Maori should get cash from spectrum sale

Vodafone chief executive Russell Stanners is proposing Maori should get a cut of the proceeds from the sale of radio spectrum freed up by the closure of analogue television in 2013.

The Government is next year expected to auction rights to the prime spectrum, which could support three or more 4G mobile networks. Communications Minister Steven Joyce said last year that he expected the auction would raise about $120 million.

Vodafone has suggested to the Government that a proportion could go to a fund that would support Maori involvement in information and communications technology, Stanners said.

That would be instead of direct access to the spectrum. The idea is not being ruled out by Maori.

Stanners did not have a figure in mind, but said he grew up in South Auckland and was "very much in favour of Treaty settlements and supporting Maori development".

Joyce said Maori interests would be discussed as plans to reallocate the spectrum progressed but he was not in position to discuss any particular idea.

Three Maori groups filed a Waitangi Tribunal claim for a share of the spectrum in 2009, though that was subsequently put on hold.

The Maori Council said last year that its starting position was that Maori were entitled to all of the spectrum, but it knew that was not realistic.

Maori trust Te Huarahi Tika Trust was given $5m and the right to buy a block of 3G spectrum at a 5 per cent discount to its market price in 2000 after a similar claim was upheld by the tribunal but rejected by the Government. The spectrum became one of the founding assets of what is now New Zealand's third mobile network operator, 2degrees, in which the Hautaki Trust holds a minority stake.

Stanners said now that Maori were "aligned" with 2degrees, allocating some of the 4G auction proceeds to Maori would be fairer than setting aside some of the spectrum for Maori or giving them the right to buy some of the spectrum at a discounted rate.

"Unlike previously where there was a Maori interest but no industry player associated with them, now there is, so there is a natural conflict there," he said. "You would be favouring one operator versus another and would distort a process that needs to be fair and equitable."

Stanners said government and Commerce Commission officials had been receptive to his proposal and believed it might also appeal to Maori.

"In a funny way, Maoridom might be more interested in getting some 'value' that isn't tied up with the success of an entity that they may end up having only a small shareholding in."

Te Huarahi Tika trustee Antony Royal believed Maori would have an open mind. "It would need some further discussion both with the industry and with the Crown. We wouldn't rule it out, but having said that, it is not in either."

Maori still had a close association with 2degrees, he said. Though Hautaki Trust's share of 2degrees had declined as other investors had put in more capital to finance its expansion, its shareholding had stabilised and it had a smaller share of what was a larger company.

Royal said Maori had been in discussions with the Government over the spectrum issue for 18 months.

The Dominion Post