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Shortcomings in Defence White Paper

After an unexplained eight month delay in its publication, the White Paper tells us nothing, says Labour’s Defence spokesperson Phil Goff. 

“The Government has failed to deliver on the specifics of what it is proposing to replace core assets which come to the end of their lives in nine years.

“After years of running down the Defence Force, the Government now faces major expenditure on replacing the Navy’s frigates and other vessels, and the Airforce’s Hercules, Orions and B757s.  The service life of these assets expires before or around 2025. 

“It is reasonable to expect the Ministry of Defence and New Zealand Defence Force have advanced their thinking about preferred options to replace these assets. However, it is not sharing its ideas with the public which means that the essential decisions we expected from the White Paper are not there. 

“The Government has announced $20 billion in capital expenditure over 15 years, but in the absence of what it will spend this on, we have no idea of whether it represents value for money.  Huge capital expenditure in this area is inevitably at the expense of other spending the country needs in areas like transport and housing. 

“While the White Paper says there is no foreseeable military threat to New Zealand in the next 25 years, we nevertheless need an effective Defence Force.  This is particularly so in new threat areas such as cyber-warfare.  With cuts in expenditure and capabilities in recent years, much of what the Government is intending to spend is simply catch up. 

“A further serious shortcoming in the White Paper is that it gives too little emphasis to the importance of personnel. 

“Both in numbers and in skill capabilities, the New Zealand Defence Force has been seriously degraded.  Personnel numbers are down 8 per cent on regular force numbers in 2009. 

“The Auditor-General has reported that it will take the Army 11 years and the Navy 16 years to recover the capabilities they had in 2008/09. 

“This is a product of the Government’s disastrous policies which led in 2010/11 to attrition rates soaring to 23 per cent a year. The NZDF has still not recovered from this.  

“Just last month the Auditor-General warned that ‘limited availability of personnel continues to pose a significant risk’. 

“New equipment is of limited use unless there are skilled personnel to make use of it.  The Auditor-General warned that in key areas of new capital equipment the problem was ‘worsening’ and that it was ‘critical that Defence takes steps to mitigate this’. 

“The White Paper is essentially a series of general statements which add little to what we already know about the Defence Force.  In failing to disclose any real decisions about capital asset purchase or strengthening personnel, it adds little of value,” Phil Goff said.