Swain's the name of the game

Labour's Paul Swain is set to become the key government figure for the IT and telecommunications industries after being named Minister for Commerce, Communications and Information Technology yesterday.

Labour's Paul Swain is set to become the key government figure for the IT and telecommunications industries after being named Minister for Commerce, Communications and Information Technology yesterday.

Swain, the author of the party's Labour Online strategy paper, will have two thorny issues on his hands before he can proceed with the proposals outlined in the paper.

The first is the radio spectrum auction set for the end of January. National decided to ignore a court opinion that Maori had a right to a share of the spectrum on offer, which is expected to be the subject of bids from telcos and other organisations looking to offer mobile telephony and data services.

Labour, which received the lion's share of votes from Maori, will be under pressure to offer a better deal. Swain has also previously expressed concern that National's structure for the auction could allow a few interests to capture and "warehouse" spectrum.

Although Marion Hobbs has, as expected, been named Minister of Broadcasting, @IDG understands that both she and Swain have already discussed Television New Zealand's digital TV plans with TVNZ's senior management.

Despite rumours that the new government might scotch the SOE's plans, TVNZ sources report that neither the digital strategy or the job of TVNZ chief executive Rick Ellis appear to be in any immediate danger.

Before the general election, Swain also promised an inquiry into competitive issues in the telecommunications market would be in place before Christmas, "given a clear election result".

No announcement on the inquiry has been made yet, but Swain is understood to have already contacted Telecom CEO Theresa Gattung about it. Gattung professed herself to be "relaxed" about prospects for the inquiry at a press briefing in Wellington on Wednesday.

One thing that appears certain is that Swain will be a very busy minister - like Maurice Williamson before him, he has a swathe of portfolios to mind. He also will be Minister for Land Information and Statistics, and will be assisting in Energy and Justice. His associate minister in Commerce will be the Alliance's Laila Harre.

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