Avatar film director and Wairarapa property owner James Cameron (Getty Images)

The Bulletin: Big budget film subsidies are here to stay

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Big budget film subsidies here to stay, NZ First want pledge of allegiance for migrants, and police to investigate themselves.

The government has changed its mind on halting ballooning film industry subsidies, after consultation with big budget projects and legal advice. The NZ Herald reports that minister David Parker says thousands of jobs could become unviable without them, and that a deal signed by the previous government in 2013 with the producers of the Avatar series opened them up to legal action if the subsidies were removed.

The story is a postscript to an earlier one by the NZ Herald’s Matt Nippert, in which the government decided to investigate cutting the scheme, which had cost $575 million since 2010. Payments made to film studios can be up to 25% of local spending on film productions.

The backtracking by the government will be polarising, just as the original decision to investigate had been. We had a debate in The Bulletin about it at the time, framed around a question posed by Sir Peter Jackson – does New Zealand want to have a film industry? The industry has been hugely lucrative for suburbs like Miramar in Wellington, and Kumeu out to the west of Auckland, along with all the promotion-related tourism benefits. And it’s not necessarily the money that critics objected to – it was that it was going into the pockets of film studios.

The other long running campaign the government has in the film industry may have stalled somewhat. A working group on worker rights got to work, and it all looked like it was working out for the workers. But the group appears to have entered a sort of purgatory, with updates few and far between over the year. An interesting detail in that Herald story from July – recommendations were meant to be handed to ministers within the next six weeks. It remains to be seen if that has happened, and it just hasn’t been released.


NZ First want migrants and refugees to make a pledge of allegiance to New Zealand values, reports Radio NZ. The topic has been heavily discussed at the party’s annual conference, and shows a return of proposals aimed at immigrants by NZ First. It was passed as a remit by the conference, and will now go to caucus for policy consideration. The conference speech made by Winston Peters can be found here. It didn’t mention the remit, but did mention “rampant immigration growth” as a “twin evil” alongside house price inflation.

If it does become a bill, the Parliamentary vote will be very interesting to watch, particularly from the Greens. As Liam Hehir wrote on The Spinoff, the Greens have largely stopped talking about past examples of immigrant targeting by NZ First. But a proposed law like this could be a bridge too far.


The police will investigate themselves over links between them and controversial security firm Thompson and Clark, reports Stuff. It follows an earlier story that police wouldn’t be part of the wider State Services Commission probe into government use of the firm. The police say they will work closely with the SSC inquiry, to make sure their investigation has the same level of rigour. Paula Penfold, a Stuff Circuit journalist who has covered this story, has some doubts about that.


A film crew was hired to follow PM Jacinda Ardern around New York. The NZ Herald reports that the money came out of the taxpayer-funded Labour Leaders’ Budget, which is available for fairly discretionary spending on promotion. But One News reports criticism from National, who say the PM might have breached campaign spending rules. The film crew came from a New Zealand ad agency with a New York office called Augusto’s, which has done campaign work for Labour in the past.


It is feared that the primary teacher shortage will really make itself felt next year, reports Radio NZ this morning. There will soon be 100 unfilled vacancies in Auckland, and the ministry of education is looking overseas for recruits. Primary teachers are currently engaged in industrial action with the ministry, with one of the concerns being that pay rates are failing to attract new teachers to the profession.


Local Government NZ have announced a tender for bids for companies to trial online voting systems in next year’s elections. But as Stuff reports, experts are warning the technology isn’t up to the level of security that would give them confidence in it being rolled out. A recent US study concluded that to protect their integrity of their elections, the vote should be done entirely on paper.

I’m pretty skeptical about whether online voting, or electronic machines, or really any technological innovation in voting, actually addresses and solves a problem. It seems like a risk when the system already works. But if I’m wrong on that, let me know – thebulletin@thespinoff.co.nz.


Wanaka will be the first South Island town to get new Kiwibuild homes, reports the ODT. 211 will be built around the Northlake subdivision, and 10 will be ready by the end of the year. Affordable housing for first home buyers around the Lakes District (which includes Queenstown) is in acutely short supply.


From our partners, Vector’s sustainability manager Karl Check explains why the company is pushing for more urban forests, despite recent storms in Auckland bringing trees down on powerlines, and cutting electricity to parts of the city.


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Right now on The Spinoff: Duncan Greive has some reckons about the meaning of The Block in 2018, which has just wrapped. Hayden Donnell has convinced himself that the octupus-seal-kayaker viral video was a setup. Dr Andrew Dickson writes that the ‘no fault’ compensation system for ACC is a myth, after trying to navigate the system for his son with cerebral palsy. And the Spinoff’s Parent’s section is going on a (hopefully temporary) hiatus, and Emily Writes is bidding farewell for now.


Politics in the US has been absolutely rocked by accusations of sexual misconduct against Supreme Court nominee Robert Kavanaugh. Those accusations will now be investigated by the FBI. As this piece from The Cut argues, part of the reason why the last few weeks have been so politically shattering for the USA is that women – justifiably angry women – have simply had enough. It’s not just the upcoming midterm elections that could have an effect on – it’s the political culture of America as a whole. Here’s an excerpt:

“On the first day of the Supreme Court hearings, Orrin Hatch chuckled nervously as a woman in the back of the room stood and screamed about how if health-care reform were gutted by the court, she’d die. “We oughtta have this loudmouth removed,” Hatch blustered. “We shouldn’t have to put up with this kind of stuff.” Ben Sasse suggested that maybe the ladies should all just calm down, noting that “screaming protesters [have been] saying ‘Women are going to die’ at every hearing for decades.” Concern over the prospect of this very real history repeating itself was just “hysteria,” Sasse went on. On the third day of hearings, greeted with more screaming women, Senator John Kennedy opined, “It’s not really how democracy is supposed to work.”

But this is the way democracy is supposed to work — and the reason these men are getting so upset is that the force of female protest right now feels like it has the potential to shake our power structure to its core.


It was a particularly good weekend for my personal sporting interests, starting with AFL Grand Final. Seriously, if that was the first game of the code that you ever watched, you’d be hooked for life – a case could be made that it was the best sporting spectacle in any code across this entire year. The Collingwood Magpies ran out to a five goal lead in the first quarter (roughly equivalent to say, two early tries in rugby) but the West Coast Eagles grimly hung on, only taking the lead back and with it the win with two minutes left in the season.

Pretty much straight after the Grand Final finished, the White Ferns were taking on Australia in the first T20 match of their series. The Ferns lost, with captain Meg Lanning perfectly steering the chase home for Australia. But what was really interesting about the game is that it was on primetime free to air television. All of a sudden, Women’s Cricket is a really big deal over the ditch, with an aim to make the Women’s T20 franchise competition (the WBBL) one of the biggest sporting leagues in the country. Here’s a really interesting article from ESPN Cricinfo about how Women’s Cricket came to be treated with the seriousness and respect it deserves.

Around the other major results, the All Blacks won the Rugby Championship with a win in Argentina, the Roosters beat the Storm for the NRL title, and Europe has won golf’s Ryder Cup against the USA.


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