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AGENDA: Phil Goff Interview Transcript

Presented by Rawdon Christie

Phil Goff Interview Transcript

Transcript courtesy of

  • Agenda TV
  • and TVNZ

    RAWDON If you look for the spirit of ANZAC inside official Australian documents outlining their defence policy you'll get a shock. Last year in the a white paper their government said Australia had no closer or more valuable partner in this region than Japan, overall Australia said it relied on the United States to maintain stability in the region, not a mention of the old ANZAC partner New Zealand. So why don’t the Australians take New Zealand's defence efforts more seriously. Our Minister Phil Goff is with Guyon Espiner.

    Well Phil Goff let's start with the money, we spend roughly about 1% of our GDP on defence, Australia nearly twice that proportion, I mean are we spending enough on our defence forces?

    PHIL GOFF – Minister of Defence
    Yes, and let me come in immediately and say that the comment that Rawdon has made that they don’t take New Zealand seriously is rubbish. I get constantly from the Chief of Defence Force in Australia, from the Minister of Defence and the two different governments in Australia a clear acknowledgement of the part that New Zealand had played, the first country into Timor-Leste after Australia moved in at that time was New Zealand with 1100 people, the country that they say they work most closely with in the South Pacific is New Zealand, but of course we're not the United States.

    GUYON Thank you for that – are we spending enough on defence?

    PHIL I think New Zealanders would feel that we're spending enough on defence. In the long term development plan we put in 3.3 billion dollars over 10 years, in the defence sustainability initiative both these plans running over 10 years we put in 4.4. billion dollars, yes we're spending about 1% of GDP, not as much as the Australians, but every government looks at where its priorities lie, we have built up the Defence Force but we also look at other areas of priority such as Education, Health etc.

    GUYON We're the 22nd richest country in the world, according to research compiled by the CIA we're 62nd when it comes to defence spending along with Yemen and Bangladesh, I mean are you comfortable with that?

    PHIL I'm comfortable with what we're spending on the Defence Force and if you look at the equipment across the board you'll see total upgrading including the new NH90s, that’s three quarters of a billion dollars, new training helicopters, in the Army you’ve seen the new light operational vehicles, the light armoured vehicles, the Navy you’ve seen seven new ships, the biggest increase in ships that the Navy has ever got. If you look at personnel numbers you see in the defence sustainability initiative money put aside to raise the number in the Defence Force by about 12%, we're already 800 up on where we were just three or four years ago.

    GUYON Are we gonna see more defence spending in the budget, are you going to be able to convince Michael Cullen to spend more on defence in this budget?

    PHIL Well what you’ve got in the budget is each year it goes up and you know how much it will go up because we've talked about a 10 year plan.

    GUYON I'm talking about over and above that though.

    PHIL With the over and above you're already talking about the increases of literally tens of millions of dollars each year going into the budget.

    GUYON Your Labour government embarked on a major restructuring of the Defence Force on taking power and you went for depth rather than breadth. A recent Select Committee report though cast doubt on whether that was being achieved in practise they said that five land combat support units were staffed at less than 80% and that the military intelligence company staffed at 41%, I mean are you comfortable with that.

    PHIL I'm comfortable with the fact as I said a moment ago we're 836 defence personnel up on where we were three or four years ago, we are rebuilding the Defence Force both in terms of equipment and in terms of personnel, and we are focusing in an in depth way. You ask any other military force that New Zealand works alongside, and we have 400 people deployed at the moment, probably the largest number outside of East Timor that we've had deployed since the days of the Vietnam War. Those other Defence Force personnel will say that we have the professionalism, we have the commitment. that they're comfortable in working alongside New Zealand because we do the job and we do it well.

    GUYON Okay we talked about restructuring, the biggest element of that was axing the Air Force Combat Wing, you did that on the 8th of May 2001, you announced the sale in 2005, three years later the planes are sitting on the tarmac, I mean this sale has been a complete failure hasn’t it?

    PHIL Well you know the background on that, you know it well personally, you know that what holds it up is an American process whereas we cannot sell the A4s without the approval of Congress, the problem is within their system, it's very frustrating for us, I've got 125 million dollars sitting there, I've got potentially two buyers within the United States, we can sell as soon as the Congress and the State Department give approval. For reasons internal to their system that I can't go into in detail we have had that on hold, that is not the fault of New Zealand there is nothing more…

    GUYON Have you given up on the deal then?

    PHIL No, absolutely not, it's still on.

    GUYON Some people would say that if we had a closer relationship with the United States …

    PHIL No, rubbish.

    GUYON …this problem may not have actually arisen.

    PHIL No, no it's got nothing to do with the relationship with the United States, I get constant apologies from people within the American system at the political level that this has been held up, it's held up for matters internal to the United States, nothing to do with our bilateral relationship which as you know has improved considerably.

    GUYON It has improved, I wonder whether we've sort of plateaued a little bit in things – there's not so much tension over the anti nuclear position but do you see the day when United States ships may be back in New Zealand waters, do you see that as a possibility.

    PHIL Well what we've said to the United States is that their surface ships are of course welcome here on the same conditions we welcome other navies from around the world.

    GUYON Do you think it will happen though?

    PHIL It could well happen, I think we've made considerable progress. We hold fast to our anti nuclear policy, that’s something that’s fundamental to us and it applies equally to all countries, we don’t say you know nuclear is fine for one country but not for another, that’s the rock in the road. What, as Condoleezza Rice has said recently, we're working our way around the rock in the road at the moment, we're working quite closely with the United States where our objectives are the same, whether it be in humanitarian disaster relief, Afghanistan, proliferation security initiative and so on.

    GUYON But while we retain that rock in the road Australia gets closer and closer, let me read to you what Sunday said about their relationship with the United States in their national security update last year, they said 'Australia alliance with the US continues to deepen and broaden with both partners increasingly focused on mutual interests of military integration and inter-operability'. Now we're just getting left behind on this aren’t we?

    PHIL No, no. We made a decision quite some time ago, 22 years ago actually that while we're a small country we're a proudly independent and sovereign country and we want to make our own decisions about our foreign policy in line with our own values. Now the cost of that was in terms of the presidential order that prevented cooperation on military training between the two countries, 22 years later I think you saw the comments from people like Rich Armitage the former Deputy Secretary of Defence to say this is silly now, New Zealand is a good country, it's playing its part in the world, it's pulling its weight, we want to work alongside them, let's agree to disagree but let's work more closely with them.

    GUYON What's the next step then?

    PHIL Oh look I think you’ve seen some of the next steps already that we are cooperating in areas, we've got New Zealanders on American ships at the moment in the Pacific doing humanitarian work, we have cooperation over proliferation security initiatives, we have very close cooperation over the Pacific where the United States has said that it relies on New Zealand and Australia to do the work that we're doing in Timor-Leste in the Solomons and Tonga and so on.

    GUYON Okay let's talk about possibly a new alliance or new relationship, I mean we've just signed a Free Trade Agreement with China, is that closer cooperation going to come to defence as well, are we going to have a closer defence relationship with China now?

    PHIL Well we will but not in the same way as we have with Australia or even in the same way that we cooperate with Britain or the United States because our value systems are different in a range of different issues, so New Zealand is a democracy and we take strong stands on issues that include human rights.

    GUYON But do we have cooperation with Indonesia?

    PHIL We do and that cooperation while suspended is resuming now that there has been an improvement in the separation of the military forces in Indonesia from the government, a democratisation process within Indonesia and so on.

    GUYON Let's come back to China, in what sense are we going to have a closer relationship defence wise with China?

    PHIL I think that we look for example with the Asean countries, we're looking at defence cooperation through the Asean forum, we're working with India.

    GUYON But would we go into military engagements with China?

    PHIL Potentially in peace-keeping and disaster relief yes, as we would with other countries around the world, I think there is a potential to develop that relationship knowing that there are zones in the world where the United Nations deploys peace-keepers and that’s a good area for cooperation between ourselves and all other countries.

    GUYON Your defence framework says New Zealand will not engage in military cooperation or exercises with the armed forces of states which sanction the use of their armed forces to suppress human rights, would that be a problem with China?

    PHIL Well we have a difference of opinion on human rights and that’s very clear cut and we have a dialogue with China on that, as we do with other countries, so we don’t ignore the question of human rights and we don’t ignore the question of democracy when we look at the nature of our relationships, but of course it makes sense if the world is needing more and more peace-keeping efforts from countries around the globe to cooperate with China in that respect, to cooperate with it on disaster relief. China is a major aid contributor in the Pacific so there are areas where we would work closely together as we would with a whole lot of other countries.

    GUYON Okay just finally and going back to your defence framework again, it says that defence is one aspect of New Zealand's foreign and security policy, I mean has it been a challenge for you to have a Foreign Minister who's not in the same party as you, who's not even in the government, I mean with that over arching role, has it been challenging?

    PHIL I don’t think that New Zealand First has any issues with the foreign policy and the defence policy that is pursued by the Labour led government, that has not arisen as an issue where there has been disagreement.

    GUYON But it was a sore matter with the Free Trade Agreement wasn’t it?

    PHIL Free Trade Agreement of course and Winston Peters signalled that as you and I have discussed on previous occasions by saying at the time that he took over the portfolio that he would be Minister of Foreign Affairs not Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, that was differentiated.

    GUYON Do you miss the foreign affairs job?

    PHIL Oh there are aspects of it and of course there are aspects of it that are intimately involved with defence, because defence is about strategy as well as about the nuts and bolts of the Defence Force.

    GUYON Good place to leave it but I'm sure Rawdon and the panel will have things that they want to pick on.

    RAWDON Colin do you want to pick up here?

    COLIN JAMES – Commentator

    Yes I do and my first question Phil is you seem to me to be running a two battalion programme, it's very extensive, New Zealand's very involved, if anything we're likely to become more involved in peace-making and peace-keeping issues, and you're doing that with about 1.6 or 1.8 battalions. Now are you actually going to build the forces up to take account of the extensive programme that you're engaged in?

    PHIL Yes I think that we do need to build the numbers up and we have it programmed to build our Defence Force personnel probably by about 10-12%, I think that’s realistic we're part way down the track to that at the moment, as I mentioned before to Guyon an increase of 836 if I'm being totally precise over the last three to four years. We're also looking of course at – we've got a remuneration review that we've now published to members of the Defence Force, we're hoping to get an average pay rise across the Defence Force by about 10% this year which will help with our recruitment and our retention programme, partly because we've redeveloped the superannuation scheme that only a very small number were taking advantage of to equalise conditions, but we need more people, we're very proud of what they do at the moment but I can certainly use more numbers.

    COLIN And you think you can get them given the exodus to Australia of young New Zealanders well New Zealanders of all ages, do you think you can get them and keep them?

    PHIL Yeah, interesting you mention Australia, Australia's got exactly the same problem but actually even larger, they have a much bigger recruitment and retention, they have ships tied up because they can't crew them. I think we can get them but of course I don’t underestimate how hard that is when you’ve got the lowest unemployment in 22 years and where the private sector will always pay more for the highly skilled people particularly people like marine technicians than the public sector is able to.

    RAWDON Minister you mentioned a remuneration review just now, what sort of percentage are we talking here?

    PHIL It will on average be about 10% everybody will get more, some will get significantly more than the 10% but the biggest number of people will get around the 10 to 12% increase in their salaries and we've rejigged the old superannuation scheme that most people left before they were entitled to so never got the benefits of, and part of the increase is taken out of the way that we've reconfigured that.

    RAWDON Takes quite a slice out of your defence budget then doesn’t it?

    PHIL We put in, under the defence sustainability initiative another 4.4 billion dollars over 10 years, so we have programmed the increase both to develop our defence equipment – I've gotta say in 2000 our Defence Force was run down in terms of our equipment, I'm ashamed of you know the fact that we sent people to Bosnia without the protection they needed because we were using antiquated equipment. We're totally redoing the equipment in the Defence Force, we're putting a lot of money into it, but we need to do more on the personnel side as well and we're doing that.

    GAVIN ELLIS – Former Editor, NZ Herald
    Phil you rightly point out the high level of spending and I think that the government has a good record in terms of its recent spending, can I ask you to look forward though beyond the short to medium term to long term defence because it seems to me that we have a danger of repeating history. The spending that has gone on and is planned is basically high defensive, we've robbed our armed forces of really any offensive capability, now I don’t mean that in the sense of panzer divisions but what I mean is that our ability to project our defence in terms of things like the Air Combat Wing, we not longer have medium artillery, we not longer have a tracked fighting vehicle capability, we have torpedoes that are about to run out of their life, we have light guns…

    PHIL And being replaced.

    GAVIN … well no but they're not likely to be replaced in the time that the life runs out you're gonna have a gap there, but the point that I'm making is that you seem to have developed a Defence Force that is wholly defensive in other words it doesn’t have the ability to in times of war remove a threat rather than simply contain it.

    PHIL Well probably a bit imaginative for New Zealand with our 4.1 million people to remove a threat in the sense that when we go into battle it won't be on our own, we will be part of a wider deployment, and really it made a lot of sense, in fact so much sense that the National Party has reversed its position completely on the Air Combat Wing. Where did we need to invest the money? My Dad was in the Air Force during the war he was a pilot and I would have thought that he would have been critical of that decision he said no it makes a lot of sense you're not using your Air Combat Wing today the A4s were so old you couldn’t have used them for the last 25 years or 30 years anyway. Where are we putting our money? We're putting them into NH90 helicopters, lot of money, three quarters of a billion dollars, but like the Iroquois except these have three times the capability of the Iroquois, we'll have them for 35 years so it is long term, new training helicopters that will be like the Iroquois rather than the little Sioux helicopters that had limited use. We can now send our people into a deployment better equipped than they have been at any time in the last 30 years with state of the art up to date equipment, but it is a niche development that we're looking at. Previously we tried to do everything across the board but do nothing well enough to make ourselves totally capable. I think the strategy is right and there are very few people today that are actually criticising that strategy including the National Party that are now saying me too.

    GAVIN But you don’t see then a need to at least equip personnel with the ability in times of war integrated with other armed forces to fight to remove a threat?

    PHIL Yeah we do have that, we are trained for combat we're not trained simply to be peace-keepers, we think that we'll spend a lot of our time peace building peace making but we are nevertheless aware that there can be threats that arise, we don’t have any direct threat to New Zealand at the moment, not to say that the year after next something might develop, we do have the capability to send people in as you’ve seen very recently with the documentary on TV One to do the hard end work which the SAS did and I would put those people alongside the best fighting forces of any country in the world. I'm really confident in what they can do.

    COLIN Can I go back to the United States and certainly we've almost renormalized relations with the United States, and I can remember two years ago in this programme noting the beginnings of that or the real kick along of it. If the United States proposed to send a non nuclear armed, non nuclear powered vessel to New Zealand before the election, and I emphasise before the election, would you say yes both to the visit and the timing and would you welcome it at the wharf?

    PHIL Yes, they are welcome to come and have been welcome to come over the last many years on the same conditions that any other vessel from any other navy in the world comes. We make a judgement as to whether it's likely to be nuclear powered or armed, we know that the only surface vessels in the American Navy that are nuclear powered for example are aircraft carriers, we know that surface ships don’t carry nuclear weapons. The invitation is there for the Americans as with the Brits or the French or for that matter any other country that comes, to come on that basis. The ball is in their court.

    COLIN So there's a standing invitation and you are now re-issuing it and inviting them pre election?

    PHIL I've said that on many occasions people have said would the American Navy be welcome here and I always say yes on the same basis as we welcome the other navies, we make a judgement as to whether it meets our legislation, I'm sure all their surface ships but the aircraft carriers meet those requirements, the United States is aware that they could ask for a vessel to come at any time, but that is their call at this point.

    RAWDON Defence Minister Phil Goff thanks very much for coming in.


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