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Q+A: Govt will protect identities of NZ troops - Brownlee

Q+A: Government will protect the identities of all NZ troops in Iraq - Gerry Brownlee

Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee told TV One’s Q+A programme that the Government will protect the identities of all NZ troops in Iraq.

MICHAEL ‘Do you believe there is a credible threat to the families of those soldiers that are going to serve in Iraq?

GERRY I don’t think it is a threat that we should be worrying about on a daily basis, but it is sufficient for us to want to make sure that the identities are protected, ..

MICHAEL And that’s of all the troops that are going over there, as opposed to a select handful?

GERRY That’s right.’

Mr Brownlee also told the programme the troops won’t be going to Iraq unless the government has documentation ‘that means that soldiers undertaking the activities as military people are exempted or removed from the civil and military court processes..’

MICHAEL ‘But the ones that are going in April. By the time April rolls around, these troops leave, you will have an agreement along those lines?

GERRY Absolutely. They won’t be going if we don’t have it.

MICHAEL And how can you be so sure of that when you haven’t got it so far?

GERRY Because they haven’t gone yet, and so we won’t say, ‘Get on the plane and go’ if we haven’t got it.’

Q+A, 9-10am Sundays on TV ONE and one hour later on TV ONE plus 1. Repeated Sunday evening at 11:35pm. Streamed live at www.tvnz.co.nz

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Q + A
Episode 4
Interviewed by MICHAEL PARKIN

GERRY There will be some changes. I think it was pretty obvious in the early days that EQC covering contents, for example, was not a particularly useful thing for anybody, so that’s likely to go.

MICHAEL And what impact does that have on people’s insurance premiums? Obviously, the private insurer then picks up that aspect of it.

GERRY Yeah, and I think most people will respond to the information coming from their private insurers around that. So at the moment the first $20,000 of your contents are covered through EQC, and that will be the case until there is a change, but it’s a likely change.

MICHAEL And will people’s premiums change as a result? You know, is the back pocket going to be better off or worse off under any of these changes?

GERRY Well, insurance premiums change all the time, but one of the things that’s been really useful in all of this has been the way in which EQC have managed the claim process that’s meant that their reinsurers, the people who put capital up to back up a big scheme like this, have stayed on board, and that price has meant that in this year we’ve been able to buy more cover for the same money than we had this time last year. So it’s a dynamic situation. We put the price up a couple of years ago, and periodically that price obviously would rise as the value of the liability goes with it, but I wouldn’t expect any great price shocks from any change we might make.

MICHAEL If we can turn our attention to those quake outcasts. We obviously had that Supreme Court judgement last week which found the process by which you reached that 50% offer was unlawful. Can those people expect a greater payout than 50% now?

GERRY I’m not making a comment about that, because the court has told us to go back and look at it through a lens that is visible in 2015. I’m not sure where that’s going to end up.

MICHAEL Haven’t these people already waited long enough for an answer? That was one of the criticisms in the judgement about the impact it’s had on their lives. Why can’t they just get a number and move on with their life?

GERRY Well, that would ask the question, ‘Why do you have insurance? Why don’t we just leave it all to the government all the time?’ And we don’t.

MICHAEL These people couldn’t get insurance in some cases.

GERRY With all due respect, in many cases, they could have had some, because they had buildings on their properties. In New Zealand, no one is able to insure land anywhere, and we lose sections of land through accretion, through river changes, through flood activity regularly in New Zealand.

MICHAEL So you’re pretty keen to stick to that 50% offer, then?

GERRY No. I’m keen that we follow the direction that was set down initially by the Court of Appeal and upheld by the Supreme Court.

MICHAEL Because it was only $21 million to pay out that 50%.

GERRY Well, I’ll put it to you another way, and I don’t want this to be seen in any way as a prejudicial position that I’m taking. But if you had been given an 100% offer so called by the government but you’d had to assign half of your insurance land value to the government, and then you found out that the government was giving someone else 100% of their land value with no assignment, how would you feel? And there are thousands out there who might rightly say, ‘Well, actually, if you’re giving them a large sum of money without cover, then why aren’t we getting it?’ Let me finish that by saying it is complex. We’re treating the Supreme Court decision very seriously and will most certainly follow the process the court has required us to do.

MICHAEL So, if we can move on to asset sales - another thing that is really riling people up down here. The council is now looking at selling off $750 million worth of assets to avoid some pretty massive rates rises. But you don’t think that goes far enough?

GERRY Well, look, I think the concept of putting rates up in this city is just not realistic.

MICHAEL How far beyond $750 million do you-?

GERRY I don’t think you can put a particular price on it. What I think they need to do, and I’m sure that the council will get there. I’ve got to say the council have been edging their way to a position that I think will leave them in a good space progressively. What really is necessary is a sales process that gets you the highest possible price. If you go out and say, ‘Look, I’m just going to sell a little bit of this and a little bit of that,’ then you’re not going to get any premium on it at all. And if you’re going to sell something, you may as well get as much for it as you possibly can. That’s my real point.

MICHAEL Does the council need to be a majority shareholder in the likes of the airport, the port and Orion?

GERRY I don’t think so, particularly if you look at something like the airport. It’s essentially a real estate company that just provides parking for planes. You could break it down to being that simple. It’s still going to get used. It’s still going to provide the service the city requires whoever owns it. It is partly price controlled through the Commerce Act, as is Orion. Completely price controlled. So the idea that someone else would buy it and the pricing of your electricity lines are going to become completely out of control is completely wrong.

MICHAEL If we can turn to your other portfolio, that being defence, I understand the reconnaissance team from the NZDF is now in Iraq, so we are officially, for all intents and purposes, at war with ISIS?

GERRY No. We are there to assist the Iraqi security forces in their training of their soldiers, and they are most certainly locked in a battle with ISIS. But we shouldn’t assume that New Zealanders aren’t affected by this particular terrorist grouping. They have very broad tentacles, deep connections and extraordinary reach to people who are disaffected through social media such that we’ve never seen before. They are also financially resourced in ways that other terrorist organisations haven’t been, and they have a message that is very much opposed to the way of life that we enjoy here in New Zealand.

MICHAEL But those troops that will head up there in April, they won’t have the protection of a Status of Forces Agreement? Is that still the case?

GERRY It’s interesting to note that Status of Forces Agreements haven’t been in place for a number of other deployments undertaken by previous governments.

MICHAEL They were in place in Afghanistan.

GERRY No, they weren’t.

MICHAEL There was no Status of Forces Agreement there?

GERRY No, there wasn’t.

MICHAEL Timor-Leste?

GERRY I’m not sure about Timor-Leste, but-

MICHAEL Solomon Islands?

GERRY On those sorts of deployments, it’s not likely there were Status of Forces Agreements. The real point, though, is that what you want is documentation that means that soldiers undertaking the activities as military people are exempted or removed from the civil and military court processes inside that country and have free passage of movement and able to carry weapons and discharge them in appropriate circumstances.

MICHAEL And so New Zealand troops will be afforded those protections should they have to turn their weapon on someone, on a civilian in Iraq for whatever reason that they won’t be prosecuted in Iraqi courts? You’re confident of that?

GERRY That’s the sort of agreement we want. Now, we don’t intend that our soldiers would be going out shooting civilians-

MICHAEL No, but you-

GERRY But if they are fired upon, then it would be unconscionable to have them in a position where they couldn’t fire back.

MICHAEL So it’s the agreement you want, but it’s not the agreement you have, and yet these guys are off in April.

GERRY No, these guys are there under- they’re doing a diplomatic mission, the fellows who are there at the moment.

MICHAEL But the ones that are going in April. By the time April rolls around, these troops leave, you will have an agreement along those lines?

GERRY Absolutely. They won’t be going if we don’t have it.

MICHAEL And how can you be so sure of that when you haven’t got it so far?

GERRY Because they haven’t gone yet, and so we won’t say, ‘Get on the plane and go’ if we haven’t got it.

MICHAEL In terms of the soldiers themselves, how do they feel about the fact there isn’t widespread political support and even public support for this mission?

GERRY Well, look, people who join the New Zealand Defence Force are people who have my total admiration because they choose to put on a uniform knowing that they may be called on in defence of their country or to carry out a mission like this one which is in support of the way of life that we enjoy in this country. And they are very keen to deploy. Yes, it must be hard on their families, but that’s the choice that you make, I guess, when you sign on to be part of the Defence Force. It’s why I think their commitment is so admirable.

MICHAEL Have any pulled out?

GERRY Not to my knowledge.

MICHAEL You mention the social media strategy that ISIS have and the far reach that they have. Is there a fear for the families of the soldiers that are going back, here in New Zealand, that there will be any repercussions they could face from groups, given they have this wider outreach?

GERRY Well, we’re going to make sure that they have all the necessary protections. Part of it will be ensuring that identities are not easily gathered by these sorts of organisations.

MICHAEL How do you go about doing that?

GERRY If I was to do that, I would be telling a very sophisticated organisation what they need to do to unpick what we’re doing.

MICHAEL That’s quite a sea change, isn’t it, because quite often we’ve been invited out to see troops deploying overseas. Is that going to be the case this time?

GERRY We will still want to recognise that certainly at a government level in some way. It will just be a little different this time.

MICHAEL Do you believe there is a credible threat to the families of those soldiers that are going to serve in Iraq?

GERRY I don’t think it is a threat that we should be worrying about on a daily basis, but it is sufficient for us to want to make sure that the identities are protected, etc.

MICHAEL And that’s of all the troops that are going over there, as opposed to a select handful?

GERRY That’s right.

MICHAEL This mission, overall, what does success look like to you?

GERRY In the end, you have to have a government that accepts the rule of law and is about the development of people who live in any particular country, and you want a high degree of democracy around that as well. So, for us, it’s the current Iraqi Government becoming more successful. It’s Iraqi security forces making the sort of progress that you’re seeing at the moment in the northern part around Tikrit and the diminished status of the terrorist organisation. Terrorist organisations will sprout up all over the place, but this one needs to be seriously nipped in the bud. But we’ve got a finite time on what that commitment is, and at the end of it, we would expect that we would be able to say we’ve made a significant contribution to the professionalism of the Iraqi security forces and we have met the request that the Iraqis have made of us.

MICHAEL That professionalism of the Iraqi forces - there are reports from the ABC in the United States this week that some of those US-trained special forces, Iraqi special forces groups, have been carrying out crimes against humanity and war crimes that are backed up by some pretty graphic imagery. Are you confident that this is a force that we want to get involved in the training of?

GERRY Well, there are many types of activities around the fight against the Daesh - ISIL - and some of them are more in the lines of vigilante-type forces that are not directly under the control of the Iraqi security forces.

MICHAEL But these are badged special force Iraqi soldiers.

GERRY Well, that’s not my understanding, and I think the real point is that is why I think we can make a contribution in a place like that, because our military people have very high standards about the rules of engagement.

MICHAEL And the Americans didn’t?

GERRY Well, you’re putting something to me that I’m not aware of or have knowledge of. I think when you’ve got various militia that parade themselves in the fight against the Daesh, it’s not always easy to work out exactly what the command structure is behind them. We’re working with the Iraqi Government and the formal Iraqi security forces.

MICHAEL Gerry Brownlee, that is where we will leave it. Thank you very much for your time.

GERRY Thank you.


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