Sunday 26th April, 2009: Q+A's Paul Holmes interviews Defence Minister, Wayne Mapp.
PAUL The Defence Minister Wayne Mapp is with me, thank you for joining us. We'd better clear up Heather Roy for a start, number 25 outside Cabinet, Associate Minister of Defence, what does she do?
WAYNE MAPP - Defence Minister
Oh Heather and I work very closely together, Heather's got a specific area of work around recruiting, retention, reserves and also Defence industry, but broader than that we work on sort of the broader strategic picture as well, both she and I are passionate about Defence, we've both been reservists in the past and so we work very effectively together.
PAUL Now let's talk about Anzac Day, why do you think the crowds are getting bigger on Anzac Day?
WAYNE Oh younger people in particular are taking time to reflect on how our nation was built and how sacrifice of some previous generations but also the commitments we're making today have built our nation and people have taken time to reflect on that, it's taken you know a number of years really since controversies of the previous period for that to happen.
PAUL Interesting that you associate the celebrations of Anzac Day these days with nation building, is Anzac Day do you think emerging whether we like it or not as the national day?
WAYNE Well it brings everyone together in a contemporary way, it's not so much saying this was our starting day but it's a day of unity and it's in an odd way a day of looking forward, odd I say in the sense where we're thinking of the past but we're actually also thinking of the future.
PAUL But you're right as opposed to Waitangi Day there is no division, the rivalries are set aside aren't they?
WAYNE That's because every person in the country particularly during the two great conflicts of the last century had to all pull together to essentially save our country.
PAUL Should we see Anzac Day Mondayised, an automatic national holiday?
WAYNE Well it is an automatic national holiday.
PAUL But on a Saturday or a Sunday we don't get the extra day.
WAYNE The 25th is absolutely crucial, that is the landing in Gallipoli it has to be the 25th.
PAUL You've announced a full scale review of our Defence Force, now before we talk of that can I just ask you this question, it may seem an odd question, but why does New Zealand need a Defence Force?
WAYNE Well we've got responsibilities in our own region to protect ourselves in our region.
PAUL From what?
WAYNE Well look at all the unstable states.
PAUL They're island states, we're separated from those conflicts by vast areas of ocean.
WAYNE But we're intimately related with these peoples, they come here, we go there, and broader than that actually we've got international responsibilities, we're a trading country, we have to play our part in building stability and peace through the world in an appropriate way.
PAUL Alright let's talk about the ways we might do that but again I mean is there a threat to New Zealand, we're the ones who have to spend the money, is there actually a threat to New Zealand, does what's happening in Fiji threaten us, does what might happen in Tonga if they don't get democracy quick enough threaten us, does what happens in the Solomons threaten us?
WAYNE We've got longstanding responsibilities for our region in partnership with Australia
PAUL Why do we have to be the policemen?
WAYNE Well if New Zealand and Australia don't do it who's going to?. We have the responsibility.
PAUL But of course on the other hand I mean in terms of a Defence Force if you can't have, you know if we talk about the defence of New Zealand if there's no way we can afford what a nation needs for its entire independent defence, if you can't have the aircraft carriers, you can't afford the tanks, if you can't afford a massive strike air force wing, why have a Defence Force at all?
WAYNE Because the issues in our area simply don't involved those sorts of things, they involve as you quite rightly say small states struggling with stability, struggling with good governance and our Defence Force due in part to our Maori cultural bicultural heritage plays a huge part in - it's essentially a partnership that we have with our communities in island states.
PAUL In terms of our national integrity, in terms of the integrity of our territory can you see a time when there could be an actual threat to us, to our territory to our sovereignty?
WAYNE Well fundamentally I actually don't think there is that kind of threat, you really have to go back to World War II it's that sort of conflict, is that very likely I actually don't think so.
PAUL Helen Clark used to refer to our region as an incredibly benign strategic environment, do you still think it is?
WAYNE Well things have changed since then that's for sure and you only have to look at the instability of the island states themselves, that's clearly taxing our Defence Force, I mean we have substantial deployments in Timor Leste, we're now going for ten years, you know it's winding down slowly but these things do take time to resolve and it is in our interests that our own region is secure and stable.
PAUL Right, so what bothers you particularly about the Defence Force that you want to see a review leading presumably to a white paper.
WAYNE I think the key issue is really ensuring that the Defence Force has the right capabilities to do the jobs that they actually do now or indeed are likely to do and that's the core issue.
PAUL Is your strategy going to be different from Labours?
WAYNE There is in fact a bipartisan or multi party consensus around the broad objectives of Defence. The review is more about have we got the capabilities quite right to actually do what we need to do or are likely to do, and I think that's a question that has to be asked, and that's why we're looking at the range of things. The last review was in 1997, the world's changed enormously since then.
PAUL Well yes but what specifically do you think we might be lacking in what way are we coming up short? We've got an SAS that apparently perform extremely well in Afghanistan, we seem to be able to do our peacekeeping duties, what's the problem?
WAYNE We've got major capabilities coming up towards the end of their life within the next decade, decisions have to be made in relation to those and we also have to look you know are we equipping our people with the right tools to do the jobs that they actually have to do.
PAUL Before we get on to the equipment itself one criticism of the New Zealand Defence Force is that we seem to have developed into a Defence Force of peacekeepers, that we might not have real combat capability. Do you accept that?
WAYNE Well actually I don't in fact because the peacekeeping skills are built on the solid base of professional military schools. Defence Forces are not Police Officers in green, they are an organised force with military skills and then you overlay on top of that the skills to be able to bring security to states.
PAUL I know if I can quote your predecessor Phil Goff once said don't be ridiculous because to be a peacekeeper you've really got to be combat trained as well, you'd accept that?
WAYNE Yes I do.
PAUL Righto. Equipment, when we look at some of the equipment the military's has purchased over recent years, is it fair to say that we may be looking at some incompetent purchasing decisions having been made?
WAYNE Well the Auditor General has been highly
critical of how the Defence purchases have been managed, I mean all
of the major acquisitions have either run over budget or they've
had deficiencies and so forth, it's been quite a challenge and
that's actually a core part of the review to
get a better procurement system in place.
PAUL But it seems to have been right across the board I mean if you look at the Navy's purchase choices in recent years they seem to have been disastrous, at least a couple of the ships don't seem to be able to sail in heavy seas in the southern ocean without the worry of tipping over, the ships we've bought, the Navy's bought seem to need millions of extra spent on improvements and upgrading, we can't get rid of the Sky Hawks and the LAVs are apparently no good in Afghanistan. I mean its disgraceful isn't it?
WAYNE Well that's exactly what the Auditor General said.
PAUL Do you agree the purchases had been disgraceful?
WAYNE I agree that they've been badly managed, but some of the capabilities were essential, project protector whose naval vessels they are necessary to do the sorts of things - but they haven't been handled well, there are serious problems with the Canterbury and it's my job to fix those problems.
PAUL Serious problems to do with the Canterbury and of course the late unlamented Charles Upham was a disaster waiting to happen, the purchase of that was not a management problem was it, it was the purchase which was a disgrace.
WAYNE Well there were serious problems with the Charles Upham everyone realises that, we are going to be able to get the Canterbury to do the vast majority of what it was actually required to do, but frankly the previous government did manage those acquisitions badly and it's our job to fix them, that's a core part of the review to see how we can do this better in the future.
PAUL Was the purchase of the LAVs a mistake?
WAYNE It's really an issue of numbers rather than the quality of the vehicle, the vehicles are the right vehicle in fact ten years ago when we were in government we actually also recommended the LAV vehicle, the issue as always been around number, and Labour frankly played on at that time, there was a little bit of inter service rivalry which they played upon and it led to the increased numbers and that's why that's an issue, that would be up for consideration.
PAUL Alright you said last year our troops in Afghanistan are at risk because they don't have the LAVs, do you still believe that?
WAYNE Well I always act on professional advice, Lieutenant General Manor Price said they don't need the LAVs at this point.
PAUL They don't want them there, they don't want them there because the roads are too rough for them, they use Toyota Hilux's.
WAYNE That's right and that's the professional....
PAUL Isn't that amazing we spend more than 700 million dollars on LAVs and they prefer the Toyota Hilux, that makes an absurdity of the purchase of the LAVs doesn't it?
WAYNE Well it certainly makes you question the 105, our New Zealand Defence Force has always got to have some armoured vehicles they were used in Bosnia they were used in Timor Leste so no one doubts that you've got to have some armoured vehicles and in fact he LAV itself is the right vehicle. This issue is a question of numbers that's the sort of thing we expect the Defence review to actually look at, to look deep at it rather than answer you know this is the outcome of the review on this programme, that's why we're actually having the review to look at these things properly and in a considered way.
PAUL So just to clear this up, is the New Zealand Army in Afghanistan unsafe without the LAVs?
WAYNE The professional advice I have from the Chief of Defence Force is that the LAV is not the right vehicle in the current circumstances?
PAUL Where is it going to be the right vehicle?
WAYNE Well they were used - as I say well that type of vehicle was used a decade or more ago in Bosnia and also in Timor Leste.
PAUL There wasn't the LAV used in Bosnia. Armoured Personnel Carriers yeah.
WAYNE The same sort of thing.
PAUL You say you might sell the 60 LAVs parked in the garage that really the Army shouldn't have what it doesn't use, that's short sighted isn't it. What about the big conflict around the corner.
WAYNE Well that's why you have a Defence review to look at these questions that why we actually have a Defence review.
PAUL Tell me Mr Mapp, Minister, in downgrading our military over the last 20 years have we also downgraded the quality of our officer class, the kind of people perhaps who do the buying, have we made the military less attractive as a real career choice for smart people?
WAYNE Well the people who do the buying are not actually the Defence Officers, it's actually the ministry.
PAUL But considerable input.
WAYNE They have considerable input but you've gotta remember there was a big step up over the last few years and there was probably a bit of a lag in capability but I want to say this, the New Zealand Defence Force are excellent, that's why they are wanted internationally so it's simply false for you to suspect they do not have the qualities you expect, we have a first rate Defence Force, every time I've visited them including in Timor Leste it was very very obvious that the New Zealand Defence Force along with the Australians were a complete cut above everyone else there.
PAUL If we sent the New Zealand Army to Fiji to sort things out who would win?
WAYNE We're not going to be sending the New Zealand Army to Fiji.
PAUL Can you guarantee that we'd be able to get them there?
WAYNE Well it's simply not going to happen,
that issue has always been resolved diplomatically,
and will be.
PAUL Right you've got very big problems on recruitment, just very quickly are you going to get something in the budget that you'd hope might help recruitment, because so many positions are under filled?
WAYNE Well that actually is changing in fact, I guess you would say one of the effects of a recession is that it's been easier for the Defence Force to actually retain people in a way that they couldn't do before.
PAUL Are you going to get satisfaction in the budget for Defence?
WAYNE Let's see when the budget comes out.
PAUL Thank you Mr Mapp.