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.

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