PM Speech To RSA National Council
Rt Hon Helen Clark
New Zealand Returned Services’ Association
Monday 12 June 2000
Thank you for the invitation to address the National Council today.
This is the first time I have addressed the National Council as Prime Minister. I was, however, privileged to attend as Leader of the Opposition last year.
Like many members of Parliament, I have had a longstanding association with local Returned Services’ Associations, in my case in the Auckland suburbs of Mt Albert, Pt Chevalier, Eden-Roskill, and now Avondale.
Through that contact over eighteen and a half years in Parliament I have come to know a good deal about the work of the RSA at the local level. As the years have taken their toll on first the Boer War and World War I veterans, and now on the World War II and Korean War veterans, the welfare work of the local RSAs became very important. That work will continue for the foreseeable future as the needs of the veterans of Malaya, Vietnam, and the range of other involvements we have had come to the fore.
At the national level, the RSA has advocated effectively for the needs of returned servicemen and women. Dave Cox is a familiar face in the corridors of Parliament and we have discussed many issues over the years.
When I addressed this Council last year, one issue stood out above all others as being of great concern to returned service people. That issue was the state of New Zealand Superannuation. You will recall that the base level of superannuation had been cut and that last year superannuitants got no increase at all.
I pledged then that the new government would restore the level of New Zealand Superannuation to where it was before the cut.
On 1 April this year, our new government delivered on that pledge. The married rate of superannuation rose by $21.42 a week; the single living alone rate by $12.86; and the single sharing accommodation rate by $12.36. I know that this has helped superannuitants cover their living costs. Had these changes not been made, there would have been widespread hardship among retired servicemen and women.
Last year I expressed to this Council Labour’s strong support for the appointment of a Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and an office of Veterans’ Affairs. The office, as you know, has been established. The new Minister of Veterans’ Affairs is Mark Burton, and he will address you tomorrow.
I also said last year that a high priority for the new Minister would be to ensure that all members of the New Zealand Defence Force who served overseas were eligible for the award of a General Service Medal.
Hon Mark Burton made an important progress announcement on this on ANZAC Day. He stated that there have been at least a dozen military operations involving New Zealanders conducted since 1952 for which our military personnel have not received a distinctly New Zealand award for their service. That is now being rectified.
Approximately 1700 personnel involved in those operations will now be eligible for a New Zealand General Service Medal. We thank the RSA for its assistance in developing the guidelines for the award of these medals.
Our government was also pleased to include a special list for East Timor in the New Zealand Order of Merit in the recent Queen’s Birthday Honours List. These awards were made for military operational and other service in East Timor.
There will also be a distinctive East Timor Medal awarded to New Zealand military, police, and civilian personnel sent to East Timor.
Last year when I addressed this Council I made it clear that the new government would provide $200,000 to the Nuclear Test Veterans’ Association for their research and costs in support of the veterans who took part in Operation Grapple. I am pleased to report that we have also honoured this pledge, as was announced by Mark Burton on 29 April.
I also said last year that the books must not be closed on the health issues affecting the Vietnam War veterans who were exposed to the effects of Agent Orange. Mr Burton will make an announcement about his ongoing work on that when the Budget is released on Thursday.
A grant has also been made to the New Zealand Korean Veterans’ Association towards their activities commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Korean War this year. I can assure you that that grant will be covering the cost of the reception in Parliament, contrary to some bizarre media assertions !
This year I attended the 85th anniversary events at ANZAC Cove on the Gallipoli Peninsula, Turkey. The New Zealand contingent was large. I was pleased to have Dave Cox and Peter Callahan with us, along with representatives of the three services and the Cadet Corps, high school students, and Members of Parliament.
The Dawn Service was the occasion to inaugurate the new site for commemorations just along from ANZAC Cove. The Australian Prime Minister, John Howard and I jointly officiated.
It was also very pleasing to see the huge crowd of New Zealanders who came to the New Zealand memorial service at Chunuk Bair.
Gallipoli was the battle which broke our hearts. In so doing, however, it came to play a significant part in defining our development as a nation. Like so many New Zealand families of that time, my family suffered a loss at Gallipoli. I have taken a great interest in what happened there and indeed in the horror of World War I in general.
This year, the government is moving to remedy a long-standing injustice arising from World War I. We will be supporting legislation to pardon the New Zealand soldiers executed during the Great War. Not everyone agrees that this should be done, on the basis that bygones should be bygones. But it is very hard not to be deeply moved by the accounts of what happened to those men. Some had survived Gallipoli; some were shell shocked and traumatised; one was epileptic; and another suffered from alcoholism.
For more than eighty years, their families have carried the shame and stigma for their relatives’ death sentences for offences of alleged desertion and mutiny. In our view it is time to remove that shame and stigma – and we will.
I know that the RSA will be taking a keen interest in the government’s forthcoming policy statement on defence. There will be no surprises in it. We have long stated that we accepted the general thrust of the Defence Beyond 2000 report of the Foreign Affairs and Defence Select Committee.
There will be major expenditure on re-equipping the armed forces in the coming years. As I said to the Council last year, the Labour Party did not support replacing the Skyhawks eight years before decisions to do so were due to be implemented. I said then that there were more important immediate priorities, such as re-equipment of the army.
There are also decisions to be made on our sea- and airlift capacity and our maritime and our surveillance fleet.
Our government wants to see the superb professionalism of our army backed up by good equipment. Recently our Defence Force has acquitted itself well in East Timor – in spite of its ancient equipment. Our aim is to do what we do well even better.
I saw some suggestion in the RSA annual report that our army might be trained for peacekeeping rather than combat capability. Let me assure you now that we will continue to train for combat capability, knowing that those skills are basic for any army force deployment.
Thank you once again for the invitation to address the National Council. I look forward to continuing contact with the RSA at local and national level and wish you well for this annual meeting.