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NZ Defence Policy - An Australian Perspective

New Zealand Defence Policy - An Australian Perspective

Friday 24 November 2000

National Party Senator, Sandy Macdonald

Chairman, Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee


Dr Mapp, distinguished guests, parliamentary colleagues, ladies and gentlemen.

I'm very pleased to be here in Auckland. I'm no defence boffin but a beef and wool producer from north-western NSW with a very keen interest in defence matters. I was elected to the Senate in 1993 and have been chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee since 1997. I bring the special good wishes of the leader of our National Party, Deputy Prime Minister, John Anderson.

I know you understand that in politics, we have enormous resources to have speeches written for us. But these are my thoughts and I'm delighted to have a chance to speak to you tonight. There are some more formal comments I will make tomorrow. My particular interest in military history is the Eastern Front, WWII from June 1941 onwards. About Stalingrad (at Christmas 1942- 43), Churchhill wrote "the hinge of fate turned"... That's the case in all military or political endeavour - we are never quite sure when it will turn, but turn it will and the old saying that "the price of freedom is eternal vigilance" is as true now as ever. Defence planning gives political leadership the options to best protect its people and their interests - simple. But as political leaders in periods of stability, it's difficult to give our defence planners firm objectives so it's possible to provide these credible options.

Perhaps I might start by putting Australia's current defence debate in context - because it puts in perspective our shared place in the world and the way Australia thinks about your ongoing defence problems (and the decisions the National Party must make in preparing for government in two years time). In Australia, both traditionally and recently, defence issues have been substantially bipartisan. If you put aside our criticisms since coming to Government of quite legitimate issues like the purchase of two rusting 30-year-old US heavy landing ships (now repaired, I can report, and one doing an irreplaceable job in the Solomons) and the Collins Class problems (both in cost overruns and combat systems question marks), we generally do speak with one voice. A good example was the fact that Dr Mapp was recently able to meet with the former ALP Senator, Stephen Loosely - now a high profile corporate lawyer who served on Prime Minister Howard's Defence Consultative Committee that recently finished its public deliberations on Australia's future defence needs.

This committee - set up earlier this year under the chairmanship of former Foreign Minister, Ambassador Andrew Peacock - held meetings right around Australia. It attracted its fair share of old codgers wanting their 303s returned to protect their womenfolk against marauding boat people but, importantly, it did what I know all of you know needs to be done in the defence debate here in New Zealand - and that is, it helped give public ownership to the debate. This is a common problem to both New Zealand and Australia.

Peacetime priorities tend not to generate much interest. However it goes without saying that if we are going to be able to give a higher priority to defence expenditure, then you have to have the support of taxpayers. And when you remember that all politics is local, the problem for all of us in leadership, in government, is obvious - there are always other pressing priorities (the environment, salinity, roads, infrastructure et cetera).

Just in passing, to put things in perspective, Australia spends around $12 billion on defence and around $60 billion on health and welfare. There are more pressing priorities in the budget as we well know.

This increasing awareness of defence issues at home could not be more timely because, like you, we have "block obsolescence" that threatens the very existence of some of our defence capability.

This increased awareness has been assisted by the extensive media coverage of: East Timor Problems in the whole Indonesian archipelago West Papua Increasing awareness of Chinese interest in the South China Sea The increasing and worrying number of boat people coming to Northern Australia And generally, the "arc of instability" that New Zealand and Australia share....Fiji, the Solomons, and Bougainville.

Reports of New Zealand downgrading capability are also given high levels of publicity: - your Orion decision the ANZAC frigate decision speculation on your next possible naval purchase Helen Clark's comments on your East Timor commitment On sustainability of your East Timor contribution Comparative pay rates - New Zealand/Australian diggers reports of purported defections to our ranks (perhaps anecdotal) and general interest of what New Zealand is up to!

These have been all been subject to high media coverage (in the same way the Lange Government decision on nuclear ship visits and the ANZUS breakdown did a decade ago).

Also, in the last couple of years, barely a State or Federal conference of our major political parties (National, Liberal or even Labor) has gone past without a call for increased defence funding, possibly for the reintroduction of National Service, and certainly, more money for cadets. These matters I know are relative and I wouldn't like you to think the defence debate is a gung-ho affair, but Australia seems, in addition to what I've said, to be on a "commemorative wave".

For instance, Anzac Day itself - 25th April - is getting bigger every year (also a new memorial at Anzac Cove). Remembrance Day on 11th November, which had nearly withered in the 70s gets bigger every year. In addition, I think the fathers of my generation didn't want to talk of the war to their children - as grandparents, sanitised perhaps by time, they feel much more comfortable talking of their military experience to their grandchildren.

This has aided the current interest in military history and the Government's commitment to foster that interest:-

1995 - Australia Remembers, particularly aimed at WWII 1996 - "Their Service, Our Heritage" celebrating all our service men and women new war memorials have been built worldwide (Hellfire Pass, Sandakan, London). Much money has been spent on commemoration in little towns across the nation great community interest has been generated, for example, the local Light Horse Association at the local Battle of Beersheba celebration (80 mounted members)

I was involved in the Senate inquiry into the loss of HMAS Sydney in November 1941 - all hands lost (x643). Fifty-nine years after the loss there were over 600 submissions to the committee which is incredible after such a long time. I think Australians have been both relieved and thrilled with the success of the East Timor deployment. There were immense military and political risks inherent in what we did.

Also the success and high profile of the military at the Sydney 2000 Olympics with 3000 regular SAS and 1000 Army Reserve units providing involvement from regional areas (including 80 odd in my local centre of Tamworth). Also the current debate has been helped by the distance from the powerful "anti-war" momentum built by the Vietnam War days - which, apart from anything else, created a generation of probable conservative voters who voted Labor. I'm sure you know a number of examples here and in fact, some of our political opponents were simply galvanised by this issue down the wrong political aisle 30 years ago. We've also had our Vietnam "welcome home" parades, as I'm sure you've had, and they've been very well supported, especially by the very young.

I don't in any way wish to paint an over-rosy picture or to be self-congratulatory, but to put to you the Australian scene as we move forward to the release of the Defence White Paper in December which is now keenly awaited. I've called in the past for a new ANZAC force to be our mutual goal and I continue to hold that view. The question of integration is in reality a fact of life. New Zealand's contribution really does matter to Australia:- Our shared geography Our shared strategic priorities, and Our historical connection (from the South Africa War onwards, specifically in South East Asia, namely Vietnam, Borneo, East Timor and Bougainville)

I think we share a common military view of ourselves, which I put to you is a "digger" walking - feet firmly on the ground - in a jungle somewhere in South East Asia, doing a job which needs to be done with commonsense and decency. New Zealand and Australia like to think of themselves as doing a job that needs to be done.

This way of thinking about our defence role is absolutely shared. If you think of a US military response, you think of an aircraft carrier or a stealth bomber. New Zealand and Australia are not in that league but we are linked in ways that makes increasing integration inevitable and right. Frequently, the "stop all" sovereignty response is put against integration. Well it's possible to get around that - look at the NATO experience. Also, I ask you to consider the existing regional priorities of a geographic area as large as Australia. For example, the defence priorities of the Northern Territory Government are much different than Tasmania - yet we are able to juggle those in the Commonwealth's interest. A New Zealand contribution would still be a natural fit, particularly in specialist areas.

I think it's fair to say there has been some concern in Australia that New Zealand has decided to opt out of a range of strategic options. It started with the nuclear ship debate, leading to the shutdown of ANZUS. It reflects perhaps a view that if you prepare only for peacekeeping, you can be no more than a policeman. The correct view, I think, is that the only effective peacekeeper is trained for war. The view has perhaps developed that New Zealand's defence effort is not relevant to Australia anymore. This I consider to be entirely wrong and the New Zealand battalion in East Timor is a prime example.

Australia would certainly not have been able to pluck another 600 trained men out of thin air and New Zealand was able to provide first-rate troops to do that. I mentioned the Lange Government's decision to withdraw from ANZUS. The Australian electorate would never have allowed that. 13. Perhaps you recall that even Bob Hawke contemplated the MX missile tests in the South West Pacific. I understand the desire not to have nuclear visits but putting the US Alliance on the line would, I believe, have been impossible for any Australian Government. It's certainly the case that the US relationship will remain vital to the way Australia sees its role in South East Asia. I think that is probably true of New Zealand as well and I acknowledge the nuclear decision as it developed at the time, and the approach taken later by you in Opposition during your election campaign which brought Jim Bolger to power. A very favourable outcome I'm sure for many of you.

I also acknowledge that the nuclear decision continues to have a huge amount of electoral support in New Zealand.

I will finish with some comments about the Defence White Paper due to be released early next month. We will see increased defence expenditure. This has been speculated correctly at a three per cent increase in real terms (around $400 million) a year for the next decade. This will provide for the provision of early warning aircraft so desperately needed and the completion of the combat system for the Collins. Also, upgrades to vehicles and command and control systems, attack helicopters and the replacement of the FA18. I have every confidence that the Collins will reach its war fighting capability - controversy in equipment purchases is nothing new to Australia. The F111 was an amazingly courageous decision in the 60s. It still packs a formidable punch and will do so well into the next century when it will be twice as old as its pilots.

Can I finish by saying something about our shared destiny. This week, Deputy Prime Minister, John Anderson, and New Zealand Minister for Transport, Mr Gosche, signed the "open skies" agreement between Australia and New Zealand - we welcome this, we encourage it as part of the CER. Some time in the future, we will have a common or regional currency and we particularly encourage the close defence relationship first formalised in 1991. One day there will be a common ANZAC force. And as we are 100 years from first serving together in the South Africa War, perhaps that day should be soon.

Thank you.


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