Government shrugs off bad news
Last week was one for John Key and his Beehive colleagues to savour.
For one thing, the Supreme Court swept aside the Maori Council challenge on water rights, thus allowing the Government to go ahead with its plans to sell shares (here and in Australia) in our state- owned energy companies.
Also, the latest Roy Morgan political poll showed that support for the Government went up by 3.5 per cent, while Labour support went down by 4 per cent. In fact, the only blip on the Government’s radar last week was the release of documents dating back to well before the last election, concerning The Hobbit dispute.
The released emails showed the labour dispute that had allegedly been threatening the production had been resolved by October 18 or 19, 2010 (depending on time zones), well before the large October 20 anti- union march in Wellington.
Neither the Government nor the Peter Jackson camp emerged from the email spill in a flattering light. On the evidence, the Key Government caved in for no apparent reason and gave a Hollywood film studio tens of millions of dollars in extra subsidies and changed the employment rights of workers in our film industry.
Amid the various documents, an October 18 email by Jackson was particularly illuminating.
In it, he said: ‘‘It seems that the blacklisting will be lifted tomorrow . . . There is no connection between the blacklist [and its eventual retraction] and the choice of production base for The Hobbit. What Warners requires for The Hobbit is the certainty of a stable employment environment.’’
The kindest interpretation – given that the Jackson camp was still saying publicly that the blacklist remained in place – is that the employment law change was the real goal. It’s hard to see that change was essential, given that Hollywood studios routinely cope with collective bargaining by unions elsewhere in the developed world.
And, an email sent to the unions by Warners senior executive Stephen Carroll on October 18 confirming the terms of the boycott settlement appeared to treat Jackson, not the unions, as the only potential sticking point.
Carroll’s email begins: ‘‘ This is what our writers think they can sell to Peter Jackson . . . ’’ Despite this known background, Weta’s Richard Taylor subsequently led a protest march through Wellington, in which anti-union sentiment was raised to fever pitch – all over the (by then, non-existent) concerns about the blacklist and/ or of The Hobbit moving elsewhere. Ironically, the march distracted the very film workers likely to be affected by the remaining negotiations, which led to the Government agreeing to downgrade the working conditions in the film industry.
Raking over historical coals on such matters is unlikely to change people’s perception of the Government, which appears to emerge untouched from such debacles. Luckily for the Government, the Labour opposition cannot seem to get any traction as an alternative government. Judging by the Morgan poll, any boost to Labour leader David Shearer from his handling of discontent in his own ranks had ebbed over summer. What will be disturbing for Labour is that in the same poll, the graph measuring the public’s confidence that the country is heading in the right direction remains well above the lows of mid-2012.