Business as usual for defence brass

Green MP Keith Locke has criticised a government defence framework issued today for not tackling the air and naval combat issues.

“It consciously avoids all the controversial issues, like the future of an air combat force,” said Mr Locke, the party’s defence spokesperson.

The Government misleads when it says the “new approach” is based on last year’s select committee report, Defence Beyond 2000. The Defence Policy Framework is instead a “damp squib”, Mr Locke said.

“Defence Beyond 2000 boldly put forward an option ‘to disband the jet training and strike capability, on purely financial grounds’.

“Without addressing such issues, there won’t be the money for the Framework’s ‘greatest needs’, an ‘upgrade of the Army’s mobility, communications, surveillance and fire-support capabilities’, and better ‘and naval transport capabilities’. Air and naval combat forces currently take a lion’s share of the defence budget, $234 million and $437 million respectively.”

Even worse, the Framework opens the door to major new air and naval combat-related spending. That is, it defines the planned $445 million upgrade of Orions’ anti-submarine detection and anti-radar system as an “urgent capital acquisition” which could proceed even before the completion of a review this year of maritime surveillance.

Participation in South East Asian Five Power Defence Arrangement exercises, which involve primarily Skyhawks, frigates and Orions, are restated in the Framework document.

“Today traditionalists in the Defence Force will be clinking glasses,” Mr Locke said. “Nothing they are currently doing is ruled out. It’s ‘business as usual’. True, the document allows for peacekeeping, which the Greens support. But it also allows for participation in ‘appropriate multinational peace support operation’, outside of UN auspices, like our previous participation in US-led task forces in the Gulf.”

The most positive section in the document is that which stops New Zealand engaging ‘in military cooperation or exercises with the armed forces of states which sanction the use of their armed forces to suppress human rights’. Hopefully, that would be applied not only to the Indonesia, but to governments like Malaysia and Singapore, which persecute their political challengers, Mr Locke said.