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Harawira: Tele-communications Amendment Act

Tele-communications Amendment Act

Radio-communications Amendment Act

Hone Harawira, Broadcasting Spokesperson

Wednesday 25 October 2006

Mr Speaker, I’m always wary about rushing bills through the House, just because some guru reckons it will put us into a bigger, better, faster world - it all sounds a little bit like Star Trek to me.

Captain James T Cuniliffe-Kirk wanting to take us boldly where no man has been before; updating the spectrum regime, tidying up the licensing rules and procedures, and making sure people pay any unpaid licence fees.

The problem with the whole Star Trek analogy though, is that we’ve already been here before; 10 March 1999 to be exact; the day that Rangiaho Everton registered WAI 776 at the Waitangi Tribunal; a claim concerning part of the electromagnetic spectrum known as the radio spectrum, which is used for tele-communications and information technology - the internet, cell phones, mobile phones, search and rescue, video links, video conferencing - all that stuff.

At the time, the Crown was planning to hock off the rights to manage part of the radio spectrum for twenty years; and funnily enough, the Bill we have today says the same thing ... hardly next generation stuff, hardly a matter of urgency either.

Mr Speaker, these Bills are supposed to amend the Tele-communications and the Radio-communications Acts to improve regulation of the communications sector, but a major issue at the heart of the debate is that of control - and how that relates to the management of spectrum rights.

In 1999, Piripi Walker said 'It was the Crown's attempts to sell licences to operate portions of the spectrum into private ownership that had provoked Maori claims to the Waitangi Tribunal. Maori were concerned with the Crown's "commercial approach", which would see the alienation of the resource to powerful corporations.'

Fast-track forward to today, and the same question can be applied to steps being taken to enable the telecommunications sector to catch up with the OECD, with one essential difference between then and now.

In summing up WAI 776, the Tribunal accepted the claimant’s argument that the spectrum, was indeed known to Maori and was a taonga.

The Tribunal also said that Maori had a right under the Treaty to use of that spectrum after 1840, and the right to a decent share of radio frequencies being offered by the Crown.

Their finding followed the Tribunal Report on the Te Reo Maori Claim, which also said that Maori language and culture were taonga, which the Crown was bound by article 2 of the Treaty to preserve.

The Tribunal actually said “We think that the two Treaty partners could then work out a long-term plan for the management of future allocations of spectrum rights. As we have suggested above, the ownership and management of spectrum frequencies, perhaps in joint-partnership operations, could facilitate Maori participation in the telecommunications industry”.

And yet here we are, in 2006, still in the same virtual space and the same virtual time, where getting access to frequencies and spectrum management rights is still blocked by the unwillingness of government and bigger industry players.

And we have also noted the advice of the Radio Frequency Users Association of New Zealand, whose prime focus is protecting, promoting and preserving the rights of organisations who need access to the radio spectrum.

RFUANZ members collectively hold more radio licences than any other group, organisation or company in Aotearoa, other than Telecom, so you can guess how surprised RFUANZ was, that during the drafting of this Bill, neither they nor their members were consulted, which is like trying to pick the All Blacks without having any rugby players to pick from.

And you have to ask how government can put up a Bill to improve the performance of our communications sector, without including the players with the key expertise.

The Select Committee report said that the industry would be consulted before rules were made on allocation. Given government’s history on the Bill itself, and their consultation with Maori on Maori issues, we aren’t holding our breath.

But the Maori Party will support these Bills because they will extend the range of services subject to regulation; enhance the ability of the Telecommunications Commissioner to implement those services; empower the commissioner to effectively monitor and enforce compliance; and provide greater certainty, investment, competition, opportunity and consumer benefit.

But we are also aware of another five golden principles that we believe these Bills could have addressed, and I refer here to the Treaty principles of partnership, rangatiratanga, fiduciary duty, mutual benefit, and development.

In the Waitangi Tribunal claim I mentioned earlier we note the statements supporting the Maori right of ongoing resource development as a Treaty right resulting from article two; rights which cannot be fossilised as at 1840 and limited only to resources used back then; rights as current in 2006 as they were in 1999, and as they were in 1840.

And so, in the ongoing development of the telecommunications and radio communications sector, the Maori Party reminds the Government of the need to involve the Treaty Partner fully, if our nation is ever realise its aspirations to be a world leader in information and communications technology.

Government plans to encourage the use of information and communications technology must include Maori shares in the spectrum, and Maori participation in the industry as determined by the Tribunal, who said “Maori must have hands-on ownership and management if they are to foot it in the ‘knowledge economy’ as we believe they must in the coming millennium”.

Mr Speaker, the Maori Party will support this third reading of the Telecommunications and Radio communications legislation, but we agree with the Radio Frequency Users Association that there needs to be a wider discussion about whether legislative change should be piecemeal, with small but frequent changes or whether it should be less frequent and more substantial.

We agree with the latter, because there are major issues impacting on the principles of partnership, rangatiratanga, fiduciary duty, mutual benefit, and development, which still need further discussion, and resolution, and the Maori Party, for one, is keen to be there when those discussions are held.


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