Alf finds it hard to fathom what’s going on in the Beehive nowadays.
Mean, lean Bill English is banging on about the need for fiscal rigour (although he is apt to forget this when throwing money around for Polynesian employment projects)
Generous and chubby Gerry Brownlee, on the other hand, is doling out millions of dollars to American movie moguls – the sorts of people who can count their profits in billions.
The long-suffering taxpayers of Eketahuna North accordingly are confused.
Today they have been pressing Alf for explanations, after the Sunday Star-Times disclosed that the public purse bankrolled blockbuster film and TV productions to the tune of $75 million over the past two years.
Dammit, on the other side of the Tararuas cancer patients are being told they can’t get chemotherapy because of a shortage of cancer specialists.
So how many specialists could the hospital hire with $75 million.
Most of the money pumped into films instead of health, education and what-have-you went to US studio giants 20th Century Fox, Paramount and Disney.
Avatar, District 9, Tintin, The Lovely Bones and children’s TV show The Wot Wots were all awarded cash under the Large Budget Screen Production Grant scheme in the 2009-2010 financial year.
In this financial year $23m was paid out for Yogi Bear, The A-Team and TV show Spartacus.
Demand for the grants was so great the Ministry of Economic Development blew out its $35.5m budget and had to request a $16.9m top-up last February.
As the SST explains, the movie-making scheme offers a 15% rebate on production spending in New Zealand above $15m.
It looks like money well spent.
To get its $52.9m grant, Avatar makers had to guarantee spending $362.75m here, and Yogi Bear $41.5m.
It adds up to big bucks – more than $245m has been dished out to movie-makers since the grants were set up in 2003.
But the game could be up for the Hollywood bludgers.
The scheme will be reviewed this year.
The bosses of local film industry companies accordingly are bleating about the tax breaks being vital to create jobs and keep skills here, ensuring smaller local productions get made.
But Alf reckons we should listen to economics professor Tim Hazledine, who says the film industry is unique in getting incentives and our politicians are “star struck”.
“It’s the most glamorous industry of all, and they get to go to these red carpet premieres in Wellington. It’s a lot of fun I suppose.
“But I’d rather studios came here because our people are so good, not because they get a little bribe to do so.
“We don’t subsidise our farmers. If we did it for dairy farmers, we’d certainly be breaching free trade agreements.
“We are subsidising the shareholders of Paramount, these companies and foreign consumers who see the movies.”
The SST has dug up some Treasury documents that show officials in that department have questioned the economic value of the scheme because it created “fiscal risks for the Crown”.
Officials urged caution in extending the scheme.
But a spokesman from the Ministry of Movie Hanouts said the productions brought more than $1.7 billion in qualifying expenditure, and “created jobs, accelerated the talent and skill of our local film industry, and improved New Zealand’s film infrastructure”.
He said there were “spillover benefits” to other sectors, such as tourism, and the Government was committed to maintaining the scheme.
But Alf is a man of principle (on this matter, at least).
If the Government is in the business of helping one line of business with handouts, then it should be helping all lines of business, although maybe it could stop short at the sex industry.
The Ministry of Economic Deveolopment helps fund a website that gives advice on how to get government help.
In a nutshell, the advice is don’t bother.
Many businesses owners look for grants or ‘free money’ to start, or boost their businesses. But grants from government or other organisations are few and far between, and where they do exist, they generally require an equal (50/50) investment from the business owner.
Unless you’re into research and development (R&D), or have an established business and are looking to expand into international markets, there’s not much in the way of grant funding available for businesses in New Zealand
Nope. But the star-struck Gerry Brownlee and his colleagues have gone ga-ga over the bloody film industry.
Makes you wonder, eh?
Gerry can only be angling for a movie role, hankering to see his name up in lights.
Alf can’t imagine the tubby bugger getting a role via the casting couch.
But tossing a producer a few more million from the public purse might do the trick.