Accept beads and blankets again No, prime minister

By Tariana Turia

1 comment

The Government's announcement last week that radio spectrum is not a taonga and therefore no spectrum will be allocated to Maori reinforces the Crown's position of ownership rather than partnership and shows a complete disregard for the Waitangi Tribunal report on Radio Spectrum (WAI 776) and international law on indigenous rights.

Instead, the Government is "investigating" allocating $30 million to Maori - which will only be given, it seems, if Maori don't proceed to the courts. It's not dissimilar to the beads and blankets once offered to Maori on a "take it or leave it" basis during the land confiscations of the 18th century. The development fund - if it's given at all - is to be used to promote the Maori language and culture in the digital world.

The Waitangi Tribunal in 1999 made clear findings on the extent of the Maori interest in the radio spectrum, and emergent telecommunications development. The Tribunal said Maori must receive a just and equitable share of all radio spectrum as the resource was covered by the Treaty of Waitangi, and I quote:

"In our view, such an arrangement is preferable to some form of compensation by the Crown in lieu of spectrum frequencies.

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.

"Because this is in effect a national Maori claim, we recommend that the Crown and Maori consider establishing a Maori trust, somewhat along the lines of the Crown Forestry Rental Trust.

"Any income that a Maori spectrum trust received - say, from the development or lease of frequencies - could be used to develop infrastructure for remaining Maori frequencies or to educate and train Maori staff for employment in that infrastructure or elsewhere in the telecommunications industry."

It has been 20 years since the reports on radio spectrum were released and in that time the claimants have engaged and negotiated in good faith with the Government on this issue, resulting in the Maori Spectrum Charitable Trust called the Huarahi Tika Trust now chaired by Mavis Mullens.

It was established in 2000 so that it could engage a commercial partner to develop the 3G spectrum allocated to Maori.

The Trust has a track record of entrepreneurial flair and determination that transformed a $5 million "sow's ear" into a significant shareholding in the third major player in the New Zealand cell-phone market.

They have broken the pre-existing duopoly and brought $2.2 billion in benefits to New Zealand through more competitive pricing and increased services. Maori control of a share of the spectrum could have increased those benefits exponentially - but the Government has protected vested interests at the expense of New Zealand consumers.

Despite this investment and track record, the Government did not heed the advice of my colleague, Dr Pita Sharples, who has been fighting for the rights and interests on behalf of Maori claimants at the Cabinet table for the last two years.

The decision shows a lack of courage by the Crown. It is disappointing that after so many years of engagement and time spent to educate Ministers of the Crown on tangata whenua rights, this Government has again missed an opportunity to make a principled decision.

Resources such as spectrum, water, oil and minerals were all here before the Crown. Yet the Crown has determined that it has ownership and control over their allocation.

We share the frustration of the claimants and tangata whenua. We know that this issue will inevitably go back to court and when it comes out the other end we will be here to again support their negotiations and to advocate their position within government.

No, we are not greedy, as some emailers have written. We just believe that justice delayed is justice denied, and that is what has happened with spectrum.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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