New Zealanders Want EffectiveDefence Force

  • Max Bradford

Opinion polls on defence traditionally show that a large majority of New Zealanders want a strong, effective Defence Force, but are less keen to pay for it, Defence Minister Max Bradford said today.

"This is a natural reaction, but it is one of the primary tasks of any responsible Government to maintain security for its citizens - both in the traditional sense and economic security.

"We should take a considered view on this. The decision we take on the third frigate, and therefore on the future of New Zealand's blue water navy, will be with us for 30 years or so."

Mr Bradford said an opinion poll carried out by UMR-Insight earlier this year (commissioned by the Ministry of Defence) found seventy per cent of people polled want a strong and effective national Defence Force, while nearly 80 per cent want our forces to actively contribute to international peace keeping operations (see attached media release).

He said another poll, carried out by Colmar Brunton in May (commissioned by the defence industry) found that 54 per cent of people polled supported buying a third frigate when they became aware that much of the building work would be done in New Zealand, while 36 per cent were against it.

"A clear majority (72 per cent) felt that defending New Zealand's coastline is a key defence requirement. It is hard to see how that can be done without a blue water navy given our seas.

"In March the Government made a commitment to ensure that we do have a well equipped Defence Force, not one continuing to run on equipment that in many cases is older than our service people, and has been an embarrassment to New Zealand in places like Bosnia and Bougainville.

"In spite of this, our defence personnel have performed extraordinarily well in the face of decisions made by past Governments to deny the Defence Force proper equipment.

"The most critical deficiencies are being rectified as a first priority - particularly modernising the Army so that it can undertake the more demanding peace support operations which are likely to arise."

Mr Bradford said the Government decided last year to cut the traditional four Navy frigates to only three in order to save money yet retain a credible minimum number.

"Logic tells us that as a small, island nation in the South Pacific we need a Navy that is capable of going well beyond our shores in order to protect our fisheries, our vast exclusive economic zone, for search and rescue and disaster missions, and to play our role in international peace keeping operations," he said.

"Criticism from the Labour Party leader is typical. Ms Clark was part of a Labour Government that denied critical equipment replacement programmes for the Army and Air Force for years.

"Labour ordered two ANZAC frigates, and took options for two more, so it is a bit rich for her now to argue we don't need three. If she is, then clearly her hidden agenda is to destroy New Zealand's Navy. A two frigate fleet just isn't viable and she knows it."

Mr Bradford said the decision the Government faces in the near future is whether to order a third new ANZAC frigate, given the production line will close soon and that the HMNZS Canterbury retires in 2005.

"It is not a decision we will take lightly, and whatever decisions are taken by this Government in relation to a third frigate, all costs will be within the current Defence budget and not involve taking money from any other Votes."