Calendar Girls took centre stage at Kapiti Playhouse in Ruahine St. Paraparaumu.
‘‘Secular cathedrals’’ is the title Ellwood uses when describing the country’s little and not so little performance spaces, spaces where actors, musicians and talented members of our blooming film industry blossom, earning for New Zealand an international reputation deserved and proudly enjoyed by us all.
On Anzac Day, we tend to look back warmly at the military links between this country and Australia. Yet in future, this relationship may not be quite so straightforward.
In a White Paper, Australia recently outlined a massive programme of $A189 billion in new defence spending over the next 10 years. Without naming China, the White Paper clearly painted Beijing as the emerging military threat in the Asia-Pacific region. This poses a diplomatic challenge for New Zealand.
Our own Defence White Paper is due any day now. Somehow, we will have to satisfy the expectations of our closest military partner (Australia) without offending our prime trading partner (China).
The niceties of that balancing act will aggravate a political problem – domestically – for the Government.
Essentially, the Key Government has to justify New Zealand’s own planned spend-up on new frigates, military reconnaissance aircraft and cargo planes etc.
Experts estimate this will cost about $NZ11 billion over the next decade.
The splurge on new military hardware is occurring at a time when the Government is drastically skimping on the likes of hip operations, mental health services and the education support required by special needs children.
Politically or morally, can such priorities be justified?
Because we need to woo China as a trading partner, New Zealand can’t even suggest to the voting public that Beijing could be a developing military threat in the Asia-Pacific region, assuming such a fear was credible.
During peacetime, trade imperatives always do tend to inhibit any government’s ability to hold an open debate on defence.
The new White Paper is not the only forum for such a debate.
To some observers, China’s virtual annexation of a few contested islands in the South China Sea are a sign of its burgeoning military aggression along sea lanes that carry an estimated $US4 trillion in international trade annually.
United States presidential contender Donald Trump has accused China of building ‘‘a military fortress the likes of which the world has never seen’’ on those rocky outcrops.
In fact, something considerably less than the Death Star is under construction.
Though China’s actions have been provocative, they also seem to be driven by economic motives – to exploit underwater energy reserves – rather than by a desire to extend China’s military force projection.
Relax, everyone. In a speech in China last September, Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee declared that ‘‘We do not expect the South Pacific will face an external military threat’’.
Brownlee also called China a ‘‘strategic partner’’ and praised our ‘‘Five Year Engagement Plan with the People’s Liberation Army’’.
In his speech, Brownlee tiptoed around the South China Sea issue, calling on ‘‘all claimant states to take steps to reduce tensions’’ within the framework of international law.
Ultimately, Brownlee claimed: ‘‘We do not see our defence relationships with the United States and China as mutually exclusive.’’
Given such warm sentiments, how can the Government proceed to justify its planned spending spree on military hardware? On Anzac Day these may perhaps be useful questions to ask.
How do we envisage our future role in a regional force projection partnership with Australia, one conceived to counter a supposed threat from China?