Peeni Henare: Empowering Defence Force Personnel

Line of Defence Magazine - Autumn 2024

Peeni Henare
Proof will be in the Budget: Opposition Spokesperson for Defence Peeni Henare. Image: NZ Parliament.

With the upcoming Budget, writes Hon Peeni Henare, delivery on commitments to increased funding of the Defence Force will be critical in ensuring the safety and prosperity of New Zealanders.

As a Minister of Defence under the previous Labour Government, I am proud of the strides made during our tenure in fortifying New Zealand’s security and empowering our Defence Force personnel. We prioritised infrastructure development, personnel support, and strengthening relationships with our Pacific neighbours, leaving an indelible mark on the nation’s security landscape.

Central to our vision was the acquisition of four P-8A Poseidon and five C-130J-30 Hercules aircraft, ushering in a new era of capability and readiness. The introduction of the P-8s, replacing the aging P-3K2 Orion aircraft, signifies a significant leap in our maritime patrol and surveillance capabilities.

The procurement of the C-130J-30 fleet further reinforces our airlift capabilities, enhancing our ability to respond to domestic and international emergencies. This is particularly important in an age where climate change is seeing more extreme weather events happening not only in our own backyard, but to our more vulnerable neighbours in the Pacific.

We introduced remuneration for our Defence Force personnel, recognising their invaluable contributions to New Zealand’s Defence. The allocation of over $419 million over 4 years for military and civilian remuneration highlights our commitment. This investment not only honoured their dedication and sacrifice but also bolstered morale and retention rates.

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Moreover, Labour spearheaded unprecedented investments in Defence infrastructure. Major upgrades at Ohakea Air Force Base, including a $206 million investment in 2020, emphasised our commitment to modernising Defence facilities. Budget 2023 further allocated $328 million for infrastructure upgrades, signalling our dedication to providing our Defence Force with the resources and infrastructure necessary to excel.

Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, Labour remained supportive of the Defence portfolio. I am particularly proud of our service members, who played a pivotal role in the Government’s pandemic response, reflecting their adaptability, professionalism, and unwavering commitment to duty. Labour ensured that our Defence Force had the resources, support, and recognition necessary to navigate these unprecedented times.

However, as highlighted by the Office of the Auditor General, sustaining meaningful positive change in national performance and effective estate regeneration requires substantial capital investment. While our achievements laid a strong foundation, ongoing commitment to investment in Defence infrastructure is crucial to meet evolving security challenges and maintain operational excellence.

It is imperative to acknowledge the potential challenges facing the Defence portfolio under the current Coalition Government, especially with the looming budget expected in May. The Chief of Defence Force made the challenges clear in his final appearance before the Foreign Affairs, Trade and Defence Select Committee for the Annual Review.

The Prime Minister and his Minister of Defence have both committed to increased funding of the Defence force, and come budget day, we will be holding them to account on this commitment. Labour’s legacy stands as a stark reminder of the critical importance of prioritising equitable remuneration, strategic investments, and infrastructure development in ensuring the safety and prosperity of all New Zealanders.

In conclusion, Labour’s progressive Defence legacy exemplifies our unwavering commitment to advancing security and empowerment. By prioritising fair remuneration, strategic investments, and infrastructure development, we have strengthened New Zealand’s Defence Force and fortified the nation’s resilience in the face of emerging threats.

As we reflect on our achievements, let us redouble our efforts to build upon this legacy and chart a course towards a safer, more prosperous future for all.