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PM's Presser: Defence & Defending On Doone

Defence & Defending On Doone Accusation Verification

Prime Minister's Press Conference Monday 2nd May 2005
By Kevin List

In This Edition:
Burton Plays Increased Defence Spending Card
Academic Concurs With Minister
Doone Verification Defended By Prime Minister


Burton Plays Increased defence Spending Card

Mark Burton in his role as Defence Minister talks with a NZ soldier stationed in East Timor

"What this government is doing, in stark contrast to what the last National government did - and the sort of off the cuff 'ad-hocery' we saw from Don Brash last week - is put in place a well considered long-term sustainability response to a well considered cross departmental report," thundered Minister of Defence, Mark Burton as he outlined a $4.6 billion 10-year package.

Mr Burton had earlier pointed out that it was necessary to explain the Government's plans for increased spending on New Zealand's armed forces to the media because "of the number of attempts to misrepresent what we are doing from other members of this House."

Mr Burton seemed particularly annoyed by pronouncements made by National Party Leader Don Brash last week - comments that National's defence spokesperson, John Carter, seemed to consider had sparked the billion dollar defence spend-up. Mr Carter pointed out in a press release that: "They [the Government] have obviously been stung into action after Don Brash last week exposed lapses in our defences. They do nothing about defence until someone exposes the shortcomings."

If indeed Dr Brash's verbal criticism had managed to get the Government to sign off a $4.6 billion dollar deal in seven days then the New Zealand Defence Force owe him a debt of gratitude.

The Defence Sustainability Initiative announced by Mr Burton will provide additional funding (excluding gst) of $4.4 billion (operating) and $209 million (capital) over the next 10 years. The initiative is to develop the resources of the New Zealand Defence Force and the Ministry of Defence and is supposed to enable: - Increased personnel numbers and enhanced training and retention.

- Maintenance and development of infrastructure at camps and bases.

- Increased reserve stocks of necessary equipment and spares.

- Strengthened administration and management systems.

- Cover of depreciation on defence assets.

Further criticism from National that New Zealand is not pulling its weight in regard to its defence relationship with Australia was scoffed at by Mr Burton, who painted a picture of two South Pacific cobbers getting along just fine.

"It will be welcomed [in Australia] because it fits very well with the ongoing working relationship, in particular over the last three years, that Senator Hill and I have been able to build," he said. Rodney Hide, writing on his website wished to know "what is our spending on defence as a percentage of GDP and what will it be at the end of 10 years?"

A journalist from Newstalk ZB sought to clarify just how much New Zealand spends as a percentage of GDP - although not necessarily on Mr Hide's behalf.

That question was dealt with swiftly by Mr Burton who shot it down like an ailing Meschermitt, with no tail, stranded somewhere over Blighty circa 1945.

"To make comparisons of GDP is pointless - a) it doesn't have anything to do with the varying strengths of economies. The best example I've used previously is that in Australia for instance their defence spending incorporates [in their defence spending budget] all of the allowances and benefits paid to veterans - ours doesn't. The comparisons are pointless!"


Academic Concurs With Minister

Auckland based academic Paul G. Buchanan concurred with the Mr Burton's view in a recent essay pointing out that it was absurd to compare New Zealand with a country like Australia. Mr Buchanan likened this view to comparing "pumpkins with cherries' and considered prior to the increased spending announcement, that New Zealand was "in the mainstream of defence spending and foreign military commitment by small democracies."

Mr Burton was at pains to point out that the increase in spending coincided with the most bouyant labour market in a generation. The problem of losing well trained Defence Force personnel to "civvy street' was seen as a problem that could be countered by allowing the Defence Force the latitude to improve pay and conditions.

"Every Minister of Defence, we've ever had, has had to deal with industry cherry picking [from the forces]," he said.

According to Mr Burton the defence package "represents for the mathematicians an increase over the decade of an average 44% spending or if you add in all of the previous announcements and previous increases [the figure would be] 51%."

While this increased spending will undercut National's previous pledges to increase defence spending by 20%, the increased funding met with criticism from the Green Party.

Green Party defence spokesperson, Keith Locke criticised the "massive increase" in defence spending and suggested New Zealand's defence interests would be better utilised by upping our paltry overseas aid budget and concentrating more on security in the South Pacific. Unfortunately for Mr Locke, it would seem from today's announcement that our "butter is going into guns' rather than the other way around.


Doone Verification Defended By Prime Minister

Following the defence spending announcements, it was time for the Prime Minister to endure a protracted bout of questioning from NZ Herald and Herald on Sunday journalists regarding her conversations with a Sunday Star-Times reporter nearly five and half years ago.

Last week a number of former (and some current) workers at the Sunday Star-Times were ready to defend the mighty Fairfax publishing empire from a potentially expensive defamation case brought against it by an aggrieved former Police Commissioner, Peter Doone. Given the passage of time that had elapsed, in an ironic twist of fate some of these staff brought back to defend the Sunday Star-Times, now work for Fairfax's media rivals in New Zealand, APN.

Nevertheless, these noble souls had written briefs of evidence to defend Fairfax from Mr Doone's defamation action related to the publishing of a story in January 2000.

As well as being held responsible for the financial disaster that was the INCIS computer sytem, Mr Doone had got himself into a spot of bother by becoming embroiled in a driving incident on election night 1999. When the car his partner (now wife) was driving was stopped by a police patrol Mr Doone had jumped out of the car and spoken to a junior constable. Mr Doone's partner who had been drinking wine that evening was not breathalysed and there was some conjecture over what was said between the two men.

Shortly after the incident the Sunday Star-Times reported Mr Doone as having said "that won't be necessary'. This was later found to have been incorrect. Although not the source of the leaked and later found to be false words, the Prime Minister was involved in the verification process for the story.

The Prime Minister clarified her part in the verification process:

"What I would be pretty certain of was that I would have drawn their attention to the fact that the evidence was contested because that is clearly what came through in the reports from both the Police Complaints Authority and from Deputy Commissioner [Rob] Robinson.

"The long and short of it was that whatever Mr Doone said or did, he behaved in a way which inhibited a constable from carrying out his duty." Mr Doone, upon having the Prime Minister's actions revealed to him by the court process, now intends suing the Prime Minister for defamation having discontinued his action against the Sunday Star-Times.

In a recent interview with the Herald on Sunday, Mr Doone brushed off the huge costs of a defamation suit by pointing out to the reporter "What price your reputation?"

The Herald on Sunday article further pointed out that, according to Mr Doone, the reason the case hadn't managed to get to court in five years was because Mr Doone and his wife had been out of New Zealand on business for some of that time.

Last week, National Party Leader Don Brash questioned the ethics of Helen Clark's behaviour around the Peter Doone defamation case. "This is really all about due process and the rule of law," he said at the time. This week Dr Brash may well be questioning the ethics of the ACT party, and in particular Richard Prebble, the author of ACT's 'The Letter'. Before any defamation case involving Mr Doone and the Prime Mininster has even had a date set, the author of the Letter has already tried and convicted the Prime Minister.

It's not certain what evidence Mr Prebble has for the statements asserting the Prime Minister deliberately lied to the Sunday Star-Times in 2000, however in a particularly rabid attack Mr Prebble, asserted that "Clark's lie destroyed a man's career" and went on to ask "What is the penalty for PM's that maliciously lie?"

The writer may have been better off researching what the penalties are for straightforward defamation cases rather than complex technical ones. While the Prime Minister appeared indifferent to ACT's attack on her honesty and reputation, she appeared displeased that her "off the record' conversation had been divulged. When questioned about whether she thought her verification would ever have be divulged, the Prime Minister was at pains to point out she most certainly did not expect this to have happened.

"What all journalists might like to reflect on is what the chilling effect of this will be on their interaction with senior politicians, including me," she said.

At present, it appears it's full steam ahead for the Doones with their defamation case against the Prime Minister. Mr Doone will be hoping for a rather better outcome than the result of the Alec Waugh employment case. In 2003, a High Court judge rejected police bosses' claims that Mr Waugh had resigned and found then Police Commissioner Peter Doone had induced Waugh into believing he could be stripped of his pension.

**** ENDS ****

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