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PM's Address at Opening Ceremony RNZRSA 90th

Rt Hon Helen Clark Prime Minister

Address at Opening Ceremony RNZRSA 90th National Council Meeting

Michael Fowler Centre Wellington

4.30 pm

Monday 6 November 2006

The past year has been a busy one for the government on many of the issues in which the RSA takes an interest, and I will comment on some of them today. The Minister of Veterans’ Affairs will speak to you in more detail on issues in his portfolios later in the conference.

2006 marks the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Royal New Zealand Returned Services Association, an organisation with a proud history of dedication to the welfare and commemoration of our servicemen and women, past and present.

Year of the Veteran

It is fitting that this 90th anniversary year has also been the ‘Year of the Veteran’. This year special efforts have been made by New Zealanders to express appreciation for the contribution made to our nation by our veterans.

It was my pleasure to launch the Year of the Veteran at a function at Premier House in March, and I have attended a number of functions associated with it during the year.

The focus of the Year of the Veteran has been in local communities. The government established a Year of the Veteran Community Grants Fund to assist with projects such as the restoration and development of community memorials and commemorations of veterans’ service.

London Memorial

Next Sunday morning (NZ time), 32 veterans and three representatives of the RNZRSA, including National President John Campbell, will be with the large New Zealand delegation in London for the dedication of the New Zealand Memorial.

The Memorial is a tribute to the deep and longstanding relationship between New Zealand and the United Kingdom. It commemorates the shared sacrifice of British and New Zealand service personnel, and celebrates the wider social, cultural, and economic ties between New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

The memorial provides a wonderful venue for New Zealanders in Britain to commemorate Anzac Day in the future, as it symbolises the contribution made by the more than 250,000 New Zealanders who served in the wars of the last century alongside British forces.

The dedication is a very significant event for the New Zealand – Britain relationship. I am delighted that the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, accompanied by other members of the Royal family, and many senior British government and other representatives have accepted our invitation to attend.

New Zealand Memorial Park

I am pleased to report that the government is moving ahead with planning for a New Zealand Memorial Park.

When the National War Memorial was first built in 1932, there was a proposal to create a boulevard from it to Courtenay Place. Unfortunately, in the midst of the Great Depression, that never eventuated. In recent years, the government has asked the Ministry for Culture and Heritage to work with Transit New Zealand to acquire land on Buckle Street, across the road from the National War Memorial, in order to create the Memorial Park.

The creation of a New Zealand Memorial Park will not only improve the setting of the National War Memorial, and of the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior dedicated in 2004, but also it will provide a space for the construction of other memorials, particularly from countries with which New Zealand has a close relationship.

Passchendaele

Next year marks the 90th anniversary of the Battle of Passchendaele. On the first day New Zealand suffered its worst ever military disaster in terms of lives lost in a single day.

The Belgian Government and other authorities in the area have organised a major programme of events which acknowledges all the countries which participated in the Battles of Messines-Wytschaete and Passchendaele. New Zealand will be well represented at the major events.

Veterans’ issues

The Minister of Veterans’ Affairs has indicated that he intends to review and then rewrite the war pensions legislation to make it easier to understand and more attuned to the needs of veterans.

The RNZRSA and other ex-service groups will be consulted during this process. The benevolent philosophy and reverse onus of proof which underpins the current war pensions legislation will not be changed. There are issues raised in the RSA’s ten point plan which will be addressed in the rewrite of the war pensions legislation.

The National President of the RNZRSA has also indicated that he would like to see a review of Veterans’ Affairs New Zealand undertaken. The Minister of Veterans’ Affairs is looking to review the service delivery provided to veterans in order to ensure that it is the very best which can be provided, and that Veterans’ Affairs New Zealand is resourced to undertake the role expected of it.

As part of the government’s confidence and supply agreement with New Zealand First, the Government is proposing to implement a seniors’ card for all those aged over 65 years. The Royal New Zealand RSA has also been calling for a Veterans Card. This Saturday, Associate Senior Citizens Minister, Rt Hon Winston Peters, will be making an announcement on the way forward with a card for seniors.

Dialogue is continuing around the resolution of outstanding issues for veterans of the Vietnam war.

Ministers will continue to work with representatives of the RNZRSA and the Ex-Vietnam Services Association to addressing the recommendations and issues arising from the Wintringham report.

New Zealand Defence Force deployments and equipment

The New Zealand Defence Force is highly regarded internationally for its professionalism and its skill.

The government believes that when the cause is right and when the Defence Force has the capacity to contribute, we should make the effort to help others.

The New Zealand Defence Force has maintained a high operational tempo this year:

Personnel continue to serve in the Regional Assistance Mission in the Solomon Islands, and there were extra troops sent at short notice following civil disturbances in Honiara in April. In May, the East Timor government requested that New Zealand provide troops to help restore law and order in Dili, and our deployment is still there in strength. A New Zealand officer has also been appointed the United Nations Chief Military Liaison Officer in East Timor. In Afghanistan, our 120-person Provincial Reconstruction Team, based in Bamian, is working with New Zealand and international humanitarian organisations to support reconstruction of that war ravaged and very poor country. As well, we continue to contribute NZDF personnel to many other peacekeeping operations across the Middle East, Sudan, and the Balkans. Closer to home, the NZDF is busy with EEZ surveillance patrols and Search and Rescue missions. In June it played an important role with personnel, vehicles, helicopters, and shelter, following the severe snow storms in Canterbury.

In July 2006, the Minister of Defence signed a contract with NH Industries for the purchase of eight state-of-the-art NH90 helicopters to replace the Royal New Zealand Air Force's fleet of aging Iroquois. These new helicopters represent a quantum leap forward for the New Zealand Defence Force. The total cost of the helicopters is $771 million and will be met within the existing Long Term Development Plan. Tenders have also been sought for six light utility helicopters at a cost of about $110 million.

Last week the Minister of Defence received the last of 321 Pinzgauer Light Operational Vehicles for the Army, and the purchase of the 105 Light Armoured Vehicles has also been completed. Other projects continue including the comprehensive upgrades on the Air Force's P-3 Orion patrol aircraft and C-130 transport aircraft.

The Navy's preparations to receive the seven new Project Protector vessels are well underway. These new ships will deliver a new era in capability for the Navy and will begin to arrive over the next year.

In Budget 2006, the Defence Force received an extra $72.8 million for this and subsequent years to meet the operating objectives outlined in the ten year $4.6 billion Defence Sustainability Initiative. This year's Budget also agreed to an additional capital injection of $300 million. It provides for spending this year associated with the Defence Long Term Development Plan, including for the NH90 helicopters.

Senior Citizen issues

The government has also been busy this year implementing policies of interest to older veterans. These include:

The abolition of the mandatory on-road driving test for drivers aged eighty and over from 4 December. A medical assessment will still be required, but only a minority of older drivers is likely to be referred for driving test. On 1 July, the Government increased the asset exempt threshold for older people in residential care from $150,000 to $160,000. This enables older people in care to retain more of their assets while still qualifying for the rest home and geriatric hospital subsidy. By law the asset threshold increases each year by $10,000. On 1 July, New Zealand Superannuation was changed to allow all older people who have a spouse or partner living in residential care to receive the “Living Alone” rate of payment. Also on 1 July, the government increased the maximum annual rates rebate from $200 to $500 and widened the eligibility for assistance. Now, a single superannuitant on an income of $16,645, with rates of $1,000 or more is eligible for the full rebate of $500. I have had many letters from older people saying what a difference the change has made.

In this speech today I have sought to cover a number of issues of interest to RSA members.

I thank the Royal New Zealand RSA for its willingness to work with government on many matters, from medallic and other recognition, to commemorations, and health and welfare issues.

I wish all delegates a happy and productive conference.

Thank you.

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