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Max Bradford Speech In Troop Deployment Debate

Hon Max Bradford
Minister of Defence

17 September 1999

Defence Minister Hon Max Bradford’s speech to Parliament during today’s special sitting to debate deployment of New Zealand Troops to East Timor:

“Sending our young men and women into danger, indeed into a war zone, is no easy decision. I have to say as Minister of Defence it is one of the most solemn responsibilities I have had to prepare for…what is now clearly the inevitability of entry into East Timor. I think it is the right thing to do.

“The majority of New Zealanders think it is the right thing to do.

“East Timor deserves the democracy it voted for in the recent referendum.
The East Timorese do not deserve the thuggery and the destruction that has been foisted upon them by a militia nurtured by hatred, and, as is becoming increasingly clear, by elements of the Indonesian Army. The Prime Minister has referred to East Timor as our own Kosovo.

“The comparisons are eerie. The genocide and the stripping of East Timor of hundreds of thousands of its people and the burning and looting of its infrastructure is something we have not seen in our part of the world since World War II. It is horrible. It is right that we, together with other like-minded nations, under the banner of the United Nations, help restore the peace and security the people of East Timor deserve. It is right that we play a significant part in settling peace and security in the region. After all, Indonesia is on our doorstep and it is in Australia’s porch.

“The reality is that Indonesia stands abreast of our most important trade routes into Asia. It is the largest, most populous country in our region after China. It deserves to have a major role in the peaceful activities of the region.

“The reality is it has a large military of 460,000 men and women. But it cannot be a peaceful player in the region with internal insecurity that spills over to us in a variety of ways, whether that be in the sense of refugees, of internal civil strife, or, most important for this House, a lack of respect for the human rights we believe to be right and the world believes to be right.

The United Nations mandate, now confirmed, and now being supported in a material way by many other nations in the region, is the vehicle for restoring freedom and democracy in East Timor.

“But this House should have absolutely no doubt this will be a dangerous mission for all those involved in it. There will be casualties, real casualties, but our bulwark against those casualties is the training, the equipment, and the leadership of our armed forces.

“It is not often we have in the House the uniformed officials we see sitting on the bench – men and women in our military who stand ready to do the dangerous things many of us would think twice about tackling. Heavy are their responsibilities. I think we are indeed fortunate to be involved with our Aussie mates in this deployment. We might argue with them, we might disagree with them, we might fight with them from time to time, we might beat, or get beaten by them, in rugby and cricket, but there is no nation in this world other than Australia, that I would want to see us stand alongside when our backs are to the wall.

“I say to John Howard, and to my colleague, John Moore, the Australian Minister of Defence, ‘You can depend on us. I know we can depend on you, because we will have to in the course of the next few months.’

“In the last few days, under the umbrella of APEC, but also as the result of an awful lot of work behind the scenes over the last 2 years, New Zealand has rediscovered just how important our relationship with the United States is. In a way the US has said to us in this region: ‘We can’t come and do everything for you’.

“They will give us the background support that we badly need, but essentially, this is our show. There is nothing like a dose of reality to see how important the insurance policy of a well-equipped defence force is. Some here today have criticised the equipment of our armed forces. Some of that criticism, perhaps much of it, is justified, but everybody in this House has to share part of that shame.

“Hospitals and schools are more sexy than armoured personnel carriers or Hercules or frigates, or F16s. But they are just as important when things really go wrong. The debate on defence, begun in the 1997 Defence Assessment, and picked up by a Select Committee of this House, is a healthy debate. But it needs to be based on realism, the realism of our vital and close relationship to Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, and to the United States. Our ability to play a real part in the region is one we cannot determine on our own without the close relationship to those neighbours.

“If one thing has become clear to me, and to my Australian colleague John Moore, it is that both New Zealand and Australia are finding out just how critical our relationship through the Closer Defence Relationship is, and it has been sorely tested in East Timor. Balance in our forces to be able to present a larger whole in promoting peace and security in the region is a vital one. The Army, the Navy, the Air Force, all of its elements – including the things that are not regarded by some in this House as being sexy – will be shown to play a major part in the deployment to East Timor.

“It is to the people of the Defence Force that I would now like to turn. There are few ministerial portfolios any politician can have where they can honestly say they love every day of the year. I can say Defence is one of them. It is not the easiest thing in the world to ask one’s Cabinet colleagues for millions of dollars for equipment purchases on an insurance policy that may never be called upon. Often we take decisions that are too little and too late. Perhaps we have come some way, and, as a number of members in this House have said, this has been a wake-up call.

“The thing that really makes me proud, as Minister of Defence, are the young men and women in our forces. I see them every day prepared to make sacrifices in a way that is essential for our peace and security. That is the pleasure I get from working for the men and women in the Defence Force, and it is with, in some ways, a heavy heart, but with the best wishes I am sure of every Member in this House, that we send 1,000 young men and women to East Timor to do our bidding” said Mr Bradford.


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