Economic development minister Trevor Mallard insists observers who thought they heard him express a derogatory opinion of the government’s Probe broadband project took his remarks out of context.
By calling the results of Probe “a dog’s breakfast”, he only meant they had been inconsistent in their performance between regions, he says.
“[I said] it was fast in some regions and slow in others so it looked like it was a bit of a dog’s breakfast — and that in some cases it took far too long for those results [to come about],” Mallard says in an emailed clarification.
“I also pointed out that Probe delivered a considerable benefit in terms of communities talking locally and to each other about their broadband needs and how to make it happen.”
Mallard’s remarks were made at a launch earlier this month of the Wellington Loop, a project to link Wellington-region schools, businesses and communities through the broadband lines of CityLink.
The “dog’s breakfast” comment definitely came across as negative, says one source at the meeting. Leading figures of government ICT policymaking Frank March and Reg Hammond, also present at the launch, declined to comment, referring Computerworld to Mallard’s office.Mallard, then education minister, was one of the major front-men for the Probe scheme when it began rolling out, initially to the nation’s schools, in 2002. He reportedly favoured giving the whole scheme to the same telecoms provider, which, sources in the Ministry of Economic Development say, put him at odds with the project’s other prime mover, then-communications minister Paul Swain.
Attendees at the Wellington Loop event also thought they heard him express negative thoughts about Swain’s influence in Cabinet on that front. But Mallard again soft-pedals this aspect in his statement.
“I also said that Paul Swain had a view that the project should be regionally based — and that Cabinet agreed with him.
“Whatever approach was proposed, a tender process would have been required.”
Swain was asked for comment, but had not returned calls by deadline.
Douglas Harre, responsible for Probe at the Ministry of Education, says owing to traffic congestion he did not arrive at the launch until after the Minister had spoken; but for an objective evaluation of the project, he suggested Computerworld speak with the “hundreds of schools who have broadband where they didn’t have it before.”