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Parliament Now Leads Defence Debate

The debate called for by a group of former defence chiefs has already taken place, says Minister of Disarmament and Arms Control Matt Robson.

"From early in 1997 to August 1999 the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee of Parliament carried out the most open and comprehensive peacetime inquiry ever conducted into the future of New Zealand's defence," says Matt Robson.

Key contributors included Lieutenant General Tony Birks, Gerald Hensley, and Air Vice-Marshal Robin Klitscher (representing the New Zealand Returned Services Association).

"I was a member of that committee. Let there be no illusions: these retired defence chiefs had every opportunity to set out the proper information on which to have a debate. They did so with some vigour.

"So too did the then Minister of Defence, Max Bradford, supported by the Chiefs of Naval Staff, General Staff, and Air Staff."

Late in 1997, the committee published the results of its inquiries into New Zealand's place in the world and our role in Asia-Pacific security. A year later, in November 1998, it published an interim report on Defence Beyond 2000.

"Each report was used by the concerned public as a basis for critical review and debate. Experienced defence experts took part in that debate."

In April 1999 the committee stimulated a round-table discussion of the issues, attended by Denis McLean and Vice-Admiral Sir Somerford Teagle and some 70 defence and foreign policy experts.

"All this contrasts with the secretive way in which exclusive groups of Defence, Foreign Affairs and Treasury officials compiled all of New Zealand's earlier Defence White Papers," says Matt Robson.

This group was led at different times by Mr McLean, Mr Hensley, Sir Richard Bolt, Sir Ewan Jamieson, Sir Somerford Teagle, General Birks, and Air Vice-Marshal Klitscher.

"It's a bit rich for them to now cry foul," says Matt Robson.

"They are quite wrong to allege that there is no clear defence strategy.

"The strategy is not, however, focused on using military means to address symptoms. It utilises a much wider range of diplomatic, economic and other international cooperation instruments to address the causes of regional and global insecurity."

Ends

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