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Partisan Attack By Retired Defence Chiefs

Prime Minister Helen Clark today described the statements of retired defence personnel which speculate on forthcoming government defence decisions as 'out of place and out of time'.

"No government has been clearer than this one about the defence policy framework it is following. The thrust of that framework, achieving adequate depth rather than inadequate breadth in defence provision, was debated over three years by the Foreign Affairs and Defence Select Committee where it received broad support.

"These retired personnel are now calling for government policy documents on defence to be released for public debate before decisions are made. One is hard-pressed to think of any administration they were involved with issuing draft defence white papers for opponents to take potshots at. Their suggestion is so preposterous it is breathtaking.

"What I find interesting is that groups like these specialise in attacking centre-left governments while sitting silent while National governments cut defence spending. As I said in Parliament last week, the 'bludger's option' on defence was taken by National between 1991 and 1997, when it slashed defence operating and personnel spending by almost 18 per cent.

"The squadrons of retired defence personnel were remarkably acquiescent when their National chums were doing the slashing.

"This government is moving forward on a programme of shaping New Zealand's defence force for the 21st century on a basis which is affordable and sustainable. Defence baseline spending will increase, but to increase it to the extent of satisfying the entire wish-list of those who do not have responsibility for balancing defence spending with other areas of priority is unthinkable.

"This government, indeed any government, faces huge challenges in crucial areas of economic rebuilding and modernisation, and social policy and service delivery. Defence is a priority, but cannot be elevated to the extent that it impacts adversely on all other essential areas of spending.

"This government will make decisions about what is sustainable and affordable. No doubt the armchair critics will continue to aim their pop-guns at those decisions," Helen Clark said.

Ends

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