27 Feb 2013

Brownlee accused of misleading House over Hobbit

7:33 pm on 27 February 2013

Green Party co-leader Russel Norman has accused former Economic Development Minister Gerry Brownlee of misleading Parliament during a feisty series of questions about the Hobbit dispute.

Current Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce fobbed off Dr Norman's questions in the House on Wednesday, but did not dispute his accusation.

Russel Norman.

Russel Norman. Photo: GREEN PARTY

The release of more documents related to a labour dispute in October 2010 over the Hobbit films was behind Dr Norman's questions to Mr Joyce in the House on Wednesday afternoon.

Dr Norman wanted to know whether the minister stood by a statement that Gerry Brownlee made to Parliament on 28 October 2010 that no pressure or request had come from American studio Warner Bros to change employment law for the film industry.

Mr Joyce said he could not answer, because he was not the minister then. Dr Norman then asked whether the minister would correct his answer because he had misled Parliament.

Gerry Brownlee.

Gerry Brownlee. Photo: NATIONAL PARTY

On Tuesday, the Government was forced to release documents related to the Hobbit dispute after repeated appeals to the Office of the Ombudsman by Radio New Zealand and the Council of Trade Unions.

The papers show the Government was initially reluctant to change the law to meet the concerns of Warner Bros. On 4 October 2010, government ministers wrote to Hobbit director Sir Peter Jackson before a union blacklist was lifted, saying there was no need to change it.

Sir Peter and his partner Fran Walsh wrote back, saying that the Government needed to change the law to make it clear that actors and crew were contractors - not employees - as the couple were very concerned that Hollywood studios no longer viewed New Zealand as a safe place to make films.

Later in October 2010, the Government changed the law under urgency in a day to make it absolutely clear that actors and crew were independent contractors.

Papers show influence on Govt - Greens

The Green Party says the release of the latest Hobbit papers is further evidence of the influence wealthy people have over the Government.

Industrial relations spokesperson Denise Roche told reporters on Wednesday the documents reveal that the Government ignored Crown Law advice and changed employment laws at the whim of Warner Bros and Sir Peter Jackson.

Ms Roche said the papers show that the Government changed the employment law, even though it knew that the union boycott of the Hobbit films had been lifted.

"I think what was behind it was the Government wanting to signal to a major investor from overseas that they had the power to change things to suit that investor - Warner Brothers in this case. And they're signalling a similar story with SkyCity."

Ms Roche said it represents a worrying trend where the Government is prepared to trample over democratic process in order to do deals with foreign companies.

Meanwhile, the Government is being urged to lay the dispute to rest by releasing the remaining secret document involved in negotiations regarding The Hobbit.

The papers released on Tuesday reveal the Government knew that financial reasons were behind hesitancy by Warner Bros about filming in New Zealand, rather than a dispute over working conditions.

The Council of Trade Unions says the public deserves to see a Crown Law opinion about the dispute.