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Exclusive Interview: Ron Mark, New Zealand's Minister of Defence

Line of Defence Magazine, Summer 2017/18

Minister of Defence, Ron Mark, attends the RNZAF Recruit and Officer Graduation on 15 December 2017.Minister of Defence, Ron Mark, attends the RNZAF Recruit and Officer Graduation on 15 December 2017.


In this exclusive Line of Defence interview, New Zealand’s Minister of Defence, Ron Mark, outlines the new Government’s priorities for Defence and how it plans to work with the New Zealand defence industry.


LoD: What will be the Government's approach to supporting the New Zealand defence industry?

RM: Defence needs a strong and capable local industry base, and the Government is committed to supporting it.

Defence purchasing of goods and services in New Zealand covers a wide variety of areas from major military assets and other specialist military equipment, to the Defence estate, the through-life support of military capability, general logistics and the standard type of supplier services purchased by most government agencies.

Annual expenditure on capital and operating purchase commitments by the Ministry of Defence and the New Zealand Defence Force is approximately $900 million. This will grow over the coming decade.

The Defence sector employs around 2,500 people, generates $125 million in wages, and over $60 million in profits.

Critically for this Government, the sector is also regionally dispersed with hubs not only in the main centres, but also in Whangarei, Hamilton, Palmerston North, Blenheim and Nelson.

I am scheduled to meet with Greg Lowe, chair of the New Zealand Defence Industry Advisor Council, and Andrew Ford, chair of the Defence Industry Association, early in the New Year. My message to them will be that this Government is committed to working with the sector to grow the local share of the investment in Defence, with a particular focus on regional development.


LoD: Will the Government look to continue to implement the commitments/projects outlined in the 2016 NZ Defence White Paper and Defence Capability Plan, or is tweaking likely?

RM: As you will be aware, the new Coalition Government is working through its priorities, including those for Defence. The Labour-New Zealand First Coalition Agreement indicated a re-examination of the Defence procurement programme within the context of the 2016 Defence Capability Plan budget.

Officials are preparing to commence the review in early 2018. The terms of reference for the forthcoming review and the timeline for its completion have not yet been specified. Officials are now developing options for the conduct of the review.

Defence has well-developed processes and mechanisms to undertake such a review. The Defence Midpoint Rebalancing Review and the Defence White Paper undertook extensive assessments of capability investment options. The mechanisms employed in those reviews will enable the consideration of policy priorities, capability investment areas, and funding parameters if that is directed by Government.

I am committed to ensuring the Defence Force has the capabilities it needs to protect and advance New Zealand's security interests. The Defence Force and New Zealand in general face the same challenges across a range of global issues as our security partners.

We will continue to invest in the equipment and capabilities needed to ensure the effectiveness of the Defence Force, to maximise the safety of our deployed men and women, and to ensure interoperability with the defence forces we work alongside overseas.


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LoD: Will the Government look to invest more in the recruitment and retention of NZDF personnel, and what will priority areas likely be?

RM: The NZDF already looks to recruit and retain personnel to ensure its core military outputs, which are agreed with Government, are met.  The NZDF puts a great deal of emphasis on investment in its people, at both the recruitment stage and later as their careers develop, across all areas of its activities.


Minister presents the Sword of Honour to 2LT Mitch Lennane at the Army's New Zealand Commissioning Course graduate parade at Waiouru Camp, 9 December 2017.Minister presents the Sword of Honour to 2LT Mitch Lennane at the Army's New Zealand Commissioning Course graduate parade at Waiouru Camp, 9 December 2017.


LoD: Generally, what are the key agenda items of the defence portfolio now and going forward?

RM: Defence capability: The Government makes a significant investment in Defence, both through the cost of operating our Defence Force and the investment it makes over time in purchasing, upgrading and maintaining defence systems and equipment. Defence continuously works to improve the value for money Government achieves from its investments. These investments in new or upgraded capabilities need to be achieved on time, within scope and to budget.

International engagement and deployments: The New Zealand Government will aim to provide credible contributions to regional and global peace, security and stability in order to support an international environment which promotes New Zealand's prosperity.  This also includes providing humanitarian and disaster relief operations if and when it is needed, especially in our immediate region.  Protection of our Defence Force personnel serving overseas is a top priority at all times.

Personnel and social issues: The New Zealand Defence Force works hard to ensure that it has the right skilled and trained personnel and modern equipment to perform effectively and support and assist other government agencies.  It is committed to teaching leadership, self-reliance, and resilience in young New Zealanders. It does this by way of supporting youth development programmes in the community that seek to develop young people to make a difference in their lives.


LoD: What is the Government's position in relation to the internationalisation of NZ's defence suppliers as exporters to Australia and beyond?

RM: In the 1990s, the ANZAC Ship Project injected over $800 million into the New Zealand economy. While it was a one-off project, it nonetheless supported a number of small and medium-sized enterprises get a start in the Defence sector. Many of those enterprises were able to leverage that opportunity to expand into export markets.

At over $90 billion, the Australian Government's investment in military ship-building over the next two decades represents an unprecedented opportunity for New Zealand industry.

The size of the investment means Australia will look to work with partners to grow their capabilities and outsource where they can. While some industry development programmes are limited to Australian registered businesses, importantly work undertaken by New Zealand registered companies will be considered as local content.

Defence, Foreign Affairs, and New Zealand Trade and Enterprise are working with the New Zealand Defence Industry Association to better position New Zealand to take advantage of Australia's defence capability investments.

A good example of this work was the hosting of an Australian Naval Shipbuilding industry brief in Auckland on 5 December which was attended by more than 70 representatives from New Zealand and Australia, including from the three Prime Contractors selected for the Australian Frigate Programme (BAE, Fincantieri and Navantia), and Australian Department of Defence representatives.


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