‘I would personally regard it as a conflict,’ says outgoing Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel
In June 2020, with the borders closed, reality star Jordan Mauger dusted off years-old plans to build a film studio on the family’s land at Templeton, on the city’s outskirts.
It was ambitious stuff – up to eight sound studios, developed over time, costing up to $100 million, which could, ultimately, employ up to 2000 people.
The plan, made by the son of Christchurch councillor Phil Mauger, had serious momentum.
Within a month, news broke of the Government’s apparent willingness to use earthquake powers to make it easier for studios to be built – although a resource consent would still be needed.
Christchurch’s potential to woo Hollywood was backed by now defunct rebuild agency Development Christchurch, which found “a film studios development in Christchurch could generate up to $50m in added revenue”, and even more for a feature film.
Rebuild agency Regenerate Christchurch asked Associate Greater Christchurch Regeneration Minister Poto Williams to change the planning rules, a move backed by the council. Notably, Phil Mauger didn’t take part in the vote or discussion.
Williams signed off the fast-track changes in September 2020.
Then, in March last year, a resource consent application was lodged for the Templeton film studio, hyped as plans to bring Hollywood to Christchurch. It was approved within months.
Jordan Mauger declared the studio could be up and running by early 2022, and Christchurch was being promoted as a possible major production base by NZ Trade and Enterprise.
The wheels started coming off in August last year – the same month his dad, Phil, the sitting city councillor who led the family contracting business, announced he was standing for mayor. Jordan Mauger described news of $35 million injection of public funding for a film studio extension in Auckland as a “bit of a kick in the teeth”.
In the background, a University of Canterbury plan to build a $95 million “digital screen campus” at its Dovedale campus – the old teacher’s college site – was gaining momentum.
That so worried Phil Mauger he texted Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel, in a move that now raises further questions about the mayoral aspirant’s ability to handle conflicts of interest.
Newsroom can reveal the first-term councillor has been schooled on the legal boundaries of being an elected representative – receiving one-on-one briefings over 11 months from Helen White, the council’s head of legal and democratic services.
One of Mauger’s main platforms for the mayoralty is restoring trust in the beleaguered council.
In a written response, Mauger says he’s surprised by Newsroom’s questions and is adamant he did not lobby the mayor.
“Rather I was asking her for ideas about progressing a new multi-million-dollar film studio proposed by Temple Film Studios for Christchurch that would provide 2000 jobs. Specifically, I was seeking clarifications on plans for other film studios being developed in Christchurch – a one-off clarification text does not constitute lobbying.”
Mauger says the issue was not discussed further with the mayor, whose style is to encourage conversations on issues with councillors. (Dalziel: “I’m pretty sure we talked about it.”)
He also maintains he didn’t raise the issue with ChristchurchNZ. (ChristchurchNZ general manager of innovation and business growth Martin Cudd says Mauger requested “general information” about Screen CanterburyNZ’s work “and we have responded”.)
“For you to draw a conclusion that I was ‘lobbying’ the mayor is totally incorrect.”
Mauger’s main rival for the mayoral chains, former district health board chief executive David Meates, says it’s important conflicts of interest are managed properly.
“Whether they’re either real or perceived conflicts, in terms of how they’re viewed by the public, they’re conflicts of interest,” he says.
“Anything that undermines that actually undermines the trust and credibility of the council.”
After an Official Information Act request, the council released Mauger’s November 2, 2021, text message to Dalziel – “alerting you to something that has been getting right under my skin for sometime”.
He thanked Dalziel as part of a group – “Poto, the whole council, Ivan from REGEN, DCL to name a few” – who helped and “bent over backwards” to fast-track film studio proposals.
Showing the extent of his direct involvement, Mauger said: “I then paid about $150k to get a resource consent”. He complimented council consent staff for being “very efficient and professional”.
“All we need now is building consent. My son Jordan has been running around all over the place trying to secure funding for 1 studio. We are prepared to contribute the consented land for the project.”
His son heard whispers about a potential studio complex at the Dovedale campus. After a meeting with officials from the Ministry of Business, Jordan Mauger’s impression was the proposal was being actively pushed by the Christchurch film office – known as Screen CanterburyNZ, part of economic development agency ChristchurchNZ.
“Have the Chch film office instructed its staff to go down this route?” Mauger asked Dalziel in the text message. “Or is it just 1 staff member’s idea?”
He concluded: “Any ideas? Thanks.”
This week, three-term mayor Dalziel, who will be out of a job after election day, October 8, tells Newsroom of Mauger’s text message: “I would personally regard it as a conflict.”
“At the time I thought it potentially put the screen office in a very difficult position.”
Screen CanterburyNZ is neutral on film studio proposals, she says – “because they have to be”.
“If he thought that I could do something about that, or would do something about that, then that is completely misunderstanding of both the mayor and ChristchurchNZ and Screen Canterbury,” Dalziel says.
“Screen Canterbury has to operate in the interests of the city, not in the interests of individuals.”
A resource consent is just one step for a film studio development, the mayor says – the next is having a business case, and investment strategy. “I’ve no idea where that got to.”
It’s thought the Templeton development is yet to secure an investor.
“It definitely was an issue about conflicts and about talking to staff.”
– Lianne Dalziel, mayor
On the mayoral campaign trail, Mauger has said repeatedly – including at Tuesday’s Chamber of Commerce forum – he has been barred from talking informally to council staff.
But Dalziel says she’d be surprised if that was the case. “I know that he’s certainly been spoken to about talking to staff about projects.”
Mauger’s mayoral campaign website has a section dedicated to managing conflicts of interest. “When I first became a councillor, I met with the council’s legal team to ensure I fully understood the process of conflict of interest.”
This was important as Maugers Contracting won city council contracts. The Office of the Auditor General said in 2020 it was pleased potential conflicts were being proactively managed.
(Mauger resigned as a director of Maugers Contracting Ltd and Maugers Mining last December, but remains a director and shareholder of land-holding company Rookwood Holdings and Invercargill company Cass St Recycling Ltd, a joint venture with Southland company HW Richardson Group.)
The Christchurch council’s acting chief executive Mary Richardson confirms to Newsroom that Mauger has been advised of “the legal requirements of a statutory environment” at personal, periodic meetings with Helen White, the head of legal and democratic services, between July last year and June this year.
The one-on-one briefings were agreed by chief executive Dawn Baxendale, White, and Mauger because he was “new to a statutory environment”.
Asked about the briefings, Dalziel says: “It definitely was an issue about conflicts and about talking to staff.”
Newsroom asked Richardson if Mauger had been warned for speaking directly to staff about issues, and whether the situation prompted the briefings.
She responds: “Councillor Mauger has been advised of the correct processes for raising issues. The meetings with councillor Mauger clarified governance roles and appropriate processes.”
Richardson adds: “These meetings would have been available to any other member if they had similarly expressed a desire for further legal advice.”
ChristchurchNZ’s Cudd says Screen CanterburyNZ staff haven’t reported encountering pressure from Mauger regarding his son’s film studio proposal.
When councillors discussed using earthquake powers to fast-track film studios in certain parts of Christchurch, Mauger says he declared a conflict and left the room.
“I am fully aware of what constitutes a conflict of interest and I have acted in accordance with council rules at all times.”
Newsroom put to Mauger the picture emerging is of an inexperienced councillor warned for talking to staff directly about matters involving a potential conflict, in need of extra training to understand his legal responsibilities, who, despite all that, lobbied the mayor directly.
He disagrees, saying: “Let me break it down for you:
- In preparation for becoming the next mayor of Christchurch I have been meeting periodically with the head of legal and democratic services as you say around the legal requirements of a statutory environment. This was to ensure that if elected mayor I would be up to speed with process and could hit the ground running.
- I sent one text to the mayor seeking clarification for a major commercial investment that would bring significant economic benefit and jobs to Christchurch – this does not constitute lobbying.
- There has been no conflict of interest on my part at any stage during my term as a councillor, nor will there be.
“I think the picture that is emerging is of a councillor working hard to ensure if elected mayor he is fully up to speed on the legal requirements of a statutory environment and can be an effective mayor from the get-go.
“What also is emerging is a councillor fully aware of any conflict of interest responsibilities and declaring those at the appropriate time. Sending one clarification text does not constitute lobbying.”
Last week, Mauger told Newsroom he’s a “hands-on guy”. “I’m not that strong on governance but I’ve got people around me that can do governance.”
When we submitted questions to Mauger and his PR firm on Tuesday we also asked if Jordan Mauger wished to comment.
Phil Mauger is popular in the city. A Q+A Kantar poll earlier this month had him ahead of Meates, and as Newsroom spoke to him at a retirement village last week, a woman came to shake his hand because of his trench-digging exploits. Another man told him he’d already voted for him and he looked forward to seeing him enter the mayoral office.
Yet, he and his team have made mis-steps.
He and fellow councillors James Gough, and Sam MacDonald, a campaign adviser, courted controversy by inviting Baxendale and her husband to a private dinner in August to discuss “mutual expectations”.
On Q+A, Mauger claimed he wasn’t aware of Gough’s August 3 email when he, Gough and MacDonald met with Baxendale and her executive team on August 17. However, all Mauger had to do was read his emails – Gough had copied him in.
“I wouldn’t say that’s the cleverest thing that we’ve done,” he told presenter Jack Tame.
Baxendale invited other mayoral candidates only to meet with the council’s top executives on August 18.
Newsroom asked the council for copies of any written advice Baxendale sought or received about meeting mayoral aspirants. There was none, but the council said Baxendale “spoke briefly” to Jo Daly, the electoral officer, who advised the offer to meet should be offered to other candidates.
“The conversation with the electoral officer was on 17 August after the meeting with councillor Mauger.”
To be fair, Baxendale mentioned meeting other candidates in an email to Mauger, Gough and MacDonald on August 4.
At Tuesday night’s mayoral forum, hosted by the Chamber of Commerce, Mauger opened with: “I’m running for mayor because I want to regain your trust in council, and get stuff done.”
Phil Mauger’s November 2 2021 text message
I am alerting you to something that has been getting right under my skin for sometime.
As you will recall you,
All helped and bent over backwards to use section 71 to allow film use at Templeton and some other areas. Thank you once again.
I then paid about $150k to get a resource consent,which once again the ccc consent team was very efficient and professional.
All we need now is building consent.
My son Jordan has been running around all over the place trying to secure funding for 1 studio,we are prepared to contribute the consented land for the project.
He had heard whispers of a potential studio complex being suggested in Dovedale ave there the teachers college is.
He met with MBIE and others last week and was surprised the the Chch film office was actively pushing this.
This land is not consented at all and after the hoops we had to go through to get it at Templeton I would be surprised if they got anywhere near it.
The MBIE guy went to Templeton and was very impressed.
He said to Jordan that MBIE was only looking to invest in one not two studios in Chch.
Have the Chch film office instructed it’s staff to go down this route?
Or is it just 1 staff members idea?
FYI the same staff member was actively promoting Horncastle Arena for film use when it is totally unfit for such use.