The slice of third-generation radio spectrum set aside for Maori in 2000 is not quite of Treaty of Waitangi settlement status, says state services Minister Trevor Mallard, but neither does it come into the group of affirmative action plans for Maori that he currently has a team reviewing.
“There was a claim but the [Maori spectrum] trust arrangement was not a formal settlement,” says Mallard. Nevertheless, “It's not something that I would review.”
A treaty researcher at Victoria University, Andrew Ladley, referred to the spectrum allocation on National Radio last week in the context of the government’s commitment to examine any “special deals for Maori” such as preferential entry to academic courses in the wake of National leader Don Brash’s allegations that some had produced little result.
Certainly the public has seen nothing material in network terms from the setting up of the trust and the later $4 million payment it made for a 30% shareholding in UK-based EcoNet Wireless.
“I used the spectrum allocation as an example of my general point that such schemes cannot be a blank cheque,” says Ladley. “If an initiative is failing, or if it has already achieved what it was set up to do, if you have reached your target number of Maori trained in law or in wireless networking — then we shouldn’t persist with it.”
It would be harder to take spectrum back than to terminate quota arrangements on an educational course, he acknowledges. “I’m not saying you should take back the spectrum that anyone’s using; but the trust and bodies like them should be aware that they can’t rest on their laurels. If they’re not achieving anything, they should be aware of the risk that they will be disbanded.”
That risk, however, seems distant as far as Mallard is concerned.