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The Defence Of New Zealand

The Defence Of New Zealand

Wednesday 11 Aug 2004

Rodney Hide - Speeches - Defence

Speech to Australian Defence College - Centre for Defence and Strategic Studies; Intercontinental Hotel; Wellington; Wednesday August 11, 2004.

I have been asked to provide "An Alternative View for New Zealand's Security".

I believe that a government's primary duty is to defend its citizens. That's a conventional view of Defence. Sadly, here in New Zealand politics that conventional view is an alternative view.

Successive New Zealand governments have put Defence at the very bottom of their list of priorities.

Our previous National-led government declared "there to be no votes in defence". They ran down our defence forces. They believed they had better use for the money.

Our present Prime Minister declared New Zealanders lived in an "incredibly benign strategic environment". She reduced our air combat wing to scrap. She said we couldn't afford it.

Our present Defence Minister spent ten years heading up the Taupo Peace Group. The peacenik turned Defence Minister believes that New Zealand can be made safe and secure by disarming.

I am all in favour of peace. But I don't believe that we achieve peace by running down military capacity. I believe that we achieve peace through a well-resourced and well-run military combined with strong ties to strong allies to achieve collective defence.

New Zealand governments have neglected defence for years. The result? Our Air Force cannot fight to defend us, our Navy has only a part-time blue water combat capability, our Army is incapable of fighting as part of an allied formation.

Sure, we have Defence Force personnel dotted around the world. But we don't and can't provide these men and women with gunfire support. We don't and can't provide air support. In other words we cannot supply essential Defence.

I was appalled when our Social Welfare Minister standing in for our Minister of Defence advised Parliament that our troops in Iraq would be best just to run if any shooting started. He said, and I quote, "It sounds quite sensible to run away if fired at". He no doubt thought that was a smart-alec answer. He wouldn't think it so smart if it were he stationed in one of the world's hot spots.

Our politicians aren't prepared to fund our military. But they remain willing to put our servicemen and service women in harm's way.


The world may look a safe and secure place for New Zealand at any time. It may look safe for years and years. But no crisis over the past fifty years has been foreseeable more than a few months in advance.

War has not been abolished. In fact, making trouble has never been cheaper. There are places around the world where the automatic assault rifle and the Rocket Propelled Grenade have become "fashion accessories" for young males.

As well as a myriad of regional tensions, along with ethnic and nationalist wars, we now face a new scourge - terrorism. Terrorism has become the threat of today, but - ask yourself - what about tomorrow? And are we prepared for that? Have we sufficient flexibility? Exactly who is it that says that preparedness to face conventional war is no longer valid?

Any talk of being prepared for war provokes the question, "But who would want to invade us?" The reality is that I don't know. But I do know that our way of life relies on external trade, and this in turn depends on peace and stability in those countries with whom we trade.

It's very much in our interests that these countries remain stable.

All our friends and neighbours in the Asia-Pacific region understand this. They can see that there are risks in the region that have to be managed collectively, and therefore all of them are maintaining and are increasing their security - their preparedness.

But not so New Zealand.

We are now even out of step with our closest neighbour. Australia is just hanging on to be our only remaining formal ally. But because New Zealand will not and cannot help with Defence in the region - we are putting our ANZAC relationship sorely to the test.

Trade and security do go together. Trading partners have always worked together and assisted in each other's security. There may well be a crisis in the future - over Taiwan, say, South East Asia, the South China Sea, the Pacific. That crisis will affect Australia. It will affect us. I believe that the best policy is to be prepared.

What Alternatives Do We Have?

Here in New Zealand we need to answer some basic Defence questions.

First, we have to decide whether or not New Zealand wants to protect itself, and its interests, with or without the help of others.

If we decide that we don't need to defend ourselves - then we don't need to do much more than we are doing at present. That's our present course.

If New Zealand does want protection, we need to decide if we will try to do the whole job ourselves - so far, we never have - or whether we will work together with friendly countries in a joint and cooperative regional effort.

The only realistic option is to work with allies to protect ourselves and our interests overseas. We can't defend ourselves on our own. That means that we need to find some allies - because we don't have any right now.

And what do we need to do to rebuild our old alliances? Well, we need to play our part. We need to pay the price for our security - we can't continue to bludge. That requires political leadership and commitment.

Who knows what Don Brash said? But I agree with what he was purported to say. Our nuclear-powered ships ban should be gone by lunch time.

But that's not the real issue - the real issue is the proper funding of our military. We need to commit sufficient resources to play our part in providing for the collective security of our country, our region, and our allies.

That does not mean that where the United States goes we should automatically follow. We are a sovereign nation. But we should have the capacity to go if our democratically elected government deems it appropriate and in our interests to do so.

My fear is that politicians having run our capacity down will order our troops into a hot spot where they are not prepared or resourced to go. That's why proper funding and preparedness is so important.


But before we go throwing money into defence we need to get the structure right.

Past governments have used the pretence of studying possible future Defence structures and organisations as a means of delaying important decisions on Defence Force structure and re-equipment.

There is no need.

That work has been done. Former State Services Commissioner Mr Don Hunn undertook a wide-ranging and in-depth report completed in September 2002. The government sat on that report for six months. They then totally rejected it.

Mr Hunn's report was damning. He found the current split between the civilian Ministry and the Defence Force proper has "not worked in practice". Mr Hunn proposed a national security governance structure to co-ordinate policies, planning and activity. I believe that he is right.

It's a good report. It needs to be implemented without delay. My party in government will push for that.


Now the hard part - resourcing.

We spend less than 0.9 per cent of our GDP on Defence.

From 1950 to 1990 we averaged 2 per cent. Australia now commits 1.8 per cent.

We spend $6 a head per week on defence. We spend over $70 a head per week on welfare. If we cut welfare by ten per cent we could double our defence spending. That is all that is needed.

Providing properly for defence is a matter of establishing proper priorities.

With that funding we could provide New Zealand with Armed Forces that are properly equipped and trained to operate with allies in Australia, the United States, Britain, Malaysia and Singapore.

With that funding we could provide a light infantry force, some general-purpose warships and a small air combat force, a maritime surveillance wing and an air transport wing. They could be structured around a stable long-term defensive strategy and would provide successive governments with a range of options in the event of a crisis, here or overseas.

If - some say "when" - a local crisis occurs, there is no time to switch to new equipment, let alone provide the lengthy training needed to use it effectively. Our forces must - in the present day - fit in well and be able to work effectively with others in deterring or dealing with major trouble. That means that they must also be given the communications and associated equipment and training that will allow them to function as fully-fledged members of any Allied Force. This demands extensive and on-going training here and abroad, unfettered by political posturing, especially about whether or not a particular country may have nuclear weapons or nuclear powered ships.

We in New Zealand can never again rely upon volunteers in a crisis. In today's world they would be a drain on our allies. We need sea and air power and full-time professionally trained regular soldiers.


We in New Zealand are a proud people. We are patriotic. We love our country. We are prepared to defend it.

I am not asking each and every one of us to defend New Zealand.

All I am asking is for $12 a week to support those New Zealanders who are.

We have good and brave service men and women. They deserve a good and brave defence policy.

Thank you.


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