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Government starts back-tracking early

Many in the industry were happy to see a Labour-led government returned to power for the first time since Helen Clark lost the election in 2008. But the pledge most directly affecting the screen industries, to repeal the Hobbit Law, is now not so much a pledge but more something to chat about over a cup of tea.

It’s been a long time between drinks for Labour, which has employed a range of successful tactics and unsuccessful leaders to lose elections between 2008 and now. One might have thought that having achieved power after nine years in the wilderness, the new government might begin its life by demonstrating that it intended to honour its election pledges. Specifically, by taking off the books one of the most-publicised pieces of legislation National enacted during its three term run as government.

‘Gone by lunchtime’ was the expectation of many for the Hobbit Law, or Employment Relations (Film Production Work) Amendment Bill to give it its full title, which was passed in 2010 to provide the “certainty” overseas producers were calling for as a condition of bringing the production of the Hobbit trilogy to New Zealand.

At a presentation yesterday at the new studios in Kumeu – an ironic choice of venue, given National’s part in making that facility possible – Workplace Relations Minister Iain Lees-Galloway made clear that the law won’t be gone by lunch, dinner, supper… or probably at all.

Prior to the presentation, in a letter to industry, Lees-Galloway noted, “The Labour Party has a long-standing policy that the people who work in the film and television industry ought to have the right to bargain collectively.”

With a nod to international producers, he also acknowledged, “I appreciate the need for certainty to encourage continued investment in New Zealand.”

At the presentation he said, “It would be pointless to stick to a commitment that didn’t actually get us the result that we were looking for.”

Which begs the question of whether the Party didn’t have a clear grasp of the issue when it created its manifesto and is now revising its position, or if the commitment was simply a vote grabber.

Either way, it doesn’t inspire confidence. Labour trying to shoot itself in the foot happens so often it doesn’t really surprise, and isn’t limited to the party’s dealings with the screen industry. Would any other party attempt to revive an agreement like the TPP, developed by the National government, that most of Labour’s own supporters opposed, and thousands protested against?

One hopes Labour’s volte-face on the Hobbit Law doesn’t begin a repeat of the hurry-up-and-do-nothing approach the previous government took as its default position towards the film industry.

Most industry organisations now seem happy – in public at least – to commit to not raking over the Hobbity coals in the hope of starting another fire. Ahead of the Minister’s presentation in Kumeu, Equity, DEGNZ, the NZWG, SIGANZ (fka Techos Guild) and SPADA released a joint statement, saying that they had spoken to each other and would continue to speak to government – so basically nothing.

There’s no doubt that guilds have differing positions on the outcomes which would best suit their own members, and – in government’s eyes at least – there’s room for debate on what would best serve the industry as a whole.

When National came to power back in 2008, it commissioned the Jackson-Court review of the NZFC. National hamstrung the review from the word go by specifying Court and Jackson were not to make recommendations that would cost money to implement, and so the review became a platform for everyone to have a whinge about their dissatisfaction with the NZFC, with some broader perspectives and a few suggestions tacked on.

Apart from for those who really like whinging the process was a waste of most people’s time, including Jackson’s, Court’s and the NZFC, which had moved on with a new CEO and plenty of changes to practice well ahead of the report’s publication. When it was published in July 2010, the government promptly commissioned a wider review to avoid having to do anything with the results.

When the results of the second, wider review were in, National continued to do its best to ignore them, which (along with standstill funding for government agencies) led to a very painful 2013 for many in the industry and, eventually, steps away from ideology and towards reality with the changes to incentive schemes.

 

 

One hopes the new Labour-led government isn’t setting off down a similarly long and winding road of consultations, reports and reviews that deliver little beyond ennui.

Minister Lees-Galloway is correct when he says that doing it right is more important than doing it now, but delivering on promises is important for a government that has everything to prove if it isn’t going to be a one-term affair.

Listening to all parties is reasonable, and this writer for one will be fascinated to hear the studios’ arguments this time around. In 2010 they were preaching to the choir when they opposed collective bargaining. This time around they’ll have a harder job convincing Labour that collective bargaining doesn’t offer “certainty” here in New Zealand, when it does and has done for well over half a century in the US and Europe.

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