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A ray of sunshine in the radio spectrum debate

In the course of Cabinet duties upton-on-line is required to digest vast reams of paper-work. Most of it is generated by officials, working to a formula. Their product is generally acknowledged to be chalky in its texture. Occasionally, legal experts and judges contribute to this wall of words. Their output reaches another level of turgidity.

It is rare, then, to derive pleasure from reading one's Cabinet papers.

An exception came this week with Judge P J Savage's minority finding in the Waitangi Tribunal's split report on Radio Spectrum Management and Development. We merely present a section of his work for the interest of the readers of upton-on-line:

"Again it was suggested that the radio spectrum, the electromagnetic spectrum, or resources in general (known or unknown in 1840) were encompassed by the word 'taonga' in article 2. We were given evidence that Maori knew of the electromagnetic spectrum, as evident in traditions relating to the snaring of the sun and the ability to shout at long distances, and that those traditions, when allied with the fact that spectra operated in a space above one's head, were said to give them a tapu element in a way that assisted the claimants. That may or may not be so, but it is a difficult and dubious voyage from those propositions to the finding of a Treaty right.

"'Taonga' is a word that is used in a number of senses. At the mundane level, it can refer to a prize or trophy. A very well known Maori academic told us:

'Taonga', the word used in article 2 of the Treaty applies to tangible or intangible things. A taonga is anything highly valued by iwi.

The spectrum is a taonga of high value and is of high value to iwi.

"When pressed, he accepted that what was referred to in the Treaty is not the mundane but something having a spiritual or cultural significance. Having taken that step forward, however, he retraced it by saying that everything has a spiritual or cultural dimension for Maori.

"With the greatest respect to him, if he is correct then he is coming perilously close to saying that the word 'taonga' means 'anything you like', in both senses of that phrase. The consequence of accepting that that was the meaning of 'taonga' in article 2 would make the Treaty so indefinite as to be meaningless and cast doubt as to whether the parties to the compact were ever ad idem.

"For me, however, it is clear that the Treaty did not reserve to Maori taonga katou but ratou (their) taonga katou. I do not accept, then, that the words 'ratou taonga' relate to the radio or electronic spectrum or to resources in general.

"This head of the claim is not well founded."

For the record, Communications Minister Maurice Williamson announced on Monday that the government would go ahead and begin the auction of radio frequencies in the 2GHz band.

One wonders how Margaret Wilson, tipped to be Treaty Negotiations Minister in a Labour government, would deal with such an issue.

Marginalia:

* upton on line was amused by Paul Holmes' peppery reaction to Winston Peters' reference to the great man's remuneration package on Tuesday night's show. It would be entirely unfair to speculate on Mr Holmes' salary, when there are, after all, so many people hauling in six figure sums at the state-owned broadcaster.

Last year's annual report reveals 110 industrious souls earning over the ton. In fairness 63 of them are only in the $100-140k zone. But at the outer reaches of the solar system there are three, galactically talented people earning in excess of half a million, with one supernova in the $760-770,000 band.

With such a star-studded cast, it would be impossible to know who.

* upton-on-line today travels to Papakaio. We will report from this outpost of wholesome mainland values on Friday, together with the exciting conclusion to our bridge spotting competition.


ends

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