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Mark Mitchell: Cutbacks, Capabilities, and Acknowledgements

Line of Defence Magazine, Autumn 2018

Hon Mark Mitchell with US Ambassador HE Scott Brown, BRIG John Boswell and US Defence Attache COL Chris Patton.Hon Mark Mitchell with US Ambassador HE Scott Brown, BRIG John Boswell and US Defence Attache COL Chris Patton.


Mark Mitchell, National Party Spokesperson for Defence, writes that defence funding earmarked in the 2016 Defence White Paper is vital, yet there are ominous indicators, and avoiding cuts may prove an ongoing ‘arm wrestle’ for Defence Minister Ron Mark.


As the Opposition Spokesperson for Defence one of my most important roles is to be watching closely what the present Government are doing and what they are signalling in relation to Defence funding and deployments. I am committed to ensuring the Government doesn’t backtrack on stated commitments or try to find a way to delay investment.

We live in a world with a growing complexity around global threats, and where our NZDF will continue to have an important role in protecting our interests and assisting our partners, is in both removing threats and then ensuring stabilisation.

In Parliament’s last session I put several questions to Defence Minister Ron Mark seeking answers to questions raised in an article written by Sam Sachdeva, where correspondence by the CDF highlighted a message around having to look for savings at the possible expense of both new initiatives and increased investment into personnel. Lt. General Tim Keating warned his senior officers to prepare for spending cuts, asking them to ‘reprioritise’ resources.

I put both matters to Mr Mark in the Parliamentary debating chamber, where he clearly stated that neither was occurring. In a sense it is good to see the Minister indicating there were no plans for reduction in the growth of personnel costs and that there would be no need for reprioritisation of funding or the scaling back of strategic initiatives. This is an important commitment and signal from the Minister.

While it’s encouraging that Mr Mark says there is broad Government support for the $20 billion Defence Capability Plan launched in 2016, the early signs are he will be locked in an arm wrestle with Grant Robertson over ongoing investment, and if the Government looks stretched in terms of delivering on their wider promises, I feel the Finance Minister will look to Defence to make cuts, meaning this is an arm wrestle that Mr Mark may lose.

The 2016 Defence White Paper, which was consulted on heavily with Australia, is vital to ensure a focus on appropriate future requirements and interoperability with our closest ally. What will be of concern come Budget 2018 – in light of Lieutenant General Keating’s communications with his senior officers – is any indication that because of the Government’s tight spending restrictions any much-needed Defence spending is put off to a later date.


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The Defence Force simply can’t cope with delays to the upgrades to our P3 Orions, or our C130 Hercules. Any major change to the 2016 Defence Capability Plan would be extremely disruptive to our Defence Force’s ability to respond to future Government needs. It would also risk having a negative impact on morale. The Defence Capability Plan provides a solid blueprint and roadmap for the investment required by Defence for the next decade.

I was fortunate to have spent a night on HMNZS TE KAHA with Chief of Navy Rear Admiral John Martin, Commander Steve Lenik, and crew, after they returned from deployment last year, which included joining the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group near Japan.

I have seen first-hand how new technologies are required to allow our Defence Force to conduct their operations and fulfil our international obligations, so I was very pleased to see HMNZS TE KAHA has arrived in Canada for the Frigate Systems Upgrade. These programme upgrades for both HMNZS TE KAHA and HMNZS TE MANA are critical for closing the capability gap between us and our defence partners.

The opportunities for improvement are vast, as our RNZN frigates are vital to continue the work being conducted to enhance our reputation as a Force4Good.

At the time of writing, it is International Women’s Day and I would like to acknowledge how proud I am of the mana wāhine in our Defence Forces. There are always further challenges and barriers to break down, and I look forward to seeing the number of women in our Defence Forces grow.

However, there are plenty of glass ceilings being smashed, for recent examples I look to our Navy. With history being made as Commander Lisa Hunn became the first female to helm RNZN frigate HMNZS TE MANA, and with Lieutenant Commander Lorna Gray becoming the first female commander of an offshore patrol vessel, HMNZS OTAGO, it really is astonishing that 30 years ago women weren’t allowed on our naval ships.

I recall from my time as Minister of Defence how proud I was to see the RNZAF launch their world leading School to Skies programme aimed at attracting more young women into the Air Force. It’s vital that our Defence Forces are leading the charge in breaking down any barriers that may prevent women from opting for a Defence Force career, and strong initiatives like this are the way to go. 

In addition, I would like to end this column by acknowledging and paying my respects to Lieutenant Alfred ‘Bunty’ Preece, the last officer of the 28th Māori Battalion who recently passed away in the Chatham’s. Bunty served New Zealand selflessly, voluntarily, and with grace for his nation back home, and for that we owe a debt of gratitude. Kua hinga te tōtara o Te Waonui a Tāne.


Related articles

Interview: Opposition Defence Spokesperson Mark Mitchell

Line of Defence Magazine, Summer 2017/18


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