Govt paid $6000 limo tab for Warner Bros in Hobbit talks

By Derek Cheng

Warner Brothers executives arrive to meet with Prime Minister John Key and other ministers at Premier House. Photo / NZPA
Warner Brothers executives arrive to meet with Prime Minister John Key and other ministers at Premier House. Photo / NZPA

The Government rolled out the red carpet for the visit by Warner Bros executives in October, providing almost $6000 of VIP limousine transport - including for the short ride between international and domestic terminals at Auckland Airport.

The visit prompted tense negotiations as meetings were held to discuss the future of the US$500 million ($667 million) project for The Hobbit.

The threat to move the two films overseas was resolved after the Government agreed to tax sweeteners worth up to $34 million - on top of the estimated $50 million to $60 million under existing rules - and a change to labour laws.

Documents released under the Official Information Act and published on liberal website norightturn.blogspot.com show the Government spent $5948 on transport and other services fotr the executives.

An email from the office of Economic Development Minister Gerry Brownlee to the Department of Internal Affairs, which arranges VIP transport, reveals the importance the Government attached to going the extra mile.

"My minister [Mr Brownlee] and the Prime Minister have discussed this and want to present the best possible welcome to New Zealand," the email says.

"They would like to arrange full customs facilitation for the executives. This is part of presenting an image of an effective Government that is worth working with."

The department advised it would help the executives through the international terminal at Auckland Airport, and provide VIP limos to transfer them to the domestic terminal.

Limos also met the executives in Wellington and provided all the transport to and from the airport, their hotel and Premier House, where the negotiations took place.

The fate of the movies was thrown into doubt after a boycott by several international actors' unions, which thought treatment of actors in New Zealand was unfair.

Tempers flared between union supporters and film workers, with director Sir Peter Jackson and fellow film technicians locking horns with union actors including Robyn Malcolm and Jennifer Ward-Lealand.

New Zealand Actors Equity and the Screen Production and Development Association eventually agreed to negotiate on the standards and conditions for the local industry.

The change to the labour laws, which was passed under urgency, was fiercely debated in Parliament and vehemently opposed by Labour and the Greens.

It was supported by Act, United Future and the Maori Party.

The change means that film workers will be seen as independent contractors by default, unless the parties agree from the outset that they are legally deemed to be employees.

- NZ Herald

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