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Open Letter to New Zealanders

By Rt Hon Jenny Shipley
Leader of the Opposition

This first ANZAC Day of the new millennium allows us to acknowledge and remember those who fought for freedom, to honour those who lost their lives doing so and to learn the lessons of history so we don’t repeat them.

On the walls of the Parliamentary debating chamber are the names of the battles where New Zealand service personnel have fought and died. They are a constant reminder to us of the need to rise above the mire of politics and concentrate on our future and the good of the nation. The security of New Zealand is the first responsibility of a Government. It usually enjoys multi-party support. This year, as we commemorate the first ANZAC Day of this century, debate on the future of our armed forces is reaching a crucial stage.

Will we be fully equipped and independent? Will we share the burden or freeload? Will we be able to provide full cover for our ground forces? Are we still capable of contributing to regional security and protecting our economic zone?

New Zealand has traditionally been capable of all four. This is now being put in doubt by the current Government. We have historically had combat capacity in each of the three services. The services have been able to work together for mutual benefit and improved effectiveness, particularly where the safety of our troops was concerned. Military history tells us that air cover is crucial to the safety of troops on the ground.

In 1997 the then Government agreed to increase Defence spending by $600m over 5 years. The current Government has announced that it will conduct a comprehensive Defence Review this year. We must seize the opportunity to plan for the defence force we will need in the future. It is crucial that the Government takes on board the lessons from previous, less successful reviews and ensures there is meaningful consultation with other political parties and members of the public. The safety of our service men and women, the future security of New Zealand and our sphere of influence in the region are at risk here.

As New Zealanders commemorate ANZAC Day, there are many sobering things to remember, not least of which is the fact that in the years leading up to World War II, New Zealand spent half as much per capita on defence as Australia. During the war, New Zealand, per capita, took twice as many casualties.

As we plan for the future, we must pause and reflect, and we must learn the lessons of the past. We will remember them. Lest we forget.

ENDS

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