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Defence Vital for Trans-Tasman Relations

MEDIA RELEASE FOR IMMEDIATE USE

Sunday 16 January 2000

Rt Hon Simon Upton Opposition Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs

Defence A Vital Component Of Trans-Tasman Relationship

“As the new Foreign Minister, Phil Goff, heads to Australia to meet with his counterpart, he must be prepared to listen very carefully to Australian views on how the new Labour Government’s defence plans may or may not link in with Australia’s,” says National’s Foreign Affairs, Rt Hon Simon Upton.

“By announcing, before even reaching Australia, that our trans-Tasman partner is not concerned about the Government’s plans to scrap the F-16 purchase, Mr Goff seems determined to hear only those things he wants to hear. That would be a grave mistake.

“The Australian bi-lateral relationship is by far our most important. Although Labour may not wish to acknowledge it, defence is a key part of that relationship. Not to listen to Australian views would inevitably cool a relationship that is simply too important to take for granted.

“Labour’s decision not to proceed with the purchase of a third ANZAC frigate means the talks will open with a major point of disagreement already on the table. Acting without consultation on the future shape of our airforce simply compounds the problem.

“At a time when New Zealand and Australia are working very closely on the ground in East Timor, it would be wise to engage Australia in any review of New Zealand’s defence capability. Indeed, it would make good sense under the Closer Defence Relationship (CDR), to investigate a joint Australia/New Zealand review of defence requirements.

“It would be a huge set-back to our longstanding defence ties with Australia if the Labour-Alliance Government set out to build a defence capability without regard for its linkages with Australian forces. The downside would not be confined to defence matters but would place strain on the wider relationship.

It is not enough for Labour to promote a build up in spending on the army, which has, in any case, already been committed by the previous government, he says.

“Labour must spell out whether it believes New Zealand should maintain a capability that is fully complementary with Australia’s or, alternatively, whether it is preparing New Zealand for a significantly reduced role in regional security.

“If the latter is at the heart of the Government’s agenda, New Zealanders need to know that, far from gaining greater foreign policy freedom, New Zealand will by default become more dependent on an Australia with whom we have less leverage. In short, why should Australia pay particular heed to the views of a small country that seeks to distance itself from the hard issues.

“There is much more at stake here than an argument over which bits of military hardware we should acquire. That is a technical matter that should be sorted out between the two countries. Of greater fundamental concern is the future status and direction of New Zealand’s relationship with our most important ally.

“The Opposition’s clear view is that, as the only two developed countries in our region, New Zealand and Australia have much more in common than not, and that New Zealand’s greatest opportunity to articulate an independent, sovereign foreign policy will come from working with Australia – not to one side of her.

“It would be ironic if the new Government’s distaste for our traditional defence ties led to a more dependent and marginalized role for our country,” says Mr Upton.

ENDS

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