Labour has accused TVNZ of "slightly irresponsible reporting" of the party's commitment to repeal the 2010 "Hobbit law" which de-unionised the film industry.

The day after being sworn in as Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety, Iain Lees-Galloway said repeal legislation would be introduced within 100 days.

That was a clear message for unions, but also for the production industry that tore itself apart over the law seven years ago. The bitter row, where NZ industrial law was written to suit Warner Bros, saw ugly recriminations and street marches.

As for the television report, Lees-Galloway says "TVNZ sensationalised the issue", and Labour wanted to sit down with industry players. While TVNZ didn't wish to respond, in my view the Minister's argument seems precious.


Labour has bought a fight with Sir Peter Jackson and Sir Richard Taylor - who were vociferous campaigners for the law - and with Hollywood.

The party is confident that repeal of the law can be handled better than when Warner Bros threatened to pull The Hobbit production out of New Zealand.

Any repeal looks set to occur against the backdrop of Weta Digital working on four Avatar sequels.

"A lot of people have said they are really happy with the contracting arrangements. We are fine with that," says Lees-Galloway.

But "people who work in the film and television industry have as much right as anybody else to bargain collectively if they choose." He says, "the response when [people in the industry] find out what we want to do is reasonably positive."

It is not yet clear whether the government will simply wind back the clock to the rules before the Hobbit law, or whether it intends to adapt the law for the new world order.

Richard Fletcher was head of the producers industry body Spada during the ugly days of the 2010 dispute. Seven years ago, he says, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google weren't the forces they are now.

"Business models and the industry landscape is constantly and rapidly evolving. Wide and thorough consultation and consideration is essential," Fletcher says.


I asked Lees-Galloway if he was nervous about reopening a wound. There was already a wound, he responded, from denying a group of workers one of their fundamental rights. "What we want to do is close that wound off."

Slowdown warning

Veteran film-maker and industry leader John Barnett was a staunch supporter of the Hobbit law and opposes its repeal.

"The late Helen Kelly's opposition to the bill adds to a sense of obligation for Labour, but times have changed, and industry work practices are markedly better," he says.

"[Repeal] would mean international work will slow down, and the impact of reintroducing an outdated labour regime will not bring rewards, as there won't be the volume of work."

A change that would lift labour costs "is enough to convince some productions not to come here. And the impact will be felt very quickly," says Barnett.

"Already other countries are offering themselves as safe havens to replace New Zealand."

Transparency, please

A Morning Report interview with Linda Clark highlighted the growing issue of transparency, and pundits' working relationships.

Clark is a political commentator and Kensington Swan lawyer who worked with Labour in the run-up to the election. Newstalk ZB political editor Barry Soper has described her as PM Jacinda Ardern's media trainer and a talent scout for Labour.

Labour's general secretary, Andrew Kirton, confirms she has worked for the parliamentary Labour Party. Clark and Kensington Swan declined to comment.

Most likely, Clark would have offered good advice and she is entitled to an opinion. But why is there is a pretence that she is a detached observer?

On October 24, Newstalk ZB's Soper criticised a Morning Report interview with Clark by host Susie Ferguson, headlined "Ardern leadership profound for women - Linda Clark". The day after Ardern's swearing-in, RNZ's Ferguson pointed to a question raised by a reporter, about whether Ardern was up to the job.

Clark said: "I thought it was appalling. It was a question from an older male journalist who simply needs to, kind of, update or move on." Soper said it was him, and taken out of context.

When I asked whether Clark's role needed to be spelt out, Morning Report producer Martin Gibson said: "We aim to be as transparent as possible.

"I was standing next to Susie just before she went on. I asked [Clark] 'were you a media manager for Labour?' and she said 'No, no no'. But she did say she did a bit of work for them. As a result, there was a line included to say that she had dealings with Ardern."

Labour is set to expand RNZ, and I believe the broadcaster needs to be careful about perceptions of its relationship with the party.

To me, it is also odd that Ferguson appeared to agree with Clark that there are some questions journalists cannot ask the new Prime Minister.