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Goff: RSA National Council Meeting


(Embedded image moved
Hon Phil Goff to file: pic07711.jpg)
Minister of Defence

Speech Notes

7 October 2008

Speech to the 92nd Royal New Zealand Returned and Services Association National Council Meeting
Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington

National President Robin Klitscher
Chief Executive Pat Herbert
Veterans and members, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen.

Thank you for the invitation to attend your opening yesterday and address your Council today on the Government's defence policy and achievements in rebuilding the New Zealand Defence Force.

But firstly, can I thank Robin Klitscher and the Association for the good personal and working relationship that I have enjoyed with the RSA and your membership.

I deeply appreciate the role played by the RNZRSA in serving the needs of our veterans and honouring the role of those who have served our country in the Defence Force and in particular those who have given their lives for their country.

Nine days ago I attended a service in West Point New York for the posthumous awarding of the Silver Star medal for my nephew, Lt Matt Ferrara, killed in Afghanistan last November and the interment of his ashes. Matt was 24 years old and was a joint US - New Zealand citizen serving with the US Forces.

His death was a poignant reminder to our family of the losses suffered by so many New Zealand families during times of war, and the debt of gratitude which we owe to those who gave their lives which can never be repaid.

It was a reminder too of the heavy responsibility on our Government and Parliament when we make decisions that commit New Zealand Defence Force personnel to deployments such as in Afghanistan, Timor Leste and the Solomons and place them in harm's way.

There are times when it is necessary to deploy our defence force personnel in a peacekeeping or combat capacity to protect and advance values and interests which are critically important to us.

The decision to do so always requires careful judgement and should be made for the right reasons. It should depend on New Zealand's own assessment as an independent, sovereign nation.

And when the decision is made, it needs to be backed by an assurance that those we deploy are properly led, trained and equipped. That is essential to minimize the risks which face them in their area of deployment.

I am today more confident that this is the case. I have had the privilege of visiting, first as Minister of Foreign Affairs and more recently as Defence Minister, on more than one occasion each of our major deployments.

I am immensely proud of the commitment and the performance of their duties by the men and women who serve the NZDF.

They carry out their responsibilities competently and effectively and respect and relate well to the people in whose countries they are serving.

I constantly receive genuine expressions of praise for New Zealand service personnel from those whom they work with and alongside on their deployments.

I would like to acknowledge the role and competence of our special forces. The awarding of the Presidential citation to the SAS and the award to Wilile Apiata of the first VC earned by New Zealand since 1945 shows how well those who serve in our Defence Force today uphold the tradition and reputation of those who have gone before them.

Can I for a moment touch on the references which have been made, by President Robin Klitscher and the Prime Minister and Minister of Veterans Affairs, to Tribute '08.

Due to a clash in responsibilities and the need to attend trade discussions overseas, I was able to attend only the preliminary activities for Tribute '08. But all the feedback I have had was that it was an excellent event and helpful in allowing veterans and the country to move on from part of our history which did not reflect well on our treatment of our veterans.

Decisions about deployments are made by governments, not soldiers. Those who served in the Vietnam War followed orders, carried out their duties with loyalty, courage and commitment. Tribute '08 was about according them the respect that they deserved for their service to our country.

I want to acknowledge the positive and constructive role played by former RSA President John Campbell, EVSA representative Chris Mullane and others who worked with Rick Barker and me to reach agreement on the Memorandum of Understanding to address the key concerns which existed.

I would like now to come to the topic you have asked me to address, the progress being made in the rebuilding of the New Zealand Defence Force.

At the end of the 1990's, this was the foremost task faced by the incoming Government in the Defence Portfolio.

Defence Force numbers had been cut by 24 per cent, defence spending by an even larger 30%. All three services faced the problem of increasingly obsolete equipment.

Since 2001, the Government has committed over $8 billion dollars under first the Defence Long Term Development Plan focussed on expenditure on capital equipment, and then in 2005 the Defence Sustainability Initiative which committed new money to operating expenditure.

Expenditure of nearly $4 billion under the Long-Term Development Plan represents the largest single commitment of capital funding for Defence since World War II.

This has provided financial certainty around plans to strengthen the Army, expand the role of the Navy and upgrade the Air Force. In the past, decisions on defence procurement were ad hoc, often taken in isolation and generally involved running down one Service in order to subsidise expenditure in another.

Spread across all three services, the reinvestment and rebuilding programme has considerably enhanced the NZDF's overall effectiveness.

Equipment which our troops in 1999 would have considered state-of-the-art, such as night vision goggles, electronic counter-measures, secure tactical communications and real-time intelligence and surveillance capabilities, are or shortly will be part of the normal operating inventory.

An early focus of this re-building effort was the Army.

The Government has purchased new fleets of Light Armoured Vehicles and Light Operational Vehicles, providing our forces with increased protection, fire-power and mobility. The Pinzgauer Light Operational Vehicle has proven extremely versatile and capable on operations in Afghanistan, Timor Leste and Solomon Islands.

The Army has new special operations equipment, radar directed air defence systems and anti-armour javelin missiles. Projects have also recently begun to acquire new night vision equipment and to upgrade much of the Army's in service weapons.

Taken together, this equates to a commitment of around $1 billion in new capability for the Army.

For the Navy, we recently approved a $57 million upgrade of the ANZAC frigates platform systems. This will ensure that the vessels systems remain viable for the remainder of the fleet's expected life.

The frigates' Close in Weapons System is also being upgraded. It will provide inner layer defence against close-in threats, complementing the new mini-typhoon machine guns.

A capable blue-water fleet is an important part of the Government's vision of a balanced navy. Next year we will consider options for upgrading the frigates' self-defence system at a cost of over $500 million.

And there are of course the seven new ships for the Navy under Project Protector.

Representing the biggest expansion in the Navy's capabilities since World War II, the new ships will provide amphibious sealift and maritime resource and border protection capabilities.

They will also have important roles to play in responding to disasters in the Pacific and Southeast Asia, search and rescue, supporting counter-terrorist operations and patrolling the Ross Sea and Southern Ocean, as well as our coastal waters.

There have been teething problems with the first ship, HMNZS Canterbury which we are in the process of addressing.

The Coles Report indicated that the ship is intrinsically safe and with some short term remedied work will deliver the Defence Force "a cost effective, versatile and valuable military capability throughout its service life".

So too will the other six ships, the offshore and inshore patrol vessels. The Navy has been impressed with the overall performance of the ships during their sea trials.

However, they will be accepted only when the contractor Tenix, now BAE, has addressed all aspects of performance contracted for, including the seaboats on board the ships.

Taken together, the Government is looking at an investment of well over $1 billion in new ships and infrastructure and upgraded capabilities for the Navy.

The Air Force is undergoing a major renewal of every flying platform worth nearly $1.9 billion.

The two Boeing 757s have already proven their value during the 2006 riots in Tonga. The modification of these aircraft so that they can carry both freight and passengers will further improve their utility in tasks such as the transport of NZDF personnel and disaster and humanitarian relief.

The first upgraded 757 returned to New Zealand in August and is currently being re-introduced into service.

In addition to purchasing and modifying the Boeing 757s, upgrades to the P-3 Orion and C-130 Hercules fleets will also provide enhanced capabilities.

Illegal fishing in the South Pacific is estimated to cost the region up to $660 million per year. The Orions play a key role in policing this activity as well as search and rescue operations.

The aircraft will have a completely new mission suite with leading edge systems capable of both maritime and overland surveillance. It will be able to cover more area, with greater accuracy, for less effort.

The Hercules are receiving a life-extension involving the replacement of their avionics, wings and self-protection systems. Once completed in 2010, this will significantly increase the fleet's reliability.

The Air Force's aging Iroquois and Sioux helicopters will shortly be replaced.

Helicopters play a key role across all three Services. They are amongst the most useful and heavily utilised forms of military equipment, used to deploy New Zealand land forces on operations, as well as counter-terrorism, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations.

The first of the New Zealand NH90 helicopters will come off the assembly line late this year.

Having visited the Eurocopter facility in Marseille in June, I can confirm that these aircraft are several generations ahead of the Air Force's existing Iroquois. It can carry up to 20 passengers, has greater range, speed and load capacity than the current helicopters, and can work off our naval vessels.

The new Agusta-Westland training and light utility helicopters are equally impressive. It is twin-engined, has an integrated digital cockpit and is equipped with ballistic protection and secure communications. It also has an advanced autopilot, is configured for night flying and is able to operate from naval vessels.

But military capability is not just about having the best tools for the job. Most important is sufficient numbers of dedicated, professional personnel willing to use those tools to serve their country, often under harsh conditions and in unfamiliar environments.

The Government is doing more to recruit skilled young New Zealanders into the defence force, while also retaining experienced personnel.

Established in June 2005, the Defence Sustainability Initiative commits $4.6 billion dollars over ten years to rebuild personnel numbers.

The Government's achievements in this area speak for themselves:

As at 31 August this year there were 14,010 Regular Force, Reservist and Civilian personnel within the NZDF.

This represents the highest number of personnel since 2001 and an increase of nearly 1,100 additional personnel since June 2005, despite a tight labour market.

Shortages in some trades, such as marine technicians, remain. But the NZDF is implementing pro-active new strategies to retain existing staff and recruit and train new ones.

A new Military Remuneration System has been introduced which will see an additional $73 million going into remuneration this year, delivering a wage increase for regular and reserve force personnel of between 10 and 12 percent this year.

It will also insure equity between regular and reserve force personnel in terms of pay and daily allowances.

Implementation of the new system appears to be having a positive impact on personnel retention.

The value of these investments, and our willingness to use them in support of our core democratic values, is evident in our Company-level deployments in Timor-Leste and Afghanistan, along with other significant commitments in Solomon Islands and the Middle East.

Currently, we also have a Company in Germany exercising alongside troops from Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States in Exercise Co-operative Spirit, the first such exercise of this nature for several decades.

As I speak over 650 servicemen and women are deployed on operations or exercises around the world, while the frigate Te Mana has just returned from a four-month operation in the Gulf, and Te Kaha is currently exercising in South East Asia as part of the Five Power Defence Arrangements.

This willingness to make meaningful contributions in support of our core values of democracy, a commitment to human rights and the international rule of law is recognised and valued by our partners.

Under the Closer Defence Relations programme with Australia we have seen a strengthened relationship and consistent acknowledgement from our partner that the NZDF plays a crucial role in maintaining security in the Pacific region. Overall, the bilateral defence relationship with Australia is in as good a shape as it has ever been.

The defence relationship with the United States has undergone a major shift over the past nine years. While the US Presidential Directive on defence interaction between our forces remains in force, our relationship is no longer defined by it.

Since the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, there has been an acknowledgement that we can and should work closely together in support of our shared interests, while maintaining our commonly understood difference.


New Zealand's relationship with NATO has also strengthened in recent years. Our commitment to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force mission in Afghanistan has led to our status as a NATO contact country.

In conclusion, the New Zealand Defence Force will end the first decade of the 21st Century in much better shape than it ended the last decade of the 20th Century.

Personnel numbers are up, and our capabilities are more balanced, better matched to our needs and are being used.

Of course we could spend more on Defence. However, $8 billion on top of annual baseline funding of $2 billion is a lot of money. My feeling is that New Zealanders think we have it about right.

That said, the Long-Term Development Plan has passed its mid-point and the Defence Sustainability Initiative will reach it in 2009/10. The time is right therefore to undertake a review of our defence policy.

I see this as an opportunity to reaffirm our defence policy settings in light of the current strategic environment, providing the Government and the public with the confidence that future decisions on Defence continue to be appropriate and matched to our needs.

I look forward to the RNZRSA's contribution to this review.

ENDS

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