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.