The Telecommunications (TSO, Broadband, and Other Matters) Amendment Bill – that’s the one that is supposed to give us ultra-fast broadband – is being debated in Parliament today. It has been to Select Committee, and submissions heard and considered. But now IT and Communications Minister Steven Joyce has dumped a twelve page Supplementary Order Paper [PDF] to the Bill on Parliament.
The SOP won’t go anywhere near a Select Committee, and there will be no opportunity for public scrutiny or submissions. One of the main impacts of the SOP will be to abolish the kiwishare. This was a statutory obligation imposed upon the original privatisation of Telecom 20 years ago. It restricted foreign ownership, and ensured free local calling.
Under the SOP, the restriction on foreign ownership will be gone. The free local calling provision is supposedly protected. But there will be a new and far less robust mechanism than the previous statutory requirements. The mechanism to do this will not be a special rights share, but according to the Ministry of Economic Development [PDF] will be:
…a combination of constitutional requirements on the company, a small parcel of ordinary shares held by the Government, and a Deed between the company and the Government.
So there will be no protection of free local calling in statute law. The constitutional requirements and the Deed will be able to be reviewed by any future Government without any reference to Parliament. And if Don Brash and his Actoids are part of a future Government, you can bet the farm on free local calling being gone by lunchtime.
This is a disgraceful abrogation of democratic process. If Steven Joyce wants to make changes as significant as this to a Bill that has already been reported back from a Select Committee, he should refer it back there for a further round of public submissions.
And wouldn’t the whole process of getting a decent broadband service across the country have been so much easier if we had never privatised Telecom in the first place?