A tatty faded white envelope was found on the steps of the Fry Up offices this morning. There was a stamp on the envelope but no postmark. On a post-it note attached to the envelope someone had scrawled in blue ink “Thought you might find this ministerial correspondence from 1990 of interest given the Telecom split this week – written but never sent”.
Dear Sirs (well if you play your cards right, ha ha)
It’s great to be back in the hot seat after the previous PM bumped me for flogging the national airline. He might crave a cup of tea but we’re drinking champagne in this office.
Seriously chaps, I’m becoming a bit thoughtful about this upcoming deal to sell Telecom.
She’s an isolated country at the bottom of the Pacific and staying in touch with the rest of the world is pretty vital. I was reading a pamphlet about Julius Vogel the other day and learned the government in the 1870s built a trans-Tasman cable at an annual cost of fifteen thousand pounds a year. It wasn’t cheap at the time but it was among the first of many investments in communications that taxpayers in this country have been making for generations.
The other day I had the member for an Auckland suburb in here prattling on about a thing called the world wide web and how television is going to be delivered over the phone line. I know, crazy talk, but what if he’s right? Would private investors pay for that kind of technology to be delivered to every citizen?
Hell yeah! The free market always delivers. But... what if it doesn’t?
What if I sell you and your US mates Telecom and they take the profits off the voice service and only incrementally invest in this cool new stuff. Will that Kiwishare thing we discussed be enough to ensure that all citizens, wherever they live, get equal access or will a future generation of taxpayers have to buy back the network because – and it feels like heresy to write this – the free market didn’t deliver?
I mentioned this to the PM over a feed of fish and chips and he raised the R word. I quickly replied its industry organisations that will be sorting out the rules – not the government.
But now I’m not so sure. It’s not your offer - $4.25 billion is a damn fine sum - it's just I’m thinking we keep Telecom a bit longer, see how this TV-wire thing pans out. Maybe wait to see what other countries do in this area so we can learn from them before flogging off this really, really valuable asset.
I trust you will understand my decision not to sell Telecom and also that it won’t damper your enthusiasm for sponsoring art galleries and yacht races because that stuff goes down a treat with the voters.
Diminishing SOE Minister
On Friday October 6 Fry Up featured a photograph of the office fax machine. On the Monday following publication this correspondence – pictured below - was faxed from a location in Hamilton. It took 15 working days before anybody in the office noticed.