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Govt bungling embarrasses the military

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New Zealand's embarrassing inability to get heavy equipment to East Timor to support our troops is a result of Government mismanagement, Labour associate defence spokesperson Rick Barker said today.

"A Dutch cargo ship is struggling its way to New Zealand to pick up the equipment and may not get to East Timor until mid-October. The military command is being forced to consider sending New Zealand troops into the territory with just the four armoured personal carriers that were airlifted to Darwin.

"The New Zealand Navy has a heavy lifting transport vehicle. But the problem-plagued Charles Upham is currently carrying oranges and lemons around the Mediterranean.

"Because of mismanagement, incompetence and a lack of commitment from the Government the Charles Upham has not had its refit or been replaced.

"The current dilemma was foreseen in the select committee Defence 2000 report. Every political party except National has recognised that New Zealand's most likely military involvement is in a peacekeeping or peacemaking role.

"While National has rushed to buy F16 fighter planes, 8 years before the Skyhawks needed replacing, it's left the Navy without an operational heavy sealift vessel, the army with outdated armoured personnel carriers and radios that first saw service in the Vietnam War.

"It has been clear since Indonesia first agreed to consider a ballot in East Timor that New Zealand could have to make a peacekeeping commitment. The Government has done nothing to prepare and the embarrassing position our forces now find themselves in, is the result," Rick Barker said.

"Incompetent is the only word that adequately describes the National Government's handling of the defence budget."

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