Labour claims telco commissioner appointment may be illegal

ICT spokesperson Clare Curran to ask the Auditor General to investigate

Labour ICT spokesperson Clare Curran will ask the Auditor General to investigate the appointment of Stephen Gale as telecommunications commissioner.

Gale’s appointment, announced today, confirms industry rumours that the incumbent Ross Patterson would not be re-appointed.

“It is my understanding that the appointment of his (Ross Patterson’s) successor - Stephen Gale - may have breached public sector requirements, specifically around the appointment process and description of the appointment. To that effect I will today request that the Auditor General investigate this appointment,” Curran says.

When the role was first advertised in March it contained basic errors – for example it mentioned one of the responsibilities of the Commissioner as overseeing operational separation, even though that ended last year.

Curran claims that a “new direction taken by the telecommunications commissioner role is to focus on the interests of investors, rather than consumers.”

In today's announcement, ICT Minister Amy Adams specifically mentioned investors while congratulating Gale on his appointment. “Dr Gale impressed the panel with his wide range of experience in regulated industries and his ability to articulate the role of the regulator to promote the interests of consumers through encouraging competition and ensuring that investors have the incentives to invest over the long-term," she wrote.

But Curran says the government has an existing conflict of interest being an investor with its $1.35 billion commitment to ultrafast broadband. "It should be scrupulously careful to avoid accusations of protecting its own interests at this time and reassuring the public that their interests are paramount,” she says.

In May Curran raised concerns about the office of the telecommunications commissioner would be merged with the Commission, but this was denied by Commerce Minister Craig Foss.

A spokesperson for Adams has emailed Computerworld the following comment.

"The appointment process for the new Telecommunications commissioner is consistent with the State Services Commission’s Board Appointment and Induction Guidelines and complies with the requirements for appointment under the Commerce Act 1986, the Telecommunications Act 2001, and the Crown Entities Act 2004.

"The Act requires the Governor-General to appoint a Telecommunications Commissioner on recommendation of the Minister, so the Government is required to make the decision. The recommendation for appointment was based on the advice of an independent selection Panel."

The members of the panel were Brent Layton (chair of the panel), chairperson of the Electricity Authority

Liz Sinclair, deputy commissioner at the State Services Commission, Mark Steel, deputy secretary of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s economic development branch.

Computerworld has approached Ross Patterson but he has not returned our calls. The Commerce Commission says Gale will not be giving media interviews until he begins the role next week.

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