Maori and the 4G spectrum

Maori have a difficulty with the current 4G spectrum auction. They cannot accept the notion that they must join a long queue of very wealthy bidders at auction for a piece of the scarce spectrum resource, with the Crown as seller.

There will be roaring levels of commercial testosterone at this auction, and the Treaty of Waitangi’s protective intent comes into play immediately in this scenario.

The Treaty was highly protective of Maori and their position as tangata whenua in 1840, their wellbeing, ownership rights, and cultural survival.

We should not be surprised in the digital age that its protections, in respect of the assumed royal prerogative (the right of kings, queens and parliaments to assert ownership over raw resources and the right to own and sell) reaches into areas like the spectrum resource. The courts have accepted that the Treaty deliberately placed a fetter over the prerogative in New Zealand.

Maori should not be blamed for the length and sharpness of those guarantees. Maori didn’t write the Treaty nor initiate the migration and colonisation which necessitated it. They are entitled to cling to the contract their ancestors signed.

It’s useful to remember that in all the claims Maori have made for spectrum in both broadcasting and telecommunications, they have displayed a clear idea of what they would do with spectrum and why it is needed. All have faced fierce Crown opposition and produced bitter fights in the courts.

In 1985 the Maori Council surprised the Government of the day by launching a bid for the third channel TV warrants before the Broadcasting Tribunal. The last national VHF network was at stake. The bid failed. Conventional wisdom of the time framed the Maori channel as an impossibility. Look at Maori Television now. A burgeoning success, but started 20 years after the main body of native speakers of the language passed into the night, along with the rich resources they would have provided. Continue reading


Piripi Walker, Ngati Raukawa, is spokesman for Nga Kaiwhakapumau i Te Reo, (The Wellington Maori Language Board).

Additional reading

News category: Analysis and Comment.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,