I want to talk about the huge amount being spent in the Defence Budget. $1.63 billion. That’s much too much for a small, peaceloving country at the bottom of the South Pacific.
The biggest chunk of it is wasted on air and naval combat forces, Skyhawks and frigates. $671 million for the coming year.
The Green Party had been hoping that after the cancellation of the F-16 contract, we’d be moving rapidly to rid ourselves of the Skyhawks, Which are costing $234 million, in this year’s budget.
Last year’s Defence Beyond 2000 report, Put air combat at the bottom of its priority list, and put forward as one option “to disband the jet training and strike capability” of the Defence Force. Because as the report said: they’ve never been used. And they’re never likely to be.
When we look at East Timor, Bougainville, Fiji or the Solomons. The Skyhawks have been irrelevant. Incredibly, the just-announced Defence Policy Framework fails to mention the air combat force at all. The Defence Minister says they won’t be deciding one way or another. For possibly seven years.
A neither for nor against policy for seven years – which is hardly credible with the New Zealand public. Particularly when its costing the taxpayer $234 million a year.
The Skyhawks and the frigates are relics of our dependency on American-alliance based policies. Our skyhawks and frigates being part of a larger taskforce confronting some global enemy – like in the Cold War.
East Timor, Bougainville, Fiji and the Solomons have shown us that we need two things: 1. On the military level Peacekeepers, properly trained, and with good mediation and cultural skills.
2. And that we need sea and air transport – Hercules, helicopters and a transport ship. We’ve been using frigates like Te Mana in the Solomons to transport people and goods. Frigates are not configured for that.
The government is talking of spending hundreds of millions of dollars on revamping our peacekeeping equipment and getting a functioning transport ship. But surely we need to sell off the Skyhawks, if we’re not to dramatically increase next year’s defence budget.
The second and most fundamental road to Pacific security is to encourage development, social justice and human rights. Our own development aid in the Pacific is critical. One figure that struck me is that our total Overseas Development Assistance programme is costed at $227 million in the budget (only up $7 million for the year). Less than the $234 million budgeted for air combat.
We could do so many things with $234 million. People are worried about the varroa bee mite – a huge threat to our agriculture – which is very expensive to eradicate. You could wipe out a power of bee mites with $234 million.
I’m not saying we could save the whole $234 million in this year’s budget. There would be a transitional period. But we could begin the mothballing and sale process.
So I propose that the government take $100 million this year off the amount budgeted for Air Combat Forces. It is not only support for economic and social development that is important for security in the South Pacific. Human rights is equally important, and I welcome the section in the Defence Policy Framework document saying:
“New Zealand will not engage in military cooperation or exercises with the armed forces of states which sanction the use of their armed forces to suppress human rights.”
This could apply to Fiji if the army does not allow a return to constitutional rule. And in that spirit the Green Party would like to give its full support to the Council of Trade Unions’ week-long ban on the handling of good to Fiji. It is a short-term action, called for by those suffering in Fiji, represented by the Fiji Trade Union Congress in particular.
Our government should be praising CTU unionists for sacrificing wages in the cause of democracy in Fiji. Instead it is warning the CTU of legal consequences.
This adds weight to the Greens call for political strikes to be allowed under the Employment Relations Bill currently before Parliament. We want to encourage our people to stand up for the human rights of fellow citizens of this planet.