'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.

WHAT IS THE HOBBIT LAW?

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



South Auckland charity The Aunties takes home top Women of Influence Award

The founder of a South Auckland charity group dubbed The Aunties has won the top honour at the Women of Influence Awards.

Jackie Clark set up the not-for-profit organisation six years ago to help vulnerable women and children who've experienced domestic violence.

The group's primary aim is to provide material needs to those they support.

"The Aunties believe everyone has the right to be safe, to have shelter, to be fed, to be loved, to dream, to read, to write, to have their say, and to be heard," the group proclaims on its Givealittle page. "Where any of those things are missing, the Aunties mission is to help provide them - the practical things, and also in terms of advocacy and pastoral care."

The group says it believes in manaakitanga - protecting the mana of the people they help so that they can find their way towards living independently, and with dignity and joy.

"Jackie and her fellow Aunties give without seeking anything in return and without judgement," said Westpac NZ chief executive David McLean, whose company co-sponsors the Women of Influence Awards. "She, and her core of other Aunties, ask vulnerable women what they need and then set about making it happen, in a completely selfless way.

"They have made an enormous contribution to our local communities at grassroots level."

The award ceremony was held last night at SkyCity in Auckland.

Here's the full list of winners:
Supreme Winner: Jackie Clark
Lifetime Achievement: Theresa Gattung
Arts and Culture: Miranda Harcourt
Board and Management: Dr Farah Palmer
Business and Enterprise: Angie Judge
Rural: Rebecca Keoghan
Public Policy: Charlotte Korte
Community/Not for Profit: Jackie Clark
Innovation and Science: Professor Wendy Larner
Diversity: Sarah Lang
Global: Sarah Vrede
Young Leader: Maddison McQueen-Davies

Jackie Clark set up the non-for-profit six years ago, which aims to help vulnerable women and children who have experienced domestic violence. Source: Breakfast


Topics


Eleven Glenorchy homes still without power 48 hours after early spring snowfall

Some resident in Central Otago's Glenorchy are still without power 48 hours after a spring snowfall caused major disruptions in the deep south.

Eleven properties remains with power this morning.

Aurora Energy is hoping to have power restored to the area by this evening.

Around 360 households in the central Otago town are affected, with Aurora Energy hoping to have electricity back on by this evening. Source: Breakfast

In many places power was cut, schools were closed and flights cancelled. Source: 1 NEWS

TODAY'S
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Watch: Artist uses pyramid in central Auckland to spread some joy around town

A Kiwi artist are architect is using a pyramid in central Auckland to spread some joy.

Matt Liggins has made it his mission to ask people what makes them smile, but instead of rolling up to you on the street he's built a pyramid to help lighten people's moods.

TVNZ1's Seven Sharp's Lucas de Jong went along to take a look and share a laugh in the video above.

Matt Liggins has made it his mission to ask Kiwis what makes them smile. Source: Seven Sharp


Meet the transgender Wellington school caretaker brightening up kids' days

A transgender caretaker at a Wellington school has been using her musical talents to brighten up the kids' days.

Molly Mason was born as Michael, but soon discovered she was a female born in a man's body.

"I believe I'm a woman, and I associate as a woman, so I live my life as a woman," Molly told TVNZ1's Seven Sharp.

Molly has a love of music that began when she was just six.

Now, in her role as caretaker at a Wellington school, she uses her talent to good effect by beat boxing with the kids at lunchtime.

"When I realised that beat boxing and making sounds was something I couldn't live without, that was it, nothing else mattered."

However, to be this woman - that little boy Michael, had a fight on his hands.

"I got bullied from primary school right through until the day I left college and left Blenheim."

Molly is now proud to be transgender and says the stage is her safe place. She performs as her drag alter ego called Bette Noir.

"Anything that makes me sad, makes me worried, makes me scared, anything that I find stressful, it's not there, it's gone." 

Seven Sharp’s Arrun Soma spoke with Molly Mason. Source: Seven Sharp