Opposition ICT spokeswoman Clare Curran has bluntly accused the ICT Minister, Steven Joyce, of having “lied” in answering at least one of a series of written questions she put to him in 2009 on the government’s awareness and encouragement of Telecom's structural separation.
“This answer is particularly interesting,” she says, quoting from the Parliamentary record:
“[Question number] 15840 (2009). Clare Curran to the Minister for Communications and Information Technology (23 Oct 2009): What correspondence, if any, has he received or sent, listed by correspondent and date, about possible structural separation of Telecom?
“Hon Steven Joyce (Minister for Communications and Information Technology) replied: I have not received or sent any correspondence about possible structural separation of Telecom.”
Yesterday, Computerworld reported on and quoted from a letter from Telecom chief executive Paul Reynolds to Joyce, dated August 6, 2009 [more than a month before answering the Parliamentary question], discussing the possibility of voluntary Telecom structural separation. Reynolds was then under the impression that government “has a preference” for voluntary separation.
Joyce’s spokesperson yesterday said Reynolds had been advised, in 2009, that his supposition was mistaken.
But the letter exists (the Minister’s office sent us a copy) and it seems impossible to argue that it is not “about possible structural separation”.
In replies to other questions, Joyce acknowledges having discussed “the government’s ultrafast broadband initiative and possible participation by Telecom", but denies having “proposed”, “discussed”, “recommended” or received any briefing papers about, structural separation of Telecom. That, he says, “is a matter that is entirely up to Telecom."
Joyce says the letter from Reynolds was simply “overlooked” in his response to Curran’s question – especially as the Telecom chief executive had misunderstood government’s intent.
“Once again, Clare Curran is trying to make a mountain out of a molehill,” he says.
“There was never a requirement on Telecom to structurally separate. The requirement on all bidders in regards to retail services was the same. It was outlined in the original Invitation to Participate and it has remained unchanged,” he says.
“That requirement was, if a prospective UFB partner owned or controlled a business which provided any retail telecommunications service, then the partner had to either fully divest itself of that retail business, or it would not be able to appoint the majority of directors to the board of the relevant LFC, and the chair of the LFC Board had to be an independent chair agreed to by all shareholders.
“That left at least a couple of options for Telecom if they wished to participate - and of course not participating was also an option. The decision to structurally separate was and remains Telecom's alone, and came as part of a very competitive bidding process run by CFH, which resulted in four partners being selected to participate.”