Crown urges tribunal to refuse radio review

TOM PULLAR-STRECKER
Last updated 05:00 31/07/2013

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The Government has asked the Waitangi Tribunal not to grant an urgent hearing to Maori who are seeking a share of the country's "digital dividend" radio spectrum.

Crown lawyers said Maori claimants appeared to have left their legal bid for a share of the highly prized spectrum deliberately late in order to "maximise interference" with its sale.

The spectrum, which will be freed up by the closure of analogue television broadcasts, is expected to fetch a few hundred million dollars at auction later this year, after which it will be redeployed to support 4G mobile networks.

The New Zealand Maori Council, the Wellington Maori Language Board and a third claimant applied for an urgent hearing on July 1, effectively reviving a claim for the spectrum that they first lodged in 2009.

But a memorandum filed with the tribunal on behalf of the Crown said the Government had already considered and dismissed earlier judgments from the tribunal which found radio spectrum was "taonga" (treasure).

That meant there was "no merit in expending further resources and prioritising the claim over other existing claims", the Crown lawyers said.

Communications Minister Amy Adams ruled out giving Maori a share of the spectrum in February, suggesting a $30 million fund could instead be established to promote Maori ICT initiatives.

Piripi Walker, treasurer of the Wellington Maori Language Board, said earlier this month that the claimants would not comment on the timing of the revival of the Waitangi Tribunal claim.

The spectrum auction has already been pushed back from last year, potentially delaying the future upgrade of rural mobile networks to 4G.

The Crown memorandum said the Government still intended to get the auction under way by its latest deadline of September 30, and that meant a final decision would need to be made in August on whether the auction would proceed.

It asked for a "prompt decision" from the tribunal on the claimants' request for urgency.

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- BusinessDay.co.nz

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