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Burton: Address to 89th National Council RNZRSA

Address to 89th National Council RNZRSA

President John Campbell, Chief Executive Pat Herbert, Mayor General Bill Crews -Return Services League of Australia National President, Members of the National Executive Royal NZRSA, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, good morning - and a special greeting to the delegates from the Taupo electorate.

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President John Campbell, Chief Executive Pat Herbert, Mayor General Bill Crews -Return Services League of Australia National President, Members of the National Executive Royal NZRSA, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, good morning - and a special greeting to the delegates from the Taupo electorate.

It's a pleasure to be with you again this year and to address your National Council meeting for the sixth time.

Before speaking to you about progress made in defence over the past six years I would like to take a moment to thank John for the positive working relationship I have had with him over the past year. His assistance on the Vietnam Veterans working group - and his deputies Robyn Klitcher and Des Wallace - has been particularly helpful and has enabled us to advance this important work along with the EVSA. The EVSA proposed a working party and consultation process, which together, we have progressed well, as reflected in the Prime Minister's announcement yesterday. I hope now, that all parties will get behind and support this positive veteran initiated process.

This year's Budget announcement of a $4.6 billion funding boost for defence marks the continuation of the government's commitment to a systematic rebuilding of the defence force and infrastructure.

By the end of the 10-year-funding package, this government will have increased New Zealand Defence Force operational baseline funding by 51 per cent, and injected billions of dollars into capital acquisitions since taking office in 1999. This has resulted in modernisation and provision of up to date equipment, across all three services, restoration of infrastructure, five pay rises in five years and increases in the numbers of defence personnel.

The recently announced funding package, known as the DSI - the Defence Sustainability Initiative is the fourth stage of a systematic approach to restore the capability of the Defence Force, which had been run down during the previous decade.

When the Labour led government came to office, we were committed to implementing many of the recommendations of the Select Committee inquiry into defence (begun in 1997,) which produced the Defence Beyond 2000 report.

To briefly recap - our first response was the Defence Policy Framework released in June 2000, which defined the key elements of our approach to defence, we followed this up with the release of the Government Defence Statement in May 2001.

The key components of the statement were:


·A joint approach to structure and operational orientation

·A modernised Army

·A practical and flexible Navy fleet

·And a refocused and updated Air Force

Our next logical step was to identify capital spending priorities - for the defence force as a whole.

It was clear that we needed to move away from the competitive service-by-service procedure that had, it is widely recognised, created so many problems in the past.

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 committed $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.

There has been very good progress in implementing the $3 billion Long Term Development Plan, or the LTDP as it has become known - some of which I want to briefly tell you about today.

In November this year, the next annual update of the LTDP will be considered. It will report on progress on projects already in the plan, such as Army vehicles, Joint Command and Control systems, the ANZAC ship upgrade, the need for anti-ship missiles, systems and self-protection upgrades for our Orions and Hercules.

It will also be forward looking and include new projects, which will be required by the middle of the next decade.

I was very pleased to announce in March this year that NH Industries' NH90 helicopter has been selected to replace the Royal New Zealand Air Force's ageing Iroquois.

Incidentally, the Australian Defence Force has also committed to the purchase of this helicopter which has opened up the possibility of collaborative opportunities between our two countries. The NH90 is a modern, very capable helicopter with a growing international customer base.

The other key element of the helicopter modernisation project is the replacement of the Sioux training helicopter with a new training/light utility work helicopter. Work is well advanced on this project.

I plan to make recommendations to Cabinet later this year on finalising the details of this project.

By the middle of 2006, it is intended that Cabinet will make detailed decisions on the redevelopment of Ohakea Airbase. This will include identifying a target date for when the Air Force will move from Whenuapai.

Late 2006/early 2007 sees the beginning of the delivery of the Project Protector ships which are all due for delivery by the end of 2007.

This $500 million project to build seven new ships will see the navy receive a multi role vessel, two offshore patrol vessels and four inshore patrol vessels over a 12-month period from late next year.

These new ships will equip the navy with an enhanced fleet that is modern, sustainable and designed for, and matched to, New Zealand's needs.

They will provide a significant increase in our capability and capacity to meet military and civilian responsibilities, throughout New Zealand's extensive exclusive economic zone, across the South Pacific and into the southern ocean.

Late last month I was delighted to commemorate the "first cut" milestone for the Project Protector Inshore Patrol Vessels in Whangarei.

One of the very pleasing aspects of the building programme for these seven new ships for the Navy is the extent of local industry involvement.

Since the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York we have been made much more aware of the threats that terrorism holds for us all. We have therefore instructed the Defence Force to work on enhancing our ability to respond to explosive device alerts.

Significantly upgrading New Zealand's capability in this area is a priority reflecting the increased international threat of terrorism.

Having addressed the priority hardware needs of defence, the next priority was to addressed the important and complex issues of the people side of defence using the same quality and depth of review and priority setting that we had undertaken for equipment.

In December 2003 a team of officials from defence, treasury and the state service commission began the Defence Capability and Resourcing Review, or DCARR.

The review identified the key issues and personnel gaps that the New Zealand Defence Force and Ministry of Defence face in delivering the defence outcomes that are required by the government.

DCARR confirmed our concerns about the resourcing of defence to properly do its job.

The review concluded that as a result of under-spending through much of the 1990s, personnel numbers and quality of infrastructure were below what was needed.

DCARR quite rightly observed that human resources are the most important resources available to NZDF and Ministry of Defence - quite simply, without the right people, with the right skills, even the most sophisticated military equipment will be ineffective.

There has been long-term pressure on personnel numbers resulting from a number of factors, not the least the current strong economy and resulting buoyant labour market.

Recruitment pressures are particularly significant in the Army and in HQ NZDF, but all services are affected to some extent.

The Army has significant shortages in a number of trades and junior ranks.

The Navy needs to recruit appropriate personnel to ensure the full crewing of the Protector Fleet from 2007 onwards.

The Air Force has identified a need for significant increases in logistics support personnel, including flight safety, to support planned future upgrades and replacements of all aircraft in its fleet.

The DCARR concluded that, given the need to sustain the present operational tempo, building up capability and resources to meet the government's requirements cannot be done over night.

What is needed is a significant work programme, spread over a number of years and underpinned by the certainty of funding increases. The ten-year time frame reflects the NZDF's requirement for a phased in programme to recruit, train, absorb, and retain additional personnel and the need for the NZDF and the Ministry of Defence to develop their planning and management systems.

The extended time frame does not imply a relaxed approach, on the contrary, there is no time to waste.

The Ministry of Defence and the NZDF have already begun the process of establishing the necessary corporate systems, and will make significant progress in other areas in coming months.

This extra funding comes at a time when our operational tempo is the highest it has been in a generation.

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

I was privileged recently to visit members of our armed forces serving with the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Bamian, as well as our personnel serving in Bagram and Kabul, Afghanistan.

What I saw on the ground in Afghanistan certainly more than confirmed what is clearly well deserved praise.

The team in Bamian, for example, has built a high level of trust and confidence amongst Bamian province communities through their professional and respectful engagement with local people.

As well as building confidence in security through regular patrols and liaison with community leaders, they have been involved with projects working in conjunction with NZAID and NGOs, including the re building and opening of Bamian University.

While I was in Afghanistan I met with President Karzai and senior military and international agency representatives, all of whom had praise for our PRT.

And last month the Prime Minister and I announced the re-deployment of around 50 New Zealand Special Air Service personnel to Afghanistan.

The NZSAS personnel will be commanded by a New Zealand officer and will specialise in the planning and execution of long-range reconnaissance and direct actions missions inside Afghanistan. They will operate with other special forces from countries contributing to coalition forces in Afghanistan.

Building a healthy future will not be simple, and it will not be easy, but we can all be proud of the contribution our people are making towards creating that future.

Our presence in Afghanistan reflects this Labour-Led Government's strong commitment to collective security, support for the role of the United Nations in maintaining international peace and security and participation in international operations.

In recent weeks I have participated in very productive discussions with Australia's Defence Minister Senator Robert Hill, first in Victoria for our annual Defence council and then during the annual International Institute of Strategic Studies Conference in Singapore, followed by a meeting of the Five Power Defence Arrangement Ministers with our counterparts from Singapore, Malaysia and the United Kingdom.

The talks in Victoria covered strategic regional and global security issues, including the importance of each nation's contribution to the rehabilitation and reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan as part of operation Enduring Freedom.

This was my sixth annual meeting to build closer Defence co-operation between the two nations, and my fourth with Senator Hill to further advance the Australia/New Zealand close and positive working relationship.

We agreed to continue to work together to maintain a secure and stable Pacific region.

I also took the opportunity to farewell and thank retiring Australian Chief of Defence, our good friend General Peter Cosgrove - his head gear reflecting his strong Kiwi connection!

Australia is to host trilateral discussions between Australia, New Zealand and France later this year to further strengthen maritime surveillance co-operation in the Pacific.

We also talked about the recent combined deployment of Australia and New Zealand defence forces in Banda Ache and in providing humanitarian aid to Sumatra following the Boxing Day Tsunami.

Combined exercises remain essential to our defence forces continuing to have the complementary skills and capabilities necessary to operate together.

Despite operational demands we continue to participate in an extensive joint exercise programme. Over the past year Australian and New Zealand forces have joined together on five exercises.

As I mentioned earlier, while in Singapore I also attended a meeting of the Five Power Defence Arrangements ministers.

Participation in the FPDA underpins New Zealand's commitments to regional security and provides an important mechanism for consultation and co-operation on security issues and multilateral defence exercises of a significant scale.

And what about NZDF's current deployment situation?

Right now we have around 500 service men and women in more than 12 countries around the globe, including Sinai, Timor Leste, the gulf Region and Bosnia as well as Afghanistan.

And I am very proud of the achievements of the men and women of our defence force.

This year we have seen them rise to the challenge for the immense relief effort following the Boxing Day Tsunami, and here at home with the disaster recovery in the flood ravaged Bay of Plenty.

And last month the efforts of our Air Force in search and rescue missions to stricken yachts were outstanding. Air and ground crews worked around the clock on four successful missions in five days.

I want to say here that this level of commitment to duty is the norm, not the exception.

I'd like to end this speech by saying that this Labour-led government has shown its commitment to having an appropriate and effective defence force, through the considered, systematic approach it has taken.

We have recognised how stretched resources had become and addressed that through successive budgets. This year's Budget announcements demonstrate just how seriously we have taken the personnel and infrastructure issues confronting defence.

Much has been achieved since we came to Government, but for the New Zealand Defence Force, the real work now lies clearly ahead in preparing for, and fielding, the many and improved capabilities that are now on the way.

I am more than confident that the men and women, who are the NZDF, are more than a match for those challenges.

Thank you again for the invitation to address what is my sixth successive RSA conference.

I wish you all well for a productive conference, and the enjoyment of each other's company and comradeship that is always the hallmark of the annual gathering of this great organisation.

Thank you

ENDS

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