'Leave it alone' - Strong warning from law professor as Labour government considers scrapping 'Hobbit Law'

An Auckland University law professor is warning the government that changing the so-called "Hobbit Law" could scare off future film productions in New Zealand - possibly even the upcoming Amazon Lord of the Rings series.

Dr Bill Hodge this morning spoke to TVNZ 1's Breakfast following the government's announcement that it would set up a working group to reconsider the law, which is formally called the Employment Relations (Film Production) Amendment Act 2010.

The law made a legal distinction between employees and independent contractors after a protracted legal case brought by a contractor who claimed he was unjustifiably dismissed after production ended, thus leading Hobbit production company Warner Brothers to threaten to shift production due to the legal uncertainty of how a precedent could impact them financially.

Dr Hodge said the "Hobbit Law" "has worked, we haven't had issues with it" and urged the government to carefully consider their next move.

"What I fear is, not knowing exactly what they're doing, they'll stumble into a change that causes legal uncertainty - and legal uncertainty is very expensive and it scares off people who have a choice," he said.

1 NEWS has been told contractors working in the film industry will soon be able to collectively bargain again. Source: 1 NEWS

"If you've got choices and you've got the money, where do you go? You could go to Bulgaria, you could go to Romania, you could even go to a place across the ditch - you could go to Australia.

"That's one of the dangers here - it'll fly away.

"We've got such a wonderful industry going, we've got great connections with Skywalker Ranch - George Lucas - and of course all the other productions that are going on ... Avatar ... and this is putting that in peril."

It was yesterday announced that Amazon has acquired the rights to produce a new multi-season television show based in the Lord of the Rings universe, with events taking place before those depicted in both the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies.

It is still unknown where the new series production will take place, but Dr Hodge says production companies will see the government's announcement as potentially-expensive "legal uncertainty" and said the government should tread carefully.

A select group of Hobbit fans are attending the first NZ screening of the latest Hobbit film. Source: 1 NEWS

"They should leave it alone, it doesn't need fixing, its not broken - it works," Dr Hodge said.


The Employment Relations (Film Production) Amendment Act 2010 - known as the 'Hobbit Law' - was passed in 2010 after a legal case between James Bryson and production company Three Foot Six Ltd.

The case which looked at the distinction between contractors and employees after Bryson claimed he was unjustifiably dismissed at the close of production - an legal option available only to those who are employees, not contractors.

The employment authority first decided he was a contractor, and he appealed that in the Employment Court, who ruled he was an employee.

The trilogy went on to win 17 Oscars and established NZ as the real Middle Earth. Source: Seven Sharp

The Court of Appeal then gave leave for that decision to be appealed and decided he was a contractor, and the case moved on once again to the Supreme Court.

Bryson was backed thoughout the legal process by the New Zealand actor's union, NZ Equity, who used the opportunity to push for the right for actors to bargain collectively, despite most of them being on independent contracts.

At this point, production company Warner Brothers was making noises about potentially pulling the product of the upcoming Hobbit movies away from New Zealand, due to the legal uncertainty and potential expenses the case's result could bring.

The National government then stepped in to protect, it said, the considerable economic gains afforded by New Zealand's film industry, and legislated to define the difference between contractors and employees.

The new law essentially said that people hired as contractors could not claim the benefits of employees after serving a term as a contractor.

"What the Hobbit Law did [was] to say if you sign an independent contract, you're an independent contractor, full stop," Dr Hodge said.

"You can't reverse that status and go back to being an employee after you've gone through a period of being a contractor."

Dr Bill Hodge says the government needs to be careful, as production companies could stop filming in NZ. Source: Breakfast

East Coast forestry company's illegal logging history revealed

The Malaysian owner of a forestry company blamed for tonnes of debris washing up in Tolaga Bay has been fined twice for illegal logging overseas, but it took the Overseas Investment Office nine years to realise.

The penalty could have affected Samling Group's Hikurangi Forest Farm's good character status, but the OIO decided it was too late to take any action.

Separately, a Malaysian billionaire who owns another Tolaga Bay forestry company was granted 24 consents to buy sensitive land between 2005 and 2017, even though another of his companies has faced accusations of environmental and human rights abuses overseas since 2004.

The admission of OIO's tardy response to the Samling's illegal logging fine has prompted calls for the OIO to beef up its monitoring of foreign investors and for changes to the way the good character test is applied.

Hikurangi Forest Farms, owned by Malaysia's Samling Group, was granted consent to buy 22ha of land in Gisborne in May 2007.

Five months later one of Samling's subsidiaries, Barama Company, was fined for illegal logging in Guyana. In January 2008 it was fined again.

The Norwegian Pension Fund quit all its Samling investments in 2010 because of ethical concerns about its operations in Guyana and Malaysia and Samling's palm oil operations in Myanmar were last year accused of illegal deforestation indigenous land grabs and environmental abuses by civil rights groups in that country.

The OIO said it was aware of online reports of the company's practices in Myanmar but it had not been able to verify them.

It only became aware of the illegal logging fines in 2017.

"After considering various matters, including limitation issues and the age of the fine, and how long ago Samling got OIO consent, we considered the fine was too long ago for us to act on this information alone," Land Information New Zealand's Overseas Investment Office manager Vanessa Horne said.

That action could have included forcing the sale of assets owned by Samling.

Meanwhile, a second Malaysian-owned company also implicated in the Tolaga Bay flooding, has continued to buy sensitive land in New Zealand despite its owners facing allegations of human rights and environmental abuses abroad.

Ernslaw One, owned by Malaysia's Tiong family, is one of the three companies whose activities are being investigated by the Gisborne District Council after the June floods.

Its founder Tan Sri Tiong Hiew King made his fortune in forestry and palm oil plantations and his assets here included New Zealand King Salmon, Winstone Pulp and Neil Group.

One of his logging companies Rimbunan Hijau faces accusations of illegal operations and human rights and environmental abuses in Papua New Guinea and Malaysia, first documented by Greenpeace in 2004, and more recently this month by the Oakland Institute.

But it hasn't affected his business in New Zealand with 24 consents to buy sensitive land being granted since 2005.

The Tiong family has been investing in New Zealand for more than 20 years, with more than 90 approved consents to the companies controlled by the family, OIO's Vanessa Horne said.

"For the OIO to take enforcement action after consent has been granted for any breach of a good character condition, it would need to prove that a person is not fit to hold an asset.

"We need to consider the nature of the allegation, the evidence of the allegation and the public interest in taking action, such as the impact on New Zealanders from taking action. The commission of an offence by a person may provide evidence as to whether they are fit to hold an asset. But this is not the only matter the OIO would need to consider," she said.

Both Samling and the Tiong family's Rimbunan Hijau were yesterday named as irresponsible palm oil producers in a report published by Greenpeace.

Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa (CAFCA) said the OIO's good character test was not rigorous enough.

"To prove companies are of good character representative of the company usually a New Zealand lawyer has to sign a bit of paper certifying they're of good character - that's it," CAFCA spokesperson Murray Horton said.

Council of Trade Unions policy director Bill Rosenberg said the test also only applied to individuals, not the company itself. But he would like to see that changed.

"If you have companies with a consistent poor record of ignoring good environmental practice, no action can be taken under the current law."

East Coast environmental and indigenous rights advocate Tina Ngata said she was "appalled" to learn of the actions that Hikurangi Forest Farms and Ernslaw One's parent companies were accused of in other countries.

It was up to the OIO to monitor foreign investors more stringently and take action if necessary, she said.

"The OIO need to be taking a better role in monitoring the behaviour of these companies if they allow them into our economy so they don't make these kinds of impacts on our landscape."

It was especially important where public money was used to clean up environments impacted by companies failing to follow good practices, she said.

The OIO had nine permanent staff, up from just two in 2015, so it had more capacity to monitor and enforce consent conditions, including good character requirements, Vanessa Horne said.

Oregon Group declined to comment, and several attempts to contact its Malaysian owner were unsuccessful. Hikurangi Forest Farms and its owner Samling could also not be reached for comment.

By Anusha Bradley


Slash debris after flooding in Tolaga Bay. (Emma Hatton) Source: rnz.co.nz


Hamilton shooting which left man in hospital was 'targeted attack'

Police say the shooting of a man in Hamilton last night was a "targeted attack".

The incident occurred on Derby Street at approximately 10:25pm yesterday, leaving a 35-year-old man in Waikato Hospital with moderate but not life-threatening injuries.

The man is in a stable condition in a high dependency unit.

Hamilton City Area Commander Inspector Freda Grace said a group was involved in the attack.

"Investigations so far have established a group of offenders arrived at Derby Street and approached a house they believed belonged to the target of their attack and knocked on the door," she said.

"A man who lived at the address opened the door and an altercation occurred. He was uninjured but understandably shaken by the event.

"Following this, the group of offenders went to the house next door. A number of shots were fired and the 35-year-old man they were targeting was hit inside his address.

"The group have then fled the scene in vehicles."

Police are continuing a scene investigation today but it is not yet known whether the incident involves members of organised crime groups.

Inspector Grace says there is nothing to suggest the shooting is connected to a number of serious incidents involving people being harmed across Waikato in recent months.

Police are keen to talk to anyone who was in the area around 10:25pm yesterday who may have witnessed anything suspicious or have information of interest to the investigation.

People can contact Hamilton Police on 07 858 6200 or call Crimestoppers anonymously via 0800 555 111.

The incident took place in Nawton at 10.25pm yesterday – the offender fled the scene by car. Source: Breakfast


Pet food company fined $90k over employee's ill-treatment of bobby calves

The owner of a pet food plant has been sentenced for allowing one of his employees to ill-treat bobby calves.

Alan Cleaver from Te Kauwhata has been sentenced in the Hamilton District Court to six months community detention and 180 hours community work.

His company, Down Cow Limited was fined $90,000 dollars.

Mr Cleaver has also been banned for five years from having anything to do with the ownership or care of farm animals.

Charges were laid against Mr Cleaver, the company and an employee following secret video taken by the animal rights group, Farmwatch in 2015.

The employee, Noel Erickson was originally sentenced in 2016 to home detention but this was reduced on appeal by two years in prison.

Noel Erickson's actions were exposed by TVNZ's Sunday programme and caused widespread anger and disgust. Source: 1 NEWS


Calf. Source: 1 NEWS

Fine weather for most of the country today, a few scattered clouds otherwise clear

TVNZ weather presenter Dan Corbett gives the latest update. Source: 1 NEWS