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Defence shambles - Richard Prebble

Friday 11th Feb 2000
Richard Prebble
Media Release -- Foreign Affairs & Defence

ACT Leader Richard Prebble said today the Government's defence policies were clearly in disarray. "On Wednesday morning the Minister of Defence Mark Burton claimed that my statement that the Philippines government was looking at purchasing the Skyhawks was rubbish. "Since then the Government's statements have been changing hourly. "Now we have the Prime Minister confirming that the international accounting firm Ernst & Young has been commissioned to be the advisors on the sale and this commission had not been stopped. "It's my advice that the firm is not only working actively but is also billing the Government, and they're not cheap. "Officially, the Government's position is actually not what the Prime Minister is now stating. The New Zealand Government has not given any advice to the US that it does not intend to fulfil its legal contractual obligations to lease the F16 aircraft. "Helen Clark's unilateral statement issued yesterday for officials to stop work on the Skyhawk sale indicates that the Government is not acting in good faith and is not in fact reviewing the F16 contract but has decided to cancel it and has set up the Quigley review to try to find some reasons. "The Philippines government, who my informants advise me have been spending both time and money evaluating the Skyhawk purchase, have every reason to feel that they have been misled by our Government and to regard New Zealand as an unreliable nation. "What the debacle also demonstrates is the penalties of the Prime Minister's authoritarian style.

"Her interference in the defence portfolio has led to confusion as to who is the Minister of Defence - is it the Prime Minister or is it Mr Burton? "The Prime Minister's public threats against civil servants who give advice that she doesn't like has meant that the New Zealand embassy in Washington has clearly been too nervous to pick up the phone and discover information that ACT MPs are able to get just phoning Washington from Wellington. "The Prime Minister will discover that you can't make bad news go away just by throwing the messenger down the well. "The Government's inept handling of the F16 deal and the Skyhawk sale has already permanently damaged New Zealand's reputation and is rapidly developing into a major foreign policy debacle. "You can imagine how nervous Jim Bolger and the New Zealand embassy staff in Washington are about being accused by Helen Clark of putting forward policies that aren't in the Labour party's manifesto!"


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