office emailed Jackson an assurance that Warners did not need to worry about access for foreign actors.

"We have and can continue to give Warners a guarantee that we will back casting decisions through immigration processes. In the end, the New Zealand Government - and not any other party - will determine who can enter the country," Jackson was told.

The papers showed that in "several cases" the associate immigration minister had approved entry for foreign actors after the union Actors Equity would not support them.

NZ Actors Equity president Jennifer Ward-Lealand said the union was concerned that the Government had "undermined" the immigration processes in place at the time.

"These rules seek to determine whether the production would 'put at risk the employment of New Zealand entertainers' and whether 'appropriate consideration has been given to employing available New Zealand entertainers'," Ward-Lealand said.

"There is not one instance where an overseas production has pulled out of shooting in New Zealand because of our consultative role."

Brownlee, however, said the visa issues were "vitally important" and could not be subject to veto by a union group.

"One of the things that makes productions like this successful and viewable, I guess, is that you have actors that are at the very top of the profession," Brownlee said.

"Who should determine who can come into New Zealand or not, I think you'd have to say it is the Government's right to do that."

Actors who have travelled to New Zealand to work on The Hobbit include Stephen Fry, Martin Freeman and Orlando Bloom.

Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly said "the immigration issue" had been "kept hidden" as part of discussions with Warners.

"Alongside the change in [employment] law, the $30m [in tax credits], they agreed to remove opportunity for New Zealand performers to work," Kelly said.

"New Zealanders wouldn't have liked to know that our borders were being opened up ... what is the benefit to New Zealand? [Actors' Equity] were working to have some standards around immigration in the industry."