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SOS: Ordinary People Getting Involved

Press Statement

Save Our Squadrons Spokesman David Dickens said today that he agreed with Radio New Zealand's political editor Al Morrison's comment (on the stand taken by Sir Brian Elworthy and others on GE) that it was great that ordinary mainstream people will stand up and have their say in this election campaign.

"But what about us" said Dickens. "We have been around longer than this GE lobby group".

"Defence like GE is important to all New Zealanders" said Dickens who asked "why are politicians and the media ignoring this mainstream issue".

"Our polling shows that ordinary New Zealanders have views on defence" said Dickens pointing to a poll commissioned by the lobby group in late 2001. This poll by the reputable polling company Colmar Brunton found that 73% of people want to keep the air combat force, 73% also said they would feel safer if New Zealand had an air combat force. 21% said that this issue was very important to how they would vote at this election and a further 36% said the issue was a factor they would take into account when they voted.

"This is mainstream ordinary New Zealand talking" said Dickens who added that the lobby group was supported by contributions from over 4,000 New Zealanders from all walks of life. "We keep a record of everyone who has donated funds to our Campaign and political journalists are welcome to inspect our records should they wish".

Dickens added that this lobby group "was not beholden to any political party".

"We are taking a robust stance on defence and we want political parties to do the same" said Dickens.

"Defence is just too important an issue to be left to politicians who for the last decade have neglected spending, cut whole capabilities and run down most others, and even sent, on occasion, service people on active service without proper equipment or training".

Defence spending as a percentage of GDP fell from 1.8% under National in 1991 to 1.1% of GDP in 1996. From 1996 to the present both National and labour have kept spending at around 1% of GDP. "The records of both parties on defence spending is very poor" said Dickens. Australian defence spending has remained constant at around 1.8% of GDP.

National cut capabilities by eliminating medium range transport, purchasing the Charles Upham strategic lift ship and then leasing it out so that it could not be used, and by cutting the frigate force from four ships to three. Labour cut the frigate force from three to two ships and disbanded the air combat capability.

Both National and Labour sent troops on peacekeeping missions without proper equipment. National sent troops to Bosnia and Labour to East Timor equipped with the same inadequate gear. Labour even sent a battalion (if not more) of troops to East Timor with out adequate live firing training.

"Politicians need to be held to account in this election" said Dickens who added that "all New Zealanders deserve to know what each political party will deliver on defence and when it will be funded".

"Both Labour and National’s promises on defence sound good but our assessment is that both parties will continue to neglect defence and will try and get away with the barest minimum" said Dickens

Both parties say they will buy new equipment "but funding appears to be deferred to the medium and longer term".

Dickens said the lobby group wanted:

a defence funding increased immediately to 1.5% of GDP

b the air combat force to be restored immediately

c the navy to get a third frigate immediately

d for the army to get the equipment it needs including dedicated air cover immediately

e the full modernisation of the Orions.

Inquiries to David Dickens 04 475 4117

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