Communications Minister Steven Joyce is seeking to prevent the release of a letter from Telecom chief executive Paul Reynolds before the finalisation of the Government's ultrafast broadband investment initiative as well as briefings from officials on how he should respond. Making the case for their non-release to Ombudsman David McGee, Mr Joyce appeared to hint at a game of cat and mouse between the Government and Telecom before the release by the Economic Development Ministry of the formal invitation to participate in the ultrafast broadband initiative in October. Mr Joyce said the June and August briefings contained "suggestions about how I ought to relate to Paul Reynolds, and the messages that I may wish to give". The company would be either a partner for the Government or a competitor, he said. "Telecom will consider itself better able to exploit its unique position in negotiations the better informed it is about Government views of its proposals, or the Government's approach to negotiations," he said. "The briefings contain a discussion of Government views of Telecom's proposal, and also discuss views of interactions with Telecom to date. If Telecom were in receipt of this information it would provide it with an informational advantage over other prospective bidders. "It would also provide Telecom with an advantage over the Government as the Government's attitudes towards Telecom, and intended negotiation approach would have been partially exposed." Mr Joyce said the material could also affect the behaviour of other UFB bidders. A draft ruling by Mr McGee suggests the ministry's advice may remain confidential. However, no decision has been made on ordering the release of Dr Reynolds' letter, entitled "Next Steps Engagement with Telecom". It is understood Mr Joyce was advised to respond to the letter by phone. The Dominion Post sought the release of the advice in September and filed a complaint with the Ombudsman in November. Mr McGee says it is clear the briefings relate directly to the Government's proposal regarding the ultrafast broadband investment initiative "and one which it is currently negotiating on", so is capable of "prejudicing the Government's negotiations". The newspaper is continuing to make the case for the release of the advice, on the basis that the UFB negotiations have been put in the hands of an independent entity, Crown Fibre Holdings, and so should not be prejudiced by the ministerial briefings. Labour communications spokeswoman Clare Curran last week stepped up her criticism of the UFB tender process. "Steven Joyce publicly confirmed that the Crown would be prepared to invest alongside Chorus, and as part of Chorus, in new fibre infrastructure as long as it was clearly delineated. There are now too many questions being asked about the role that Telecom will play and whether other bidders have been wasting their time."
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