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A Simple Question for Cabinet's "Weakest Link"

At Last! A Simple Question for Cabinet's "Weakest Link"

Sunday, August 19 2001

ACT Finance spokesman Rodney Hide said today it was now obvious that "Weakest Link" Minister Mark Burton couldn't answer the tough questions concerning his portfolio responsibilities.

"So now I have a simple question for the hapless Minister: Who's telling the truth?

"The Government has given three different answers to the simple question of whether the new LAV IIIs could have made it to the contact area where Private Leonard Manning was killed in Timor last year.

"Answer Number One comes from Minister of Foreign Affairs Phil Goff who filled in for the bunking Minister of Defence last Thursday. Hon Phil Goff told the House that, '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'.

"Answer Number Two comes from the hapless Mark Burton the very next day in a Press Release where he declared: 'That subsequent to the incident involving Private Manning's death, however, a M113 APC was able to move to within about 30 metres of the patrol's position. The NZ Defence Force advise me that the LAV III would be able to get at least as far as the M113'.

"So on Thursday no armoured vehicle was able to 'get in close proximity' while on Friday we are told that the old clapped out M113 was able to get within 30 metres. That's close. The machine guns on the M113 have a range of two kilometres. The turret gun has a range of 1.8 kilometres. We are also told that the LAV III could have made it just as far as the M113.

"The two Ministers can't both be right. Either Phil Goff or Mark Burton is wrong. Of course, they could both be wrong.

"Answer Number Three was from the Chief of Defence. He stated in a draft answer finally released under the Official Information Act 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.'

"According the Chief of Defence, the M113 made it, but the LAV III couldn't.

"We have one question, but three answers. My question to Cabinet's 'Weakest Link' is this: Who's telling the truth?

"The answer is not an academic one. The taxpayer is spending over $700 million for the LAV IIIs. It's now a serious question whether the LAV IIIs could have assisted the patrol in terrain such as that in which Private Leonard Manning was killed. This is the very sort of terrain that our soldiers will most likely find themselves in.

"We still don't know. Our soldiers risking their lives deserve better from their Minister than this. They need to know just what the capabilities are of the LAV III. The Minister might think he's smart dodging questions in Parliament ' but he should spare a thought for our soldiers who may well be dodging bullets wondering just which Minister is right and whether a LAV is its on way," concluded Rodney Hide.


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