Speech to the 2018 New Zealand Defence Industry Association Forum

  • Hon Ron Mark

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Good afternoon.

It is my pleasure to be closing the 2018 New Zealand Defence Industry Association Forum.

I would like to begin by acknowledging the Directors and the Chief Executive of the NZDIA, and thank you for hosting this forum.

I would also like to acknowledge Mayor Grant Smith, Secretary of Defence Helene Quilter, Chief of Defence Air Marshal Kevin Short, and of course, all the industry delegates and Defence personnel here today.     

In July this year I released the Strategic Defence Policy Statement 2018.

This policy statement recognised the important roles and the value the Defence Force delivers to the Community, the Nation and the World.

In the coming months, a revised Capability Plan will be released.

Whereas the Strategic Defence Policy Statement outlined the goals we intend to achieve, the Capability Plan will outline how we plan to achieve them.

For those of you here today representing our current or potential industry partners, I would invite you to consider the Defence Capability Plan to be the start of a conversation on how we can work together.

Indeed, to deliver value to the Community, Nation and World into the future, the importance of fostering strong and enduring relationships with Defence industry suppliers cannot be overstated.

Maintaining a force which is combat capable, flexible, and able to respond to the complex array of challenges we face as a nation will require the support of suppliers who can deliver capabilities which are able to meet these needs.

It is essential that this will include major defence industry partners.

The strength of our collective Defence security rests on our ability to remain interoperable with our partners. The procurement of high end, proven, combat capable equipment will ensure we maintain our ability to contribute. 

As the rate of technological change accelerates, so too will the complexity of our strategic environment. The advent of readily available networked and autonomous capabilities offers us great opportunities, but will also make responding to events more challenging into the future.

Some essential capabilities, such as those relating to space and cyber Defence, are new to us. Solutions to address these challenges will need to be both effective and able to be tailored to our size.

They will need to be sustainable, but adaptable to a rapidly changing strategic environment.

We cannot afford to assume we know how best to address these challenges into the future. Finding the best solutions will require industry players who work with us, and who are agile, innovative, and responsive to our specific requirements.

However, it would be a mistake to define defence industry too narrowly. The value it provides to the Defence Force, and to New Zealand communities, is greater than the delivery of platforms and equipment alone.

Trends such as climate change, transnational crime, irregular migration and terrorism will see the diversity and frequency of events we need to respond to grow. 

We will require strong strategic partnerships for in-service support to enable our capabilities to maintain high availability and be ready to respond to these changes.

Training providers support our service people to be highly trained professionals with the skills to succeed. Garrison support services also ensure that the Defence Force is appropriately resourced to meet the government’s expectations. In addition to equipment, this means delivering construction, accommodation, hospitality, uniforms, and planning services.

In delivering these services, defence industry builds our human capital, creates jobs and skills, and provides significant economic value to our communities.

By virtue of the location of our camps and bases, including Linton, Ohakea, Waiouru, and Woodburne, this value improves the wellbeing of New Zealand’s regional communities.

As I am sure you are aware, the coalition government has committed to a $1billion per annum regional growth fund.

This commitment to supporting New Zealand’s regional communities is one of great importance to me personally.

Furthermore, improving the resilience and sustainability of regional economies will also be a key priority of next year’s wellbeing budget.

Given the relationship between the Strategic Defence Policy Statement, defence industry, and regional growth, it is a great privilege for me to be addressing this forum in the Manawatu.

The Manawatu region and the Defence Force are fundamentally linked, and the region perfectly illustrates the value of Defence and defence industry to our communities.

With around 4000 service people, civilians and contractors, Defence accounts for over 6 percent of all jobs within the greater Manawatu region.

These Defence personnel do not sit apart from the community, but are deeply embedded within it.

Their families attend local schools. They shop at local businesses, where their partners or children may also work. 

In addition to this, through the New Zealand Defence Force over $50 million has been spent on local service providers over the last year to support our camps and bases.

This investment sees the Defence industry of the Manawatu support keeping our capabilities ready to respond for New Zealand.

This relationship is set to grow.

In July of this year I had the honour of announcing the purchase of four Boeing P8-A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft.

Their introduction will see the Royal New Zealand Air Force’s 5 Squadron relocated from Whenuapai to Ohakea.

This announcement exemplifies the principles of the Strategic Defence Policy Statement.

This high end, combat capability, operated by the New Zealand Defence Force, will see New Zealand contribute value to the World. This will range from counter piracy missions which support the international rules based order, to participating in exercises and coalition operations which grow our strategic partnerships.

But more importantly to the people of New Zealand the aircraft will be involved in maritime search and rescue, resource and border protection operations, including in support to other government agencies, it will also offer considerable value to the nation.

In the near term, prior to the introduction of this capability, value will be delivered first to the Manawatu community.

Working with industry, preparation for the P8 capability will provide large scale infrastructure projects. This will result in an increase in jobs and revenue within the region, with positive impacts for the community.

Following the initial phase of construction, the movement of the Squadron will result in highly skilled professionals and their families moving to the region.

Overall in a broader Defence wide context, it is my aim to put a greater emphasis on addressing critical under investment in Defence Estate. 

Walking into my old barracks at Burnham Military Camp and realising that nothing has been done to them in 30 odd years was disappointing. 

There has been critical under investment in the Defence Estate now for decades, and we’re reaching a point where real change needs to happen.

For all the estate plans, and promises of investment from previous Governments, not enough has changed for personnel who live and work on base.

Our people are our greatest asset and this lack of investment isn’t good enough. We need to walk the talk on the Defence Estate.

Improving our vast Defence Estate is a huge job, but I want to assure our people that this is very much on my radar and I will be working with Defence and my Cabinet colleagues to find the best way forward. 

What Government’s previous lack of action in the Defence estate illustrates is that there are plenty of opportunities for Defence, Defence industry, and regional communities, to work together.

Sustaining this wellbeing will require us to build on our resilience. This means we need to grow our relationships further, and to build on and recognise our respective strengths.

Upon reading Sir Brian Roche’s findings of the Review of Defence’s Procurement Practices I was pleased to see the strengthening of Defence’s relationship with industry.

Reflecting the feeling within industry, Sir Brian Roche recognised that both the Ministry of Defence and the New Zealand Defence Force have made great strides in recent years to draw on industry expertise.

Recognising and leveraging from industry expertise allowed us to gain the greatest value for money with the purchase of the dive and hydrographic vessel, HMNZS Manawanui, earlier this year. This expertise allowed for the identification of the MV Edda Fonn from several thousand vessels.

It was this expertise which provided my ministerial colleagues and me with confidence that this procurement would be a success.   

The vessel will now provide a significant increase in capability for the Royal New Zealand Navy, introducing, among other things, a modern dynamic positioning system, upgraded dive systems, and greater remotely operated vehicle capabilities.

Of course, there remains room for improvement. In keeping with the Roache report, it is my expectation that Defence seek earlier and more open engagement with industry.

It is only through early engagement that we will be aware of the options available to us before crucial decisions are taken.

In the same vein, engagement with regional and local councils by both defence industry and our Defence agencies is essential.  At the most basic level, such engagement allows us to work with councils towards mutually beneficial outcomes, and to streamline development processes to better deliver value to our regional communities.

As many of you will be aware I am passionate about the community I live in the Wairarapa. 

During my time as the Mayor of Carterton I was focused on building a vibrant economy but also creating a family-friendly community. 

I strongly believe in the need to build resilience in our communities, and engagement with regional and local councils offers us this.

Understanding forecast growth in our regions and anticipating the needs of our communities into the future means that we can situate ourselves to be able to respond to these needs.

The opportunities which are available to us to improve the wellbeing of our communities are numerous. Achieving our collective objectives will require us to invest in our young people.

Providing them with greater technical and life skills will not only provide them with the ability to advance themselves, but will also provide industry and government with the essential skills demanded by the digital age.

It is for this reason that the government is investing in the Limited Service Volunteer programme. These motivational course delivered by the New Zealand Defence Force with funding and support from the Ministry of Social Development and the New Zealand Police.

The programme targets 17 to 25 year olds who are at risk of long-term unemployment. The trainees stay in on our camps and bases for six weeks, undertaking basic military training, alongside learning job search and life skills.

The programme challenges these young people both mentally and physically. Yet I understand first-hand the positive and motivating impact this can have, and the sense of purpose, drive and self-worth that it provides.

Having entered the military as a 16 year old regular force cadet, I never thought for I would go on to become the Minister of Defence.  This is a real privilege. 

My time in the New Zealand Defence Force taught me a number of things including respect and dignity for other people. 

Working in operational theatres overseas also taught me compassion, as in many instances the people that you have been sent to protect are in the most desperate of situations. 

These young people will be able to leave the programme, before re-joining and contributing positively to their own communities.

To support and grow the Limited Service Volunteer programme, in Budget 2018 we doubled the number of places on the programme from 800 to 1,600, with funding of $26.8 million over four years.

To support the expansion, the Defence Force has received an additional $1.0 million capital funding in 2018/19 for set-up costs at Whenuapai and Trentham.

This funding will cover increasing the size of the facility to deal with the expanded Limited Service Volunteer programme.

Employers from all over the country attend the Employment Expo Day as part of the LSV programme.  During the day, trainees meet with employers and find out about the jobs available, and employers have the opportunity to informally interview the trainees.  Many employers come back again and again, as it’s a great way for them to recruit new staff.

Furthermore, as part of our coalition agreement, we will also be piloting a new Youth Education, Training and Employment initiative for 15 to 17 year olds who are disengaging from the formal education system, and are struggling to find sustainable employment.

Our intention is that this programme will introduce a change in the way the New Zealand Defence Force can participate in the teaching, development and educational/vocational training for our youth.

We intend to bring these young people into a military context, and provide them with an opportunity to work towards literacy and numeracy to at least NCEA Level 2, as well as undertaking vocational training, including apprenticeships, driver’s licenses, hospitality skills and skills in support services.

It is my hope that following the implementation of this programme, that some of these young people will come to work as highly valued members of the Defence Force and the industry represented here today.

In coming to a close, I would like to take a moment to recognise some of the outstanding work which has been achieved by our industry partners.

It has been my pleasure since taking the Defence ministerial portfolio to be able to visit and speak with various companies which represent the principles I have discussed today.

In the Waikato, I toured Loop Technologies premises. This New Zealand owned company is at the forefront of delivering communication and delivery solutions to the New Zealand Defence Force. They have supported and continue to support our naval patrol vessels, and our existing high frequency radio capability.

A similar success has been achieved with the Air Crew Training Capability. This capability will allow for the training of Air Combat specialists to return to New Zealand, and be delivered directly by the Royal New Zealand Air Force.

In August I toured Marops headquarters, and was given a demonstration of the sensor systems which will be installed on the Defence Force’s King Air 350s.

Far beyond air crew training, these systems will allow us to prepare for future capabilities in air surveillance, providing maximum benefit to the Defence Force and the New Zealand public.

This company has also played a key role in the development of the Underwater ISR capability project that has just been completed. 

These technologies will contribute to enhancing our C4ISR and networked capabilities. This area represents one of the most challenging, and it is heartening to see local companies excelling and providing world class solutions.

It is important to recognise those who support Defence and who help to enable the outcomes they deliver on behalf of the Government and the people of New Zealand.

I am keen as the Minister of Defence to look for further opportunities to support New Zealand’s Defence industry and welcome any future opportunities to experience first-hand the work many of you are involved in every day supporting the men and women of the New Zealand Defence Force. 

I am looking forward to seeing many of you again for this evening’s dinner where I will have the pleasure of presenting this year’s Minister of Defence Awards of Excellence.

Please accept my congratulations for your achievements and to everyone here may your journey home from this year’s Forum be a safe one.

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