• Max Bradford

Palmerston North Convention centre

I am delighted to have been asked here tonight to salute New Zealand companies which have helped make our defence industry the success it has become.

Though the defence industry in New Zealand is relatively young, it has come a long way in a short time - and in my opinion has a great future.

Over the last nine years, New Zealand companies have won contracts worth $A92 million from the Australian Department of Defence.

Defence exports earned New Zealand $95 million in the 97/98 year and grew to $140 million last year.

That is a performance to be proud of and a shining example to all other industry areas.

It exceeds the overseas earnings of other more celebrated export industries, such as wine and mussels.

As a result of this growth, the New Zealand defence industry has developed a significant and positive profile in Australian Government and industry circles.

While jobs were never the main objective, they have been a very important adjunct because of the training and technology transfer opportunities for New Zealanders.

New Zealand companies who work in this area are mainly smaller enterpises for whom defence is but one market segment.

This has led to the development of "dual use" technology which can be used by industry and defence alike, resulting in potential cost savings for Defence.

Most importantly, best practise has become much better practise for the companies involved.

On the other hand, the development of niche products provides an opportunity for Defence to share the costs and benefits of innovation with companies, while through its purchases Defence can act as a catalyst for new technologies.

Industry clusters, using research as a key driver of innovation, and the partnership concept will be keys to success in the future, because they reduce costs of sharing information and resources.

The Defence Cluster and the activities of the Defence Technologies Joint Action Group, or JAG have been important drivers of your industry's success.

Defence-Industry co-operation is not always straight forward.

The vagaries of Defence funding and procurement mean that it is not always possible to provide industries with the advance knowledge they need to invest in appropriate technologies.

In addition, the political process means that there can be significant uncertainties as to the likelihood of purchasers.

Tonight I can give you an assurance that the National Party remains committed to maintaining defence spending and is committed to a balanced defence force.

If re-elected, a National-led government will maintain a blue-water Navy to protect our regional interests and carry through the deal to lease 28 F-16 aircraft.

By blue-water Navy, we mean frigates, well equipped and well armed, and not toy boats, which Labour and the Alliance would expose our Naval men and women in.

It is a tragedy that it has taken East Timor to make many of the critics of our armed forces structure see how important the insurance policy of a well-equipped defence force is.

Those who would reduce defence spending or reduce our three services to a limited ‘niche force' are now strangely quiet.

Opposition parties in Parliament have criticised the age of the equipment of our armed forces.

I have nothing but contempt for those political parties that have, over the last 20 years, held the view we should spend less on defence.

Yet these same people were the first to jump on the ‘invade East Timor' bandwagon, having argued for less funding and a smaller defence Force.

The Government has, since 1997, worked hard to rectify the poor equipment status of our armed forces, often against trenchant political and public opposition.

The additional $663 million on defence spending approved after the 1997 Defence Assessment will be translated into new vehicles, planes and increased firepower which will be in operation or available for use by the end of next year.

At the top of the list was a $500 million re-equipment of the Army.

Virtually everything will be replaced, from the gear soldiers wear, to the APCs they need for protection, and offensive capability.

The Navy and the Air Force will be re-equipped as well.

National will ensure the wake-up call the arm chair defence experts in Parliament have received does not fade from memory.

Over the next few weeks I and my colleagues will be hitting the campaign trail to underline the importance of ensuring that never again are our men and women in the armed services left to operate with outdated equipment.

The structure and role of our Defence Force has emerged as an election issue and a defining difference between National and Labour, the Alliance, New Zealand First and ACT.

As I told Parliament when the House debated out decision to commit troops to East Timor:

"Hospitals and schools are more sexy than armoured personnel carriers, Hercules, frigates, or F-16s. But it's the Defence Force that we all rely on when things really go wrong.

Our Defence Policy needs to be based on realism, the realism of our close relationship to Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, and to the United States.

Our ability to play a real part in the region is one we cannot determine on our own without the close relationship to those neighbours.

Balance in our forces to be able to present a larger whole in promoting peace and security in the region is vital.

The Army, the Navy, the Air Force, all of its elements - including the things that are not regarded by some in Parliament as being sexy - all these are playing a major part in the deployment to East Timor.

To move now to the focus of this evening's gathering; the presentation of the Defence Industry Committee Awards of Excellence.

As I have said in our Bright Future strategy, success in a knowledge age is about effective partnerships between industry, the research and development sector and the tertiary sector.

In many cases, the successes of the finalists here tonight, has resulted from partnerships of this sort.

The common factor that shone through all award finalists was their commitment to the client, and to solving the client's problems.

Equally as impressive was the commitment of the Defence staff who worked with them.

The first finalists are Austral Marine of Whangarei and High Modulus of North Shore for the design and manufacture of the transponder pod fitted to the hydrographic ship HMNZS Resolution.

While the design and manufacture were separate contracts, the two companies worked closely together, and with the Navy, to successfully complete the job.

The pod houses the transponders of the new multi-beam echo sounder used to map our shores.

High Modulus, a world recognised leader in the design of composites, designed it; Austral Marine manufactured it.

Both companies tackled a unique challenge with great enthusiasm and innovation.

An Auckland company, Colorgraphic Print Ltd, prints all the hydrographic charts produced the Royal New Zealand Navy.

Hydrographic chart production is not a simple printing job. It demands a high degree of accuracy from the Navy and from the printing process itself.

Here Colorgraphic excels.

The quality of New Zealand charts is recognised worldwide, with our charts held up as the standard to which others should aspire.

Colorgraphic also offers excellent customer service, and has done good work in helping Navy to adapt to the new market-driven environment.

Dydo Manufacturing from Lower Hutt has been nominated for the light fold-away bedside cabinet it designed and built for the Army's Relocatable Field Surgery.

The problem the company faced was how to supply bedside cabinets for 50 beds without having to provide an additional ISO container to carry them in.

Dydo came up with a unique folding solution, not seen anywhere else in the world. Many of you will have seen the sample on display downstairs.

I hope you looked at the extraordinary amount of detail that went into the final design.

Dydo has responded to a number of similar challenges with equal innovation and enthusiasm, which is why the Army holds the company in such high regard.

Now to Air BP based in Wellington;

Air BP signed a contract with the RNZAF four years ago to supply all aircraft fuels and lubricants. No longer does the RNZAF stock or manage its fuel.

Fuel handling, including staff training, is now entirely managed by the company.

In addition, the RNZAF have full visibility of fuel costs and movements and can, to an extent not previously possible, hedge against anticipated movements in world fuel prices.

The RNZAF has even, with very minor changes, incorporated Air BP manuals into Air Force operating procedures.

Client commitment, innovation, and service guaranteed that Air BP would be a finalist in this year's awards.

Another problem-solver nominated for the awards is Vynco Industries of Christchurch.

The problem which Vynco chose to solve was how to safely reticulate electrical power from portable generators to troops under canvas, their field hospitals, tents, and command posts.

Again, a New Zealand company came up with a unique solution to a problem faced by armies world-wide.

Attention to detail and craftsmanship in design and manufacture are its hallmarks.

Innovation abounds from the design of the lights through to the case used for storage and transportation.

Above all, the system focuses on safety, meeting New Zealand and international standards. It is easy to install and safe to use.

That said, it now gives me great pleasure to announce the winner of this year's Defence Industry Awards of Excellence.

From Vynco, I invite John Vale to come forward and receive the Award.