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Turia: Communications Legislation Bill

Communications Legislation Bill First Reading; Thursday 11 May 2006 Hone Harawira, Communications Spokesperson

Tena koe Madam Speaker, tena koe te whare.

Madam Speaker, when Te Mangai Paho first got started, they were looking for a mission statement. Katerina Mataira, one of Te Mangai Paho's first directors, coined the most beautiful of phrases to express their role. That phrase was:

Tuhia te ha o te reo ki te rangi To suspend the essence of the language in the heavens

Being able to communicate is the life-force of a people's language and culture. Being able to communicate well should be the focus of this Bill.

DIFFERING CAPACITY

The 2000 Ministerial Inquiry into tele-communications found that: There is ... a risk that differing capacities to participate in the information economy can create, or amplify, inequalities.

Or in simple language, if you're behind the start line, you're going to come last.

And the Maori Party wants to know, that if government wants to put more rules on the tele-communications industry, that Maori are not going to be disadvantaged, or left out the back when it comes to investment, competition, opportunity and consumer benefit.

We know that Aotearoa's digital future means having a low-cost, efficient and competitive tele-communication set-up, and we also know that Maori interests will be best served by ensuring that such a set-up is available to all.

RADIO SPECTRUM

Those interests are of course reinforced by the 1999 Waitangi Tribunal finding that "the Radio-communications Act 1989 is in breach of the Treaty in that it permits alienation of spectrum rights without consultation with Maori, or without allowing Maori a fair and equitable share of those rights".

The Maori Party also notes the further finding of the Tribunal that "The Crown had breached its obligation to protect Maori language and culture and that the measures taken by the Crown to remedy the decline of the Maori language were insufficient".

Madam Speaker, these are not merely issues for interesting policy chatter. These are vital matters of survival for Maori. It is about who we are, how we communicate, and how we preserve and develop our unique language and culture.

And in this regard, we will be forever indebted to the legacy left by the claims of Dr Huirangi Waikerepuru on behalf of Nga Kaiwhakapumau i te Reo, Sir Graham Latimer on behalf of the New Zealand Maori Council, and Piripi Walker, Professor Whatarangi Winiata and other pioneers, because it was through their efforts that Maori involvement in the communications industry now plays an increasingly more positive role in promoting our culture and language.

It's not just the impact of www.maoriparty.com that has set the world on fire - although that's the place you can buy a tshirt, blog, chat, vote, communicate in te reo, chat to others, and google away to your heart's content about anything and everything to do with Te Ao Maori.

The internet is also having a positive impact in education and in long-distance real-time communication, and we recognise also that efficient access and price competition has as many benefits for Maori as it does for all other Kiwis.

The question is, will the proposed amendments to the Telecommunications Act 2001 and the Radio-communications Act 1989 make a difference?

Will the regulation of the communications sector be improved by this Bill?

And how will these changes ensure our survival?

SPECTRUM MANAGEMENT A TREATY RIGHT

The Waitangi Tribunal acknowledged a Maori right to develop resources as a Treaty right resulting from Article II. It also recognised that that right could not be fossilised as at 1840 and limited only to resources used back then, because the resource existed in 1840, even though, like oil, grazing land, and orange roughy, it had zero value until it was discovered and developed.

Who owns the wind? Who owns the airwaves? Who owns the water?

These aren't trick questions.

The Waitangi Tribunal finding that Maori have a legitimate claim on the radio spectrum provided an opportunity for Maori to create economic benefit, as well as add huge social capital to the wealth of this country.

As we all remember of course, the Tribunal's report was another one that the Government chucked into the rubbish, refusing to accept: * that generation of radio waves was a taonga under Article II of the Treaty, * that Treaty principles required spectrum rights to be allocated to Maori, * or that the Radio Communications Act was in breach of the Treaty.

But here we are today with a flourishing Maori Radio Industry, and the only national television channel dedicated to the promotion of home-grown programmes, Maori Television.

And yet, despite those successes, there is scant evidence to suggest that the telecommunications industry gives Maori knowledge equal standing, or that equal Maori involvement in spectrum decision-making is provided for.

INDIGENOUS ASSET MANAGEMENT

There are other initiatives which prove indigenous success in managing and producing economic returns from telecommunications, and I wish to refer to an interesting case study from our whanaunga from overseas.

The Native American population of the United States is just over two million, half of whom live in rural areas, and one third of whom live on reservations.

Most of their tribes are now heavily involved in telecommunications, ranging from internet access to the full provision of telecommunication infrastructure.

Along the way they have had to deal with critical issues of cultural preservation, ownership, tribal identity and values, and the culturally appropriate management of technology.

That technology is seen as a key to improving the educational and economic options for many of those tribes, particularly given their large rural populations

And although America is not particularly noted for their support of indigenous programmes and values, they do have numerous sponsorship and support programmes to assist with the development of communication technology.

RURAL CONNECTIONS

I want to contrast that situation with our own efforts back home.

The 2000 Ministerial inquiry into telecommunications recommended that Telecom improve the quality of its services in rural areas, and that the Commissioner monitor and, if necessary, enforce those obligations.

That requirement is particularly important to Maori, given that good tele-communications has always been limited by geographic location, and the fact that many Maori still live in rural areas.

Madam Speaker, six years after that inquiry, I can confirm that there are many many areas in Tai Tokerau, Tainui, Waiariki, Ikaroa Rawhiti, Te Tai Hauauru and Te Tai Tonga, that still suffer from a lack of quality telecommunications, and while the promotion of third Generation Cellular telephone technology as a new wave in wireless communications is an admirable exercise, it is pointless when the favourite phrase on your phone keeps says 'searching for network'.

WHAREKURA

That doesn't just limit our ability to communicate for social and economic reasons; it is also severely hampering the capacity of our tamariki to receive their full entitlement to education.

I congratulate those from Te Runanga o nga Kura Kaupapa Maori o Aotearoa for their foresight in trying to build a video-conferencing system for the Wharekura network, but I also note, that six years after that initiative was launched, the current telecommunications network appears to be unable to supply the required bandwidth for various Wharekura around the country.

I also note that despite ISDN's wider coverage as a high speed digital telephone service, Telecom has indicated that ISDN will not be available for all wharekura because of the functionality requirements and associated costs, and Telecom's commitment to develop other parts of their network.

CONCLUSION

Madam Speaker, in a society where Maori are consistently labelled as welfare dependent - having management rights to radio spectrum, and thereby having the means to participate effectively in the telecommunication industry, will give Maori an opportunity to create economic independence, and as a consequence, benefit the nation as a whole.

Madam Speaker, the Maori Party will support this Bill in order: * to provide opportunity for further debate; * to consider allowing opportunities for other providers to compete for clients and force New Zealand's mobile prices down to a realistic world price; and * and to ensure the mechanisms are in place to allow Maori to effectively participate in the tele-communications industry.

Madam Speaker, I return again to the phrase with which I opened my speech because I love it so much:

Tuhia te ha o te reo ki te rangi To suspend the essence of the language in the heavens

Being able to communicate is the life-force of a people's language and culture. Being able to communicate well must be the focus of this Bill.

Tena tatou katoa.

ENDS

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