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Isolationist PM Attacks Defence Chiefs

Helen Clark's attack on the former defence chiefs for seeking a public debate on the future of New Zealand's defence shows her paranoia about people raising genuine questions about a key policy for any Government, National's Defence spokesman Max Bradford said today.

"The former chiefs raise the important point that we need a full public debate on defence and the Prime Minister's claim they are re-fighting the battles of the Cold War show her blatant ignorance of what has been happening in peacekeeping in the last few years.

"She is the one who is still living in the Cold War, relitigating out-of-date isolationist views of the peace movement. Helen Clark has completely mistaken the post-Cold War world and how the global system of security and peace is being structured - around complementary relationships through regional partnerships. New Zealand needs to continue partnerships in its region rather than pulling away from its main partner, Australia.

"The fact that former chiefs have come out so publicly shows there is enough concern to warrant open public discussion. Instead Helen Clark is leaking the shape of defence cuts through the media without coming clean about an overall defence strategy.

"Helen Clark's claim there has never been public consultation on defence is also wrong. Successive governments have used the White Paper process to encourage public debate on defence before any defence purchases were made. In contrast, this Government is hiding its proposed decisions on defence purchases for the first time.

"New Zealand should follow Australia which last year consulted widely and publicly about its proposed defence policy framework on security, peacekeeping and peacemaking, before deciding on and implementing the framework.

"Like every country in the immediate post Cold War period the National Government did reduce defence spending in the mid 1990s because the world security scene had changed. But consequently, after a publicly released white paper, we announced a major increase in defence spending in 1997.

"Labour is merely implementing those plans in the Army, but is systematically cutting expenditure in the air force and the navy unlike the 1997 Defence Assessment.

"Reducing our defence force without public consultation leaves New Zealand open to appalling consequences if we get our defence strategy and purchases wrong. That is the essential message from the former defence chiefs open letter today and we should all listen to it," Mr Bradford said.


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