A major step towards nationhood

The announcement today is a major step towards nationhood. Towards acting as an independent country.

For too long, in defence equipment, we’ve just gone along with what Australia, America or Britain want us to have.

The Skyhawks and frigates are irrelevant to New Zealand’s needs.

They’ve been geared primarily to fight major wars under American or Australian command. The $565 million Project Sirius anti-submarine upgrade for the Orions was also designed to help the Americans. Everyone knows there is no submarine threat to New Zealand.

Today I’m proud to be a New Zealander and I’m proud that we are asserting our sovereignty.

In scrapping the Skyhawks and moving away from frigates we are cutting an umbilical cord that has long tied us to the military strategies of others – America and its deputy sheriff, Australia.

Today’s announcement doesn’t mean we’re isolating ourselves. In fact it means just the opposite.

The United States is politically isolated in its determination to build a National Missile Defence system.

This will spark a new nuclear arms race, disastrous to humankind, and an anathema to nuclear-free New Zealand.

Australia, to its shame, is backing the Missile Defence system, and will be using the Pine Gap facility to support it. The rest of the world is horrified that this is going ahead.

The United States and Australia are isolated in their determination to continue aerial surveillance along China’s coastline.

As Australian journalist Greg Sheridan has pointed out, it could have been an Australia P3 Orion, rather than an American EP-3, that was forced to land on Hainan Island. Australian P3s do the same patrols.

The whole point of the Project Sirius upgrade for our Orions, which thankfully is cancelled as of today, was to bring our Orions up to Australian specifications so that New Zealand Orions could work with the Australians on such missions far away from New Zealand.

Today no-one is arguing that we should cut ourselves off from the Australians – on appropriate missions. Like those where we already work well together – in East Timor, Bougainville and the Solomons.

The changes announced today will enable us to continue to participate in such valuable and practical work together. However these changes will also ensure we do not waste our time and money on expensive naval and air combat exercises with Australia for which there are no positive operational outcomes.

After some 30 years we will be bidding farewell to the Skyhawks without ever having seen them used on an actual operation, without them ever having fired a shot in anger.

The Greens welcome our deployment alongside the Australians in East Timor. We have hundreds of soldiers there – not because anyone put pressure on us, but because New Zealanders are passionate about protecting the East Timorese and helping them reconstruct their devastated country.

We work well, not only with Australia, but with many other nations under the UN umbrella in East Timor.

A focus on UN peacekeeping, not allied warfighting, is where today’s defence announcement points us.

This is well overdue, and will be welcomed by most New Zealanders. Any idea that Helen Clark or the Greens are out of step with public opinion on this is rubbish.

The government is actually just catching up with public opinion.

Way back in the 80s 70 per cent of New Zealanders were against us getting new frigates. There’ll be real enthusiasm to replace the frigate Canterbury with a multi-purpose deep-water ship that can be used on a variety of missions from fisheries zone enforcement to peacekeeping support.

We’ve just sent the ANZAC frigate Te Mana up to the Solomons to back the peacekeeping effort there.

But a frigate is clearly not the most appropriate boat – it is overarmed. The militias in the Solomons are not going to send out warships against us.

Wouldn’t it be better if we’d had been able to send the long-range multi-purpose boat the government is planning to buy?

This boat won’t be clogged up with big guns and sophisticated missile and anti-missile systems the way our frigates are.

In the 80s, the National Party used to scaremonger about what would happen if we went nuclear-free. It would be disaster if ANZUS died, they said.

But life went on and the sky didn’t fall in. And we are now proud we are nuclear-free.

What we are doing today is the next big step towards a more independent, peace-loving, New Zealand.

And again, the people will like it.

Most New Zealanders know we’re not getting value for money out of the Skyhawks, nice though it is to watch them at air shows.

We can all think of many ways to spend the $200 million wasted each year on maintaining an air combat force.

Part of that money can be used to do up the revelant parts of our air force – the Hercules and the helicopters, which are our real workhorses and as such are much used in East Timor.

The Hercules and helicopters also have important peacetime uses, bringing in relief supplies during disasters. The Iroquois are invaluable for search and rescue.

For maritime search and rescue the Orions will be more available now that they don’t have to charge off around the world on anti-submarine exercises in Britain, Australia or Canada. They’ll also have more time to do fisheries monitoring, assisted by the new patrol boats the government plans to get.

The real threat to our coastal waters, and those of our Pacific Island neighbours, is not a military one, but overfishing, oil spills, smuggling and the like.

The Greens fully support and endorse this defence announcement.It will enable us to be a play a greater global role as a peacemaking country.

We won’t be isolating ourselves – rather we’ll be entering the mainstream.

For the last 50 years New Zealand has been a military captive – the smallest and most dependent nation in The Tight Five – a defence and intelligence club of the five anglo countries – America, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

We are now in the process of breaking free. To be more independent. To deal with countries in our region and further afield in an evenhanded way through inclusive regional bodies and the United Nations.

But we have some distance still to travel.

We should start to think about letting go of the two ANZAC frigates and we should certainly stop being a spy agency for America as we are through the Waihopai satellite communication interception station near Blenheim.

We should think twice before again getting involved in things like the American-led task forces in Kuwait, which is helping the US and British bombing of Iraq. Such involvement is contrary to our peacemaking role in the world.

The Greens welcome the re-equipment of the army for peacekeeping, but we think this can be done without increasing the defence budget.

We think the defence budget could be reduced, and we offer one suggestion as to how this could be done.

Currently, we spend $400 million a year on the naval combat force. That is for running the frigates.

I agree that there will be significant operational costs associated with the new multi-purpose boat to replace the Canterbury. But with less combat weaponry it will be cheaper to run.

The big savings would come from getting rid of the two ANZAC frigates. If we saved, say, $200 million a year by dumping the two frigates that would be equal to the new capital spending proposed today – $2 billion over 10 years – which includes that already announced for army equipment.

The Greens celebrate today’s announcement as a defining turning point for our nation.

A small cabal of right-wing politicians and military dinosaurs has been frustrating the people’s mood for change for many years. Some of them have convinced themselves they had the people behind them.

But I think that when the dust settles we’ll find there is a substantial majority behind the changes announced today.

I congratulate the government for its courage in taking this step.


Speech notes in Parliament