Politics

Military brass refresh ‘chance for greater diversity’ - Mark

An overhaul of the New Zealand military’s top brass will help to deliver a higher level of diversity within the defence ranks in 2019, Defence Minister Ron Mark says.

Mark has also confirmed he plans to make headway on securing a replacement for the NZ Defence Force’s Hercules C-130 transport aircraft.

A review of the last government’s Defence Capability Plan is due for release in March, outlining the equipment the New Zealand military will need in the coming decades.

Mark said the review would place greater emphasis on the security impact of climate change, following the release of a report from the NZDF and the Ministry of Defence describing the issue as “one of the greatest security challenges” facing the country in the coming decades.

The document, which had caught the attention of other defence ministers around the world, would “focus people’s minds” on the risk posed by changes to the environment, he said.

After securing four P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft worth $2.3 billion as part of last year’s Budget, Mark said top of the list for the next acquisition was a replacement for the Hercules C-130s which were nearing the end of their life.

While questions have been raised about how the Government will fund the capability plan, Mark said a positive review of military procurement practices last year had provided some ballast for his case.

“I was hopeful it would give confidence to the Prime Minister, the Minister of Finance and the Deputy Prime Minister that whatever money Cabinet appropriates to me as the Minister of Defence, and to the NZ Defence Force, will not be wasted.”

'People we can't afford to lose'

As well as new equipment, the military will also have to adjust to some new faces in 2019.

New Defence Force chief Air Marshal Kevin Short, who took over from Tim Keating last May, told MPs last October a number of new service chiefs and deputies would be taking up posts by the end of 2018.

Mark said while he respected the officers who had been in the post for some time, the changes would help to provide more opportunities for the “very high calibre of people who we can’t afford to lose”.

"It was a very bold decision, I know that, clearly some people were surprised by the fact that we had changed out the entire leadership...

“They’d had a fair crack of the whip, been there for a while, I had the opportunity to extend their deployment or go for a refresh - I chose a refresh, and I'm very comfortable with that.”

He was hopeful the refresh would create a higher level of diversity in command positions, with female officers “given opportunities they might not have been able to accrue if we had continued to truck along with the same leadership”.

Defence estate upgrade

Getting to grips with necessary maintenance and upgrades of dilapidated military housing and estate infrastructure also looms as a priority, with Mark saying much of the estate had changed little since he was in the NZDF.

“It does my head in when I go to Linton, Burnham, Waiouru and I get to see the barracks I lived in [as a soldier in the 1970s]...

“Young men and women today have an expectation that they’ll be appropriately quartered, that they’ll be able to plug all their devices in, have a flat screen TV, have a computer, all the things that young people today have, and these old-fashioned barracks are just not designed for that.”

Mark said there was some housing which would not be compliant with the Government’s new seismic strengthening or healthy homes laws, while any eventual “three waters” reform would also add a complicating factor.

“Is it easier to simply knock a whole lot of buildings down and start afresh?”

The NZDF and the Government would need to start some "out of the box thinking” about the size and condition of the defence estate, he said, referring to the debate over the location of the Devonport navy base

“Is it easier to simply knock a whole lot of buildings down and start afresh?”

It was Mark’s responsibility to present a solid argument for an overhaul of the defence estate, he said.

“If the Government doesn’t understand the value and why defence needs to be tooled and equipped and staffed and why its real estate and buildings need to be repaired and upgraded, that's my fault.”

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