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Peter Dunne Speech to Christchurch Defence Assn

Peter Dunne Speech to Christchurch branch,Defence Association of New Zealand Christchurch Club

Thank you for the opportunity to address you on the very important topic of recruitment and retention in the New Zealand Defence Forces.

As the Association has so correctly pointed out, you can have the finest defence policy in the world, but without people to implement it, it just becomes another doorstop.

Your president in his annual report has made a number of suggestions for improving our Defence Force recruitment and retention rates, but before I address those directly, let me offer you a larger view of where I believe our defence policies should be taking New Zealand.

As chairman of Parliament's foreign, trade and defence select committee, I last month spent some time with our equivalent committee from across the Tasman.

Following those discussions, I publicly called for much greater co-operation and integration between the New Zealand and Australian defence forces.

I detected a growing desire for the two nations to better meet their regional defence and surveillance operations through more efficient use of the defence forces' differing strengths and capabilities.

Both countries have limited defence capacity and integration of some services makes good sense.

For example,

* we could expand our maritime surveillance capability through better use of both countries' Orion aircraft;

* our special operations forces, like the SAS, could work much more closely together,

* our armies could combine to form a joint ANZAC battalion,

* a joint ANZAC air force could be created using Kiwi-trained pilots and Australian-owned aircraft.

It flies in the face of reality to suggest there cannot be greater defence integration between Australia and New Zealand given our shared history, the ANZAC bond and our closer economic relations.

We need only look at Europe, which has torn itself apart by war in the last 100 years, but now has not only political and economic integration through the European Union, but also defence integration through NATO.

Closer ANZAC defence integration within the next five years is virtually inevitable in my view.

Turning to home, I think it appropriate to compliment the Labour-led government for what it has been doing to improve the basic pay of service personnel. For too long, we have asked our service people to carry out tough, demanding, sometimes dangerous tasks for very little financial reward and I'm pleased the Government is moving to rectify that. May I also point out that United Future supports Wayne Mapp's Bill aimed at making it easier to join the Territorials without losing your job.

Let me now turn to the Association's views on encouraging recruitment and retention.

Should we pay tuition fees and associated costs at recognized tertiary institutions on the basis of a year's tuition for a year's service?

That's an excellent idea and I fully support it I think having the opportunity to exercise this right up to the age of 35 is a bit long, perhaps the right could go as far as the age of 25. But in general, it's a very practical suggestion.

I think providing assistance to buy a first home or start a modest business on leaving the services would be a serious drain on the Government's coffer, so I don't support that but I would go along with the proposal to pay a generous gratuity on satisfactory completion of an enlistment.

Likewise, I think providing travel warrants to assist the families of servicemen to maintain contact is just plain commonsense.

The concept of recruiting young men from the Pacific Islands is an intriguing one, that I in general support, though I imagine there will be interesting ramifications involving citizenship, sovereignty and immigration issues to sort out.

I cannot agree with your implied view that women are not up to the task of serving in armoured or infantry units. In my view, if entry to these units is based on objective physical criteria, then anyone who passes, regardless of gender, is entitled to serve.

Also if, as I believe, New Zealand's defence future lies in much more integrated forces with our allies, then we will have to consider their policies concerning women and having seen recent conflicts such as Iraq, I believe it is hard to argue that woman can't do the job.

I do agree with your view that we should strengthen the Territorials to provide the first responsibility for local defence, freeing the regular forces for other duties.

It follows naturally that it's a very good idea to provide incentives so that experienced people leaving the Regular forces sign up with the Territorials.

One final suggestion - and this one is all my own. If volunteers for the Territorials had a professional graduate qualification, why don't we regard time served as being some sort of rebate of their student loan repayment?

I hope I've answered the questions you raised and I look forward to hearing your comments.

Thank you.

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