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Defence speech to the Asia Plus Luncheon

Defence speech to the Asia Plus Luncheon


Hon Mark Burton addressed the Ambassadors and High Commissioners of the Asia Plus group in Wellington on matters relating to New Zealand's Defence.

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Your Excellency Chen Mingming, Ambassador of the People's Republic of China, ambassadors from the Pacific rim.

Thank you for inviting me to address you at this lunch today.

As you are probably aware my portfolios include Defence, Tourism and the State Owned Enterprises. However, you kindly gave me a free hand to talk about anything I wanted to today.

So I thought that I'd talk about Defence and particularly about our Defence policy - how it has developed and where I think we may be going. I'll also outline some of the deployments we are involved in as an outcome of that policy.

When we became government at the end of 1999 we were faced with a Defence Force that had received little support for upgrade and renewal for a decade. Much of its equipment was outdated and reaching the end of its functional life and there was no co-ordinated forward planning to do anything about it.

Our deployment to East Timor was the first battalion level deployment since World War II, and had highlighted the very real equipment challenges the defence force was facing.

It was clear to us therefore, that we had to refocus defence policy, in light of what New Zealand's security needs were, and actually what part we wanted and were able to play, in regional and global security.

We had to maximise our strengths, directing our resources to those areas in which we could excel, and where we could make a real and credible contribution to international deployments.

So in June 2000, we released the Defence Policy Framework, which clearly defines the key elements of our approach to defence. The Framework identified Defence as one aspect-albeit a significant one-of New Zealand's wider foreign and security policy. This is the foundation to our defence policy and has driven the work we have done since then. We are committed to building a modern, professional, well-equipped Defence Force that is sustainable, affordable, and appropriate to New Zealand's Defence requirements.

In May 2001, a year later, we released the Government Defence Statement, which outlined an appropriate force structure to match New Zealand's defence objectives. We determined that the key components of the NZDF would be: · A joint approach to structure and operational orientation · A modernised Army · A practical Navy fleet · And a refocused and updated Air Force

The next logical step was to identify capital spending priorities for the defence force as a whole. So in June 2002, we released the Defence Long-Term Development Plan (LTDP), which outlined the acquisitions necessary to achieve our policy objectives, established their priority, and allocated $3 billion over ten years to make it happen. We update that plan each year.

In other words, we defined what we needed New Zealand's Defence Force to do, outlined the most efficient force structure to do it, and put a plan in place to provide the necessary equipment, across all three services.

And I want to tell you-we have made excellent progress.

We have updated the Army's communication equipment, given effect to the policy of a motorised land force; purchasing the Light Armoured Vehicles, NZLAVs required for two battalions and are about to receive our first delivery of the new Pinzgauer Light Operational Vehicles.

We have replaced both of the Air Force's aged 727s with Boeing 757-200 jet aircraft. And have announced a major 15-year life extending upgrade of New Zealand's five Hercules, a project to replace the Iroquois utility helicopter and the Sioux training helicopter, and the tenders for both the Mission Systems upgrade and the Communications and Navigation Systems upgrade on our P-3 Orion fleet. And last Thursday I hosted a ceremony to celebrate the signing of the contract between the New Zealand government and Australian ship builder Tenix to build seven new ships. Known as Project Protector the project will see us acquire a new Multi Role vessel, two 85 metre Offshore patrol vessels and four 55 metre Inshore patrol vessels to be operated by the navy-a $500 million investment in total.

I'd like to talk a bit about Project Protector, which I think illustrates well our whole of government approach and how we see Defence as part of a wider framework.

When Defence was defining its maritime patrol requirements, it worked actively with a number of other agencies to find out what they needed in their areas of responsibility. Surface patrol of New Zealand's EEZ, emergency responses to disasters in the Pacific, search and rescue, patrols in the Ross Sea and Southern Ocean as well as coastal water patrols all had to be taken into consideration.

The process of identifying what was needed involved the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Ministry of Fisheries, Customs, Treasury, the Maritime Safety Authority, and the Police, among others.

Prospective tenders were told exactly what it was we need the ships to do - down to the two dog kennels for the Customs Service, and asked to come up with their own solutions in terms of ship numbers and design.

We are well satisfied with the results of this process.

This project shows that a $500 million Defence investment in Project Protector can enhance not only New Zealand's military security, but also the security of our borders, our fisheries, our biosecurity, and a host of other areas. It also greatly enhances our ability to provide support and assistance to our Pacific neighbours in times of civil emergency and natural disaster and to work co-operatively with friends.

And it also means that instead of running a number of small fleets for each department we have a high quality solution that can meet all of those agencies' needs.

Of course, there are those who will say that this government's defence spending is too low, and that we should keep up with nations many, many times our size.

Equally, there are also those who think that, for a country like New Zealand, $3 billion of capital expenditure over 10 years on a Defence Force is an obscene amount of money better directed elsewhere.

But it seems to me that neither of these is a practical view. I believe we have developed a thorough, realistic, modern defence policy-one that reflects New Zealand's place in today's world.

We have put in place a workable plan to achieve our Defence goals and uphold our commitment as a responsible international citizen. New equipment also means a direct investment in the safety of our personnel, bringing their protection and mobility in line with 21st century technology.

However, in many ways the work we have done so far, although logical and far reaching, has actually been relatively straight forward. After all if you make clear decisions about what you want to do, know what you want to do it with and have the budget allocation to acquire it, then someone somewhere will want to sell it to you.

We have now embarked on the more complex task of ensuring that the people side of Defence gets the same quality and relevance review, and priority setting that we have in place for equipment.

Like many developed countries with relatively low unemployment rates, and high demands for skilled workers; defence recruitment, training and retention are a real challenge. A challenge we have to understand in order to be able to address it.

So we are currently reviewing the resources and capability of our defence force to ensure that we can meet our policy requirements. There is no point in having state of the art equipment, if we don't have the people employed and trained to use it.

And it is our defence personnel that make the difference.

Right now, we have over 500 Service men and women in 12 countries around the world.

This level of commitment makes New Zealand number one in terms of per capita participation in international peacekeeping and support missions.

For a country of barely four million at the far end of the world, I think this is commendable.

Our operational tempo is the highest its been in a generation.

Around the world, our personnel are making a very real impact on the lives of the local people and communities they engage with-working in environments that can be physically very difficult, and often dangerous.

They are our ambassadors often in countries where we don't have a high diplomatic presence, they are our face in areas of the world where otherwise we would have no profile and we are proud of them because they do reflect our stated policy: a partnership between defence policy and foreign policy, aimed at securing New Zealand's physical, economic, social, and cultural well being, and meeting our regional and global responsibilities.

I was recently in Singapore, where I attended the International Institute of Strategic Studies Asia Security Conference (IISS), and the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA) Ministerial meeting.

At IISS, there was strong emphasis on the increasing need to focus on non-conventional threats: terrorism, maritime and border security, people and drug smuggling, and money laundering.

Just recently, the biggest methamphetamine lab in the Southern Hemisphere was discovered in Fiji-right in our backyard. This truly brought home the fact that distance on its own no longer affords protection from destabilising elements.

Clearly, the security of both New Zealand and our region-particularly in today's global environment-must actively involve multiple agencies - including Defence, working collaboratively.

It is dependent on gathering and sharing intelligence efficiently with our defence partners, as well as on clear communication and cooperation across a wide range of non-military agencies.

This is illustrated nowhere clearer than in our recent involvement with Australia and other Pacific countries in RAMSI, the Regional Assistance Mission in the Solomon Islands.

I recently joined representatives from participating nations in celebrating the first year of RAMSI.

Since July 2003, we have all been working together to assist one of our closest neighbours restore security.

And, after three years of serious law and order breakdown, combined with rapidly declining economic conditions, the Solomon Islands is potentially on the road to stability.

Our defence personnel have played a key role in supporting the Police, and in facilitating civil and humanitarian assistance.

The NZDF have provided helicopter transport, engineers for refurbishment of facilities, and medical staff for community level medical support.

We are committed long term to supporting the development of a safe and prosperous Solomon Islands and while RAMSI has made extraordinary progress, the job is not yet done.

New Zealand military personnel will participate in the maintenance of an Australian led platoon in Solomon Islands on a rotational basis for a further two years. And our New Zealand police officers will continue to work long-term to help rebuild the Royal Solomon Islands' Police Force.

New Zealand has also increased development assistance to Solomon Islands by $6 million this year to $14 million - and direct work in support of the rebuilding of key institutions and infrastructure will be critical for years ahead.

And we are also involved in Iraq and Afghanistan. In Iraq, our 61-strong group of engineers have worked with other countries and NGOs in their humanitarian relief and reconstruction roles.

Since the beginning of their deployment last September, they have completed 40 projects, including the construction of a 6 km domestic water pipeline, bridge repair and maintenance, and refurbishing schools.

They have also constructed a reverse osmosis water plant, which is bringing clean water to thousands of people for the first time in a generation. In Afghanistan, the approximately 90 personnel who make up our Provincial Reconstruction Team (known as a "PRT") are working effectively to assist the Afghan government to extend its influence beyond Kabul.

They are building local confidence through their contact with community leaders, gathering information about their reconstruction needs, and providing an opportunity to air any concerns.

Perhaps one of their most important contributions has been managing the rebuilding of Bamiyan's only university-a major step forward in the country's reconstruction and recovery.

PRT personnel worked closely with New Zealand AID on this project.

These projects are an excellent illustration of how our military personnel work with other agencies to meet New Zealand's wider objectives. They also clearly point to the need for our forces to be well trained and equipped, both for combat and peacekeeping.

I am confident that our approach to the equipment and utilisation of our defence force is meeting and is continuing to meet our security needs.

There will always be the need to modify and adjust, we do not after all live in a static world, but I believe we have set up a quality and robust process that enables us to build on our policy, identify priorities for capital expenditure and to raise, train and sustain our most valuable asset, our people.

We will continue to strengthen the whole of government approach to the defence of New Zealand, working together across the broad range of agencies that are addressing issues of our nation's security, and on our international relationships, on a daily basis.

The work of the NZDF is a major contribution to that security, and will continue to be so in the years to come.

And I believe strongly the need for partnerships has never been stronger, partnerships between agencies and between countries.

Our future lies in respecting what we each offer, and in providing what we are trained and equipped to do.

Thank you

ENDS


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