How vi­tal is our de­fence spend?



I wish to thank the two ladies who came to my aid when I tripped out­side Te Rau­paraha Arena in pour­ing rain re­cently.

I am­sorry you both had to get wet, but thank you so much for your as­sis­tance.


A col­umn about rates and the An­nual Plan (City Fo­cus, Fe­bru­ary 2) stated that Porirua City Coun­cil re­lies more heav­ily on res­i­den­tial rates than other coun­cils.

That was in­cor­rect. We rely more on ratepay­ers in gen­eral, not just res­i­den­tial, than other coun­cils.

In fact, 74 per cent of our rev­enue comes from ratepay­ers com­pared to the na­tional av­er­age of 54 per cent. We apol­o­gise for the con­fu­sion.

Thrift tends to be re­garded as a sign of fis­cal virtue, and Fi­nance Min­is­ter Bill English has of­ten dis­tin­guished be­tween spend­ing on things it would be nice to have those deemed nec­es­sary.

Last week, this fru­gal­ity was demon­strated in con­tro­ver­sial ways, no­tably in the slash­ing of com­mu­nity men­tal health­care in Christchurch, and in the fresh round of ma­jor sav­ings re­quired of district health boards.

There is at least one strik­ing ex­cep­tion.

Luck­ily for the politi­cians, the pub­lic has yet to re­alise the scale of spend­ing en­vis­aged for the de­fence force, and what the pub­lic may have to forgo to main­tain the mil­i­tary in the man­ner to which they’ve be­come ac­cus­tomed.

Our frigates, cargo planes and sur­veil­lance air­craft are all due for re­place­ment, al­most si­mul­ta­ne­ously. In late Jan­uary, Jane’s Aero­space, De­fence and Se­cu­rity mag­a­zine re­ported that New Zealand had adopted a de­fence pro­cure­ment plan of about $NZ11 bil­lion by 2025.

That is a stu­pen­dous amount. In the light of this loom­ing com­mit­ment, tax cuts in elec­tion year 2017 seem im­plau­si­ble – given that more than $1 bil­lion will be al­lo­cated for new mil­i­tary gear each year, ev­ery year, for the next decade. And for what pur­pose, ex­actly? Last year, the de­fence force as­sess­ment de­clared that New Zealand faced lim­ited threats, and that any change to the threat en­vi­ron­ment would give us am­ple time to ad­just.

‘‘New Zealand could there­fore ex­pect to have a rea­son­able amount of time to re-ori­en­tate its de­fence pri­or­i­ties should this be nec­es­sary,’’ it said.

‘‘Al­though there is no di­rect threat to our ter­ri­to­rial in­tegrity, New Zealand faces a range of other threats from state and non­state ac­tors, in­clud­ing cy­berthreats and ter­ror­ism.’’ Cy­ber-threats and ter­ror­ism? It is not ob­vi­ous how new frigates, cargo planes and spot­ter planes would help to de­fend us from any dan­gers posed by (a) hack­ers or (b) ter­ror­ists at home or abroad.

It looks more as if the de­fence force is merely pluck­ing off the shelf the next gen­er­a­tion of gear to ful­fil de­fence roles that were de­fined in the Cold War era, 30 years ago or more.

Nor has the New Zealand de­fence force been on the bread­line in re­cent years.

Ac­cord­ing to the Jane’s anal­y­sis, our de­fence pro­cure­ment bud­gets for 2011-14 to­talled $US664.24 mil­lion.

In sum, there seems lit­tle ra­tio­nal jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for the spend-up that be­gan – in early Fe­bru­ary, the Govern­ment en­dorsed a mas­sive $441 mil­lion upgrade of the weapons and sen­sor sys­tems on our cur­rent frigates, with­out the de­fence force be­ing able to con­firm un­equiv­o­cally that such up­grades would be trans­fer­able to the new frigates that are on the na­tion’s shop­ping list early next decade.

If not, those $441 mil­lion up­grades risk be­ing money down the drain.

Ul­ti­mately, it comes down to pri­or­i­ties.

The health sys­tem is strug­gling to af­ford new medicines, and seems cur­rently un­able to at­tract and re­tain suf­fi­cient num­bers of spe­cial­ists, largely be­cause it can­not af­ford glob­ally com­pet­i­tive wages and work con­di­tions.

No doubt, the $441 mil­lion weapons upgrade for the frigates would be nice to have.

Yet the politi­cians will have their work cut out when it comes to con­vinc­ing the pub­lic that mil­i­tary spend­ing should be an over-rid­ing pri­or­ity.

Talk­ing pol­i­tics

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