Claire Trevett

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Jackson's Hobbit pledges from Govt

Hobbit actors from overseas such as Martin Freeman (centre) would have needed a letter of consent from the relevant union. Photo / Supplied
Hobbit actors from overseas such as Martin Freeman (centre) would have needed a letter of consent from the relevant union. Photo / Supplied

Sir Peter Jackson raised concerns in 2010 about immigration rules required to bring Hobbit film workers into the country - and the Government gave him an assurance it would intervene to ensure he would not face problems.

New papers released under the Official Information Act yesterday showed Sir Peter met Arts and Culture Minister Chris Finlayson and the Screen Production and Development Association (Spada) in September 2010, during the furore over the actors' guild blacklisting of The Hobbit.

The notes from that meeting show Sir Peter told them the two big issues were the status of self-employed contractors and "Actors Equity being able to vet employment of actors".

Under immigration law at the time production companies wishing to employ overseas workers had to get a letter of consent from the relevant union such as Actors Equity or the Technicians Guild.

A month later, Sir Peter again voiced concern after being updated on Cabinet discussions about the visa requirements by then Economic Development Minister Gerry Brownlee. In response, an adviser to Mr Brownlee gave an assurance that if the guild vetoed any visas, the Government would override it.

"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."

Although the law allowed the Immigration Minister to override decisions in cases where a union refused to give sign-off, it is unusual to see a blanket assurance that this discretion would be used in advance.

The immigration processes for film production-related visas were changed soon afterwards to a "silent process" under which unions are advised of visa applications and have three days to object.

The provision allowing guilds to vet overseas workers was originally intended so unions could advise whether local workers could do the jobs.

The meeting with Mr Finlayson was on the same day the actors union announced it was joining an international boycott of The Hobbit until it entered a collective agreement - action which was later dropped after Spada and the union agreed to negotiate general terms and conditions.

The meeting notes said that as part of its vetting process, Actors Equity had been asking for cast lists and other information which was unnecessary: "They are believed to use these lists to target new membership."

The concerns voiced by Sir Peter echoed those of an earlier paper to Mr Brownlee in April 2010 from the Ministry of Economic Development.

That paper said one US production, the name of which was deleted, had tried to obtain temporary work visas but Actors Equity had demanded the names of all New Zealanders who auditioned and the reasons they were not cast.

It said the information being sought by Actors Equity was causing delays and could drive productions overseas.

"It would obviously be a major concern if [the company] was to move its productions offshore due to one body unduly influencing immigration procedures."

"LACK OF TRANSPARENCY" - CTU

Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly told Radio New Zealand the documents confirmed there had been a lack of transparency by the Government.

"There was never any campaign [by the unions] to not have the film made here, and they confused workers have rights and having the right to collectively bargain. The papers also reconfirm that the Government was informed that the industrial action wasn't putting the film at risk of being moved," Ms Kelly said.

"You can see in the papers they were also arranging and arranging before the dispute even started top change the immigration laws to disadvantage New Zealand workers in relation to working on foreign films.

"If you're going to do these deals, you need to be transparent and justify them, and let people see the facts for themselves and make their own decisions.

"The fact that so much information in the Sky City deal now looks dodgy, and it looks like there are secret deals being done and there isn't a justification ... it makes everybody suspicious of them."

- NZ Herald

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