Reflections on 2018, with much to think about in 2019

Line of Defence Magazine, Summer 2018-19

Embraer KC-390
Mark Mitchell

National Party Spokesperson for Defence Hon Mark Mitchell writes that although the P8 decision was a highlight for 2018, a delayed Defence Capability Plan review is causing uncertainty ahead of Budget 2019.

In my last contribution to Line of Defence, I noted there appears to be a prolonging of the policy and procurement processes coming from the Beehive this year. 

It’s unfortunate this seems to be continuing, with news the Government-ordered review into the Defence Capability Plan – the $20 billion investment the former National-led Government earmarked – has been put off to return with its conclusions until 2019 (it was due back in December this year).

The delay runs the risk of having a negative effect on the operational capabilities of our Defence Force, as some services desperately need to know what their future capabilities will look like in order to plan proactively. In addition, it remains to be seen as to what we can expect from the Government in Budget 2019 and what funding might make up the Defence Force appropriations next year. 

The Government has delivered some good news for our Defence Force this year, and there are a couple of announcements I would like to acknowledge Minister Ron Mark for. 

The recently released Defence/Climate Change discussion document was broadly supported, as there is consensus and recognition that disaster relief is a big focus of our Defence Force, and a focus that will become heightened in our own backyard where our Defence Force needs to be prepared to act. 

I also welcomed the Government making the right decision to procure the P8 Poseidon aircraft as a replacement for our P3 Orions earlier this year. This was absolutely the right decision for our Defence Force, and our service men and women will all welcome the commitment to secure these assets. 

But while the Government has addressed the surveillance issues of our Defence Force, we are yet to see any suggestions of addressing its heavy air lift capabilities, with no word yet regarding advancing decisions to replace the ageing C-130 Hercules. We eagerly await an announcement on this in 2019, and I do hope the Minister can encourage his fellow Government Parties to support investment in replacement capabilities.  

The important task I have as the Opposition Spokesperson for Defence is to hold the Government to account on their policy and legislative decisions. I do this to ensure the Government remains true to its commitments, and to make sure they deliver the promised capabilities for our Defence Force. 

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When we believe the Government is doing things that will harm New Zealanders, we will oppose it. It might seem like we’re being negative – we see it as being protective. 

Alongside holding the Government to account, one of the most important things a political party can do in Opposition is take a good look at its own policies and plans for New Zealand. This is a time to look at what worked and what can be done better, and after nine years in Government, we’re doing exactly that. 

I am forward-thinking about the shape that National’s defence policy might take leading into the 2020 election, and 2019 will be a year of discussing what these policies might look like. 

The former National-led Government left the Beehive with a proud Defence record intact, where we reversed record attrition rates, delivered record levels of morale, before producing a Defence White Paper and a $20 billion Defence Capability Plan that looked outwards to 2030 and was widely considered at home and abroad to be a very strong and credible suite of options for our Defence Force to lead them into the future. 

This is work we are looking forward to building on, should we earn the right to govern again in 2020. If there are those reading Line of Defence who would like to get involved in the discussions, please don’t hesitate to contact me. 

In finishing, I’d like to thank the men and women in our Defence Force for their service this year, along with those in the wider Defence Industry who support the activities of our personnel. I congratulate our CDF, Air Marshal Kevin Short, on his first six months in the job, and know 2019 will be progressive with his leadership at the helm. 

I hope everyone has a relaxing festive season; enjoy the Kiwi BBQs, beach visits, and catch ups with family and friends. I look forward to continuing the defence discussions in 2019.