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Introduction to Defence Forum - Grant Tyrrell

Speech: Introduction to Defence Forum: Grant Tyrrell New Zealand Young Nationals Policy Chair

Defence in New Zealand sits at a cross-roads and I would suggest that the current government, with little or no debate, is shunting us down the dark and narrow path of isolationism. Supported by ideologues such as Keith Locke - a man weaned on the milk of Marx - and the prejudices of a government who still seem to believe that they are running an anti Vietnam rally, not a country. New Zealand's ability to maintain a balanced defence force is being taken apart piece by piece.

First it was the cancellation of the F-16 contract. Even Hon Derek Quigley, commissioned by Helen Clark's government to rubber stamp the cancellation came back with an answer that supported purchasing some F-16s and maintaining a strike capability. A year down the track and we are now two A-4s and a pilot less. The latter a tragedy which should transcend politics. A year on and it is apparent that this government has no intention of retaining a strike capability - leaving others, notably Australia to pick up the tab. Australian commentators have been less than subtle in their response, labelling this "the bludger's option". They may well be right.

Rumblings suggest that there will be no replacement for the frigate Canterbury, rather we will get fisheries patrol vessels because - God forbid - the frigates may be some use in operations overseas or worse, in conjunction with the Americans. I note with concern that our commitment to the economic blockade of Iraq has ended and there is not intention of maintaining our presence in the Gulf after the death of Acting Major McNutt. I particularly note with disgust and sadness that the government chose to announce New Zealand's withdrawal on the eve of his funeral. It is difficult to imagine the pain that this would have caused his family, who believed that he died whilst exercising his duty for his country.

Quite when the US became the enemy is beyond me - maybe there is too much freedom in that country, not to mention the evils of capitalism. But I digress - the last example of Labour's disgraceful treatment of our armed forces I wish to touch upon is the cancellation of Project Sirrius - the Orion upgrades. Apparently there is nothing out there to see. Such clairvoyance is impressive and a bold statement, especially when one considers the he P-3's are a maritime surveillance aircraft and New Zealand is surrounded by quite a large amount of the blue stuff. In fact we have the third largest maritime area of responsibility in the world.

The government has spent money on the Army however. Some of which should be applauded - most of which is the approval of tenders put in place by the last government. Still they have managed to spend enough on armoured vehicles - which may or may not be suitable for the conditions in which they are likely to be deployed - to avoid spending money anywhere else in the other two services.

As it stands NZ will have a highly trained and motivated army - as is the New Zealand tradition - with plenty of fancy toys but no way to deploy them without the support and protection of other nations. Even a low to mid-level crisis such as East Timor could prove to be beyond us - unless the Indonesian's came and picked us up!

'Clearly the government is pursuing a course of great wickedness,' I hear you all cry, 'but what does this have to do with Young Nationals and young people generally?'

Firstly the greatest proportion of people in the armed services are my age or younger. If memory serves the average age of NZ combat soldiers in Timor is around 19-20.

What is more it is our future that this government is gambling with. Our grandparents and great-grandparents fought in two World Wars, under-armed and under-prepared. This country paid the price in blood, losing more combat personnel than any other country on a per capita basis. You would only have to talk to the combat vets of these and other wars to realise that we can never fail to be prepared for the worst again.

No doubt I would be dismissed as a still living in the dark days of the Cold War. Yet our region is arguably now even less stable. In our own backyard there has been Timor, another coup in Fiji and violence in the Solomons which required both Te Kaha and Te Mana to escort the Australian Tobruk in evacuating New Zealand and Australian civilians. Indonesia remains a powder keg, Polynesia, Melaniesa and much of South East Asia are also rumbling with various tensions. And then there is China - has anyone seen the news lately. Clark's empty excuse that the Cold War is over may be just about to fall flat.

Virtually every nation in our region, including those who can lest afford it, are spending more on weopons. We are spending less. Our closest allies - at least until recently - Australia are increasing defence spending and they have recently conducted a public review of defence policy. The concept of public consultation regarding far-reaching defence decisions seems totally alien to this government.

What is also worth noting, especially as young people, is that a great amount of the backlash against our bludging is non-military. Is it any co-incidence the Australian's made drastic changes to social security entitlements for New Zealander's as we leave them alone in the region? Or that Australia has politely told New Zealand that it is abandoning the idea of a CER/US free trade agreement in favour of a unilateral approach based explicitly on their superior defence credentials?

Defence is an insurance policy for our future. I doubt anyone would fail to insure their house because they had not had a fire for several years - yet when it comes to our National Security and Interests this government seems content to let our insurance lapse.

This minority government is taking us down a dangerous path, one where we will be under-prepared for any crisis and alone.

Ladies and gentlemen I am pleased to open this forum.

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