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Burton Down the LAV

Burton Down the LAV

Friday, August 17 2001
Rodney Hide Press Releases -- Foreign Affairs & Defence

ACT Finance spokesman Rodney Hide said today that there were now more questions swirling around Defence Minister Mark Burton's attempts to mislead Parliament.

"He did a runner back to his electorate to dodge questions in Parliament once Chief of Defence Carey Adamson told him that he had released to me under the Official Information Act the draft responses prepared for the Minister's written answers that show that the Minister had knowingly misled Parliament.

"I asked the Minister a written question about how the to-be-purchased LAV IIIs would have been used to support the troops involved in the East Timor fire-fight in which Private Leonard Manning was killed last year, given the terrain in which the fire-fight occurred.

"In his detailed response, the Minister said that in the East Timor terrain where Private Manning was killed, the proposed new LAV III 'would not have been far behind the patrol conducting the tracking', 'would always have been on immediate notice to come forward', that 'when the foot patrol came into contact with militia personnel, the LAV would have immediately been activated' and that 'the noise of the vehicle moving to the site might have caused the opposing group to withdraw'.

"The Minister tabled this answer to me in Parliament on July 18.

"But the draft response from which these statements were taken was forwarded to the Minister's office by the army on July 10 and withdrawn on 11 July by the Chief of Defence. The Minister's office was told by the Chief of Defence that the answer was wrong.

"The subsequent draft answer signed off by the Chief of Defence flatly contradicted the first draft response, and said that "Because of the rugged nature of the terrain in the immediate area where the fire-fight occurred, it would not have been practicable for the LAV IIIs to have been used. There was no realistic alternative to moving on foot.

"Yet, five days later the Minister tabled an answer based on the false response even though the Minister had been told the week before by the Chief of Defence that the answer was false and was provided with a second, correct response, that completely contradicts the first draft answer, from the Chief of Defence.

"I have written to the Speaker asking that he send Hon Mark Burton to the Privileges Committee for having deliberately misled Parliament. The Minister knowingly tabled a false answer.

"But the questions now get even deeper. When Minister Burton did a burton and quickly found some urgent business in his own electorate, the Hon Phil Goff stepped into the breech to answer the questions.

"Hon Phil Goff then misled Parliament. He had to rise and correct the answers he gave on behalf of the run-away Minister to Parliament later in the afternoon.

"In correcting his earlier answer Hon Phil Goff told the House that, 'I said that a second draft written answer had been provided to the Minister by the Defence Force after the original draft answer had been dispatched. That was, indeed, in accordance with the advice that I had been given. I have since been informed that the first answer had not been sent at that point'. The Hon Phil Goff has now told Parliament that he was given false advice presumably by the hapless Mark Burton or his office who led Hon Phil Goff inadvertently to misled the House.

"The question now is, who so misled Hon Phil Goff and why.

"But there's more. The Hon Phil Goff told the House that 'The answer provided to the member by the Minister of Defence was based on an answer drafted by the New Zealand Defence Force -- which I have checked this afternoon, and am told by the then joint force commander in East Timor, Brigadier Mateparae, is valid according to both doctrine and experience'.

"The trouble with that answer is that it is at total variance with the answer the Chief of Defence provided. The question has to be, How come Brigadier Mateparae's answer was so factually different to Chief of Defence Carey Adamson's answer? Who's right? Who's telling the truth?

"This is very serious. Lives will depend on the capability of the LAV IIIs and questions in Parliament as to their capability are very serious questions which must be answered truthfully.

"Hon Phil Goff also told the House that, 'The Defence Force provided a second abbreviated draft answer that questions whether, given the terrain, any vehicle could have been used to support the patrol'.

"This is totally untrue. The answer that the Chief of Defence provided was not "abbreviated". And it certainly did not question "whether, given the terrain, any vehicle could have been used to support the patrol". It simply stated that the to-be-purchased LAV IIIs could not have been used. We know that other vehicles could have been used because, as hapless Burton made plain in the answer he tabled, an existing Armoured Personnel Carrier, the M113, got within 30 metres of the contact area the day after the contact. The machine guns on the M113 have a range of two kilometres. The turret gun has a range of 1.8 kilometres. Thirty metres is close.

"Hon Phil Goff has misled Parliament.

"The Hon Phil Goff went on to say that the Chief of Defence's draft response "was not shown to the Minister by his office because it was late and because his private secretary did not believe that it was in essence different from the original". Hon Phil Goff has corrected his answer and explained that the draft response was not late.

"But the second response provided was certainly different in essence from the first. It totally contradicts the first answer. Hapless Burton's private secretary was wrong.

"But there is a sinister side to this. The Chief of Defence told me in his letter dated 13 August that the first draft response dated 10 July was withdrawn on 11 July after further consideration by army, and the Minister's office informed. It seems that Mark Burton's private secretary never told his Minister.

"This is a very serious lapse of judgement. The advice of the Chief of Defence to the Minister of Defence as the capability of the LAV III should not be culled out and ruled out as irrelevant by a private secretary.

"The Chief of Defence also told me the replacement draft was dispatched to the Minister's office on 13 July. It now appears that Mark Burton's private secretary then decided that the chief of defence's replacement draft was not essentially different from the original and took it upon himself never to tell the Minister even when he signed out the false answer five days later.

"That's extraordinary. I knew relations were strained between the defence chiefs and the Minister of Defence's office, but i never knew that they were this bad. The private secretary has essentially over-ruled the Chief of Defence and apparently not allowed his Minister to know that the Chief of Defence had had the original draft answer withdrawn and a true and totally contradictory answer prepared.

"Who is this private secretary and what is he up to?

"But there's more. In his answers in parliament for the hapless Mark Burton, the Hon Phil Goff said, 'I am advised by the land component commander of the new Zealand army that whether the vehicle was tracked or wheeled, an armoured vehicle would not have been able to get in close proximity to the ambush were Private Leonard Manning was killed'.

"This is simply not true. The following day after the contact, the army's clapped out old M113s 'were able to move to within 30 metres of the place where the patrol had been contacted'. With guns that have a range of two kilometres, 30 metres is certainly 'close proximity'!

"Once again, Hon Phil Goff misled Parliament on behalf of the Minister of Defence.

"It's very sinister. Parliament has been misled by the Minister of Defence in an attempt to hide the operational deficiencies of the LAV IIIs which the Minister has committed over $700 million to buying.

"There are big questions about the merits of the LAVs for our troops. But there are even bigger questions over Mark Burton. It is now clear that Prime Minister Helen Clark must sack Mark Burton for his attempt at a cover up the operational deficiencies of the LAV IIIs and for so grossly misleading Parliament.


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