Spectrum vital to Maori economic success - leader

6:11 am on 4 December 2012

The head of the Government's Maori Economic Development Panel is criticising what he says is the Crown's lack of commitment to ensure Treaty partners own part of the valuable radio spectrum.

Part of the broadcasting spectrum is in line to be sold off by the Crown, and talks over whether Treaty partners should get a guaranteed share have got nowhere.

When all TV signals go digital at the end of 2013, it will free up a valuable spectrum band which could be auctioned off to commercial players by the Government early next year for a new generation mobile phone technology.

The Maori Council is already laying claim to a part of the spectrum but so far there's no commitment to iwi or other claimants that they will be allocated a portion.

Panel chairman Ngahiwi Tomoana, of Hawke's Bay iwi Ngati Kahungunu, says his tribe and others need the support of Government ministers to be treated as Treaty partners.

He says there's a will to light economic fire under iwi but the Government's taking away the matches by not allowing spectrum to be part of any economic recovery.

The view from north-west Auckland sub-tribe Ngati Whatua o Kaipara is that selling off spectrum is commercialising space.

Chief executive Jason Fox says tribes need to own and operate airwaves to protect Maori culture, and if new forms of technology can't be accessed, the Maori language is put further in jeopardy.

A trustee of Auckland sub-tribe Ngati Whatua o Orakei, Sharon Hawke, says half of the spectrum is the starting point for her hapu - which she acknowledges could draw what she calls redneck criticism.

She says the sub-tribe has signed a Treaty with Queen Victoria's descendants, which says Maori and the Crown are to live side by side and share resources.

Reg Hammond, now of Internet New Zealand, previously advised the Government on the technology.

He says politicians will probably be thinking of the consumer first by providing lower cost and better quality cellular phone services, though the ability for Maori to have a separate network could easily be accommodated.

The Maori Party has been attempting to negotiate a spectrum allocation for Maori but there has been no breakthrough. The Government says the matter is before Cabinet.

Ministers have said they wanted to auction the spectrum by the end of March, and if Treaty claimants don't get what they want they will be back before the Waitangi Tribunal.