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Orion Rejection Will Be Felt Everywhere

The coalition Government’s decision to ‘put on hold’ the Project Sirius Orion upgrade will seriously tarnish New Zealand’s international reputation, said ACT Leader, Hon Richard Prebble.

The $446 million upgrade would have allowed capable exclusive economic zone patrolling, lost ship location and potential risk surveillance. The Orion patrol zone stretches from the Equator to the South Pole and from the Cook Islands to the mid-Tasman Sea.

“Our allies were very dissatisfied when the coalition rejected the F-16 bargain. The Orion upgrade was a top Defence 2000 priority and was an important step towards reaffirming New Zealand’s commitment to the western defence alliance.

“Helen Clark’s claim that our allies are not concerned with the equipment purchased as ‘what they are looking at is the overall level (of spending)’, is false. Britain and the USA will regard the failure to upgrade the Orions as more serious than the failure to purchase the F-16s.

“The decision will also concern our Pacific neighbours. For the last forty years New Zealand has had surveillance responsibilities over the South Pacific, and has helped smaller Pacific Island nations effectively patrol their exclusive zones.

“Latest figures show that fish was Samoa’s single biggest export earning US$4.822million. It was Tonga’s second principal export earning US$2.583 million and is Fiji’s fifth principal export at F$ 49.5 million. New Zealand’s fish exports are worth $1.4 billion.

“If we do not provide Pacific nations with assistance it will either be done by the Australians or it will not be done at all. The current Orion radar system is obsolete. In the next few years airforce crews will find it hard to spot a barn from twenty feet never mind an illegal fishing boat.

“The Orion is the workhorse of the New Zealand Defence Force and is used for a wide range of military and civilian tasks. The Government has turned down, what all three armed forces branches would agree, is the top priority defence purchase.

“It appears that our defence spending is being driven by the immediate needs of East Timor rather than New Zealand’s long term strategic interests. Hopefully New Zealand defence personnel will have withdrawn from East Timor before the armoured cars go onto service.

“The coalition Government’s refusal to upgrade can only be interpreted as a backtrack on our ANZAC and Western Alliance commitments. This decision will have serious long term implications for New Zealand’s international standing,” said Hon Richard Prebble.

ENDS

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