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Govt defends Hobbit jobs claim

The government is defending its claim that The Hobbit films created 3000 jobs - even suggesting that its efforts to keep the films in New Zealand saved some of Sir Peter Jackson's companies.

The first film in the Hobbit trilogy, An Unexpected Journey, is reported to have topped $US886.1m ($NZ1.05b) in worldwide revenue since opening in New Zealand last month.

In late 2010, Warner Bros received an extra subsidy of up to $US15 million per movie from the government, which also changed labour laws, amid a dispute that could have seen the films moved offshore.

The government says keeping the films in New Zealand created 3000 jobs, but NZ First is disputing that figure and demanding Warner Bros repay $67 million in subsidies.

Documents released to NZ First under the Official Information Act show an adviser in Mr Key's office contacted Sir Peter Jackson's film company, Wingnut Films, in 2011 asking for the total number of people who would work on the films, suggesting 3000.

A Wingnut employee replied, saying "3000 is a good number".

"We have 1000 on payroll at the studio, 1000 at Weta Digital and nearing 1000 across Weta Workshop, Park Road Post, related companies and casual contractors," they wrote.

NZ First leader Winston Peters says that response doesn't support the claim that 3000 jobs were "created" by the films.

Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce hit back on Tuesday, telling Radio New Zealand Mr Peters was "playing semantics", before demanding an explanation of the difference between newly-created and pre-existing jobs.

He was adamant that 3000 jobs were "created" by the films, but added: "how many of them existed before the films were made here? I don't know the answer to that question."

"What I do know is all three of [Sir Peter's companies] would be considerably smaller today, if existing at all, if those films weren't being made here."