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F16s / Armed forces spending review

16 Dec 1999


Kia ora,

and what did you think of last Monday’s announcement that officials had told the new Cabinet that the Defence Force is unable to meet its existing re-equipment commitments from its budget ? Was this a (not so) cunning ploy to try and increase their share of the budget, or perhaps the precursor to their declaring bankruptcy and packing their bags for good ?

Well, it doesn’t appear to have resulted in either of these, but rather the possibility that Labour’s policy of re-arming the army rather than buying warplanes (and more new frigates) may result in a cancellation of the F16s deal, and that there will be another investigation into the spending priorities of the armed forces. As a matter of some urgency, we feel it would be useful if you were to contact the new government giving your views about the F16s deal as soon as possible.

This alert is divided into three main areas : 1) some comments on the F16s deal; 2) info currently available on the armed forces spending review; and 3) people you could write to about these matters.

1) F16s deal

The current situation is as follows - Helen Clark has asked Derek Quigley to carry out a review of the lease-to-buy deal (signed earlier in the year by Doug Graham). This is the deal involving the 28 F16 warplanes which were offered to the NZ government by the US government while still the property of the government of Pakistan.

From those dodgy origins, the deal has appeared more and more shady as time has gone on :

* the costs associated with the leasing, the retooling, reequipping and pilot retraining as well as getting the F16s actually flying have continued to change over the past fourteen or so months;

* the National government signed the deal a couple of months before an election knowing that a Labour / Alliance / Green election victory would mean the cancellation of the deal;

* questions relating to their capabilities have gone unanswered - there was, as but one example, a fascinating exchange in parliament over their range - with Geoff Braybrooke saying they cannot cross the Tasman without refuelling (the airforce has no refuelling planes) and further that they are not equipped with drop tanks to extend their range; Wayne Mapp saying they do have the range to cross the Tasman; and Ron Marks pointing out they only have that capability if they are not carrying weapons ... (Hansard 18492-18502, 27 July 1999).

The difficulty in getting accurate figures on the costs etc has not been restricted to the likes of us - Derek Quigley himself stated somewhat angrily on National Radio on Tuesday morning that he, and the other members of the Select Committee Inquiry Into Defence Beyond 2000, had been deliberately denied the full information that would have enabled them to assess the lease-to-buy deal - by implication the information was withheld by the then government, as he further stated all information has now been made available to him.

As well, what the cancellation of the deal will actually involve is still a bit of a mystery - Helen Clark has said that the government is required to give six months notice, but that there will be no financial penalty (14 Dec 1999). Max Bradford has claimed terminating the deal may cost $275 million - but as he includes things like ‘the loss of revenue from an early sale of the Skyhawks’ (the Dominion, 16 December 1999) it is not clear how accurate his figures are.

Nor is it clear if the first of the quarterly payments has already been made, nor if a delay in cancelling will mean a second would have to be paid. Bradford also claimed in that article that ‘more than $35 million has already been spent on the deal’, which increases the suspicions that the quarterly payments have begun, and some of the ‘associated costs’ have been paid. Given that the full cost of the deal could be as much as $1.2 billion (excluding day-to-day running costs), then even if Bradford’s claim of $275 million to cancel is correct, we’ll be saving an awful lot of money !

While there has been concern by some that the US (and Australia) will react very badly to a cancellation of the deal, there is no real evidence of that. Although we do not for a moment believe that this is the full story, nevertheless Josiah Beeman (outgoing US ambassador) has stated that the US government is fairly relaxed about the cancellation of the deal - although they will be watching very carefully to make sure the level of NZ’s ‘defence’ expenditure doesn’t drop (National Radio, 8 December 1999). As if it is has anything at all to do with them ! Beeman seemed much more concerned about the possibility of restrictions on the imports of GE foods to this country, and threatened all sorts of retaliation (as he has done in the past) were that to occur !

What is definite though, is that both governments will be putting a great deal of pressure on the new government here to continue with the deal - and they need to be told firmly and clearly that the deal must be cancelled - NOW.

It is a matter of the greatest urgency that you raise your concerns re the F16s deal with the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence, and urge them to cancel the deal immediately without waiting for Derek Quigley’s review to be completed in March. You could say that while you support the idea of a review of armed forces spending priorities (if you do), you are not in favour of a delay in cancelling the deal.

You may be able to find a use for some of the following quotes :

* Helen Clark in a Labour party media statement on the possible purchase of the F16s and a third ANZAC class frigate, 4 November 1998.

'Labour leader Helen Clark said today that the Minister of Defence was attempting to drive New Zealand’s defence expenditure on the basis of purely political imperatives rather than on established defence priorities or any rational consideration of the country’s real needs in defence and other areas.'

'This approach shows how utterly twisted the government’s priorities are, not only in the area of defence but in social and economic policy more generally. While Mr Bradford and his colleagues are happy to listen to the pleas of defence industry lobbyists in Australia and elsewhere, they have steadfastly ignored the cries of fellow New Zealanders who want action to repair our country’s social deficit.'

* Helen Clark in the parliamentary debate on the National government’s decision to proceed with the F16s lease-to-buy deal, 27 July 1999.

'The government’s line on this purchase has always been that these planes are a bargain. Well, I understand a fairly simple home truth about bargains: nothing is a bargain if we do not need it !'

'The National Party has spent 9 years trying to breathe life back onto a dormant ANZUS alliance, inoperative for 15 years. I do not believe the decision to purchase these planes was driven by the United States of America at all; it was driven by a National Government that wants to revive an alliance forged in other times for other reasons, and those times and reasons have long passed.'

'Mr Bradford asserted this morning that because NZ had agreed to buy the planes, the decision that the Americans made on lamb tariffs was not as bad as it might have been ... All that the lamb tariff episode tells us is that great and powerful nations like the United States will act in their own interests, issue to issue, no matter how many of their planes, boats, tanks, or whatever other nations buy - that is irrelevant.'

'I say again that the decision made by Cabinet yesterday is not supported by the majority of members of this House, and that again demonstrates the lengths to which an arrogant Government is prepared to go to shaft an incoming Labour government.'

' I suspect that the country has only seen the start of the kind of escalation of expenditure that would occur if the F16s purchase and lease were to proceed.'

* Matt Robson, during the parliamentary debate on the F16s, 27 July 1999.

'The most important question that the people of New Zealand want to know is whether the Alliance and Labour will go ahead with this foolish lease and purchase. The answer is an unequivocal no. The Leader of the Opposition [Helen Clark] stated that today in Parliament. She has stated it through the media on behalf of her party.'

For more information - there are many reasons why we do not need nor want the F16s which we have covered in previous previous PMA Alerts and Updates (in particular F16s, Frigates and other follies', 2 August 1999) and Newsletters (such as the September / October 1998 issue).

2) Armed forces spending review

The current situation on this is that Derek Quigley has been hired to conduct the review, it is assumed it will reach a conclusion similar to that of the Interim Report of the Inquiry Into Defence Beyond 2000, it is most likely Quigley will be working out of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Full details of the terms of the review, whether public submissions will be permitted etc are expected to be announced after the Cabinet meeting on 20 December 1999. In the meantime, if you are jolly quick off the mark in responding to this alert, you could fax the various influential people below and request that this review WILL include public submissions.

3) Contact details

a) for the new government :

* Letters - all letters should be addressed to the relevant person and posted (no stamp needed) to Parliament Buildings, Wellington.

* Phone calls and faxes (all to be prefixed by 04 by those of you out of Wellington) -

~ Helen Clark, Prime Minister, office - tel 471 9998, fax 473 3579;
~ Jim Anderton, Deputy Prime Minister, office - tel 471 9011, fax 495 8441;
~ Mark Burton, Minister of Defence, office - tel 471 9715, fax 495 8465;
~ The Cabinet (collectively), office - tel 471 9743, fax 472 6332.

* ideally you should send a copy of your correspondence to Matt Robson, Minister for Disarmament and Arms Control, office - tel 470 6659, fax 495 8462; to the Green Party Spokesperson for Defence, Keith Locke, Green's office - tel 471 9999 (main parliamentary switchboard, ask for Green's office), fax 472 6003; and a copy of your correspondence and of any replies to PMA for our files.

b) You could also write to the national / nationally distributed media :Christchurch Press, fax (03) 364 8492,; Dominion, fax (04) 4740257; Evening Post, fax; (04) 474 0237,; New Zealand Herald, fax (09) 373 6434,; Sunday Star Times, fax (09) 309 0258; Press Association, fax (04) 473 7480; Radio New Zealand, fax (04) 473 0185; Listener, fax (09) 360 3831,

Link to PMA's alert - F16s, frigates and other follies

Link to the "Meet the needs of the people, NOT the military" postcards.

Link to PMA's newsletter - article 'Third frigate - not scuppered yet?' which moves into discussion of the F16s and whether we need any armed forces.

Return to main page on military spending and alliances.

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