Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

On National’s neglect of the armed forces

July 1st, 2011

Illustration by Tim Denee - neglect of the armed forces, army, stick
Illustration by Tim Denee –

Only a National government could get away with the changes in the New Zealand Defence Force now taking place – ie in the wake of the so called “civilianisation” drive – without a hue and cry about how these outbreaks of rampant ideology and short-sighted cost savings are undermining morale among the people entrusted with defending the nation’s security. In fact, the process of replacing uniformed staff with cheaper civilians on lesser contracts will save only $23 million overall – which is chicken feed in the context of the government’s general business, and considerably less than recent governments have allocated to the America’s Cup, or are budgeting to lose on the Rugby World Cup.

The current round of Defence Force cost cutting will see 81 officers and 227 other ranks lose their jobs, with 71 of 2119 from the Navy, 155 of 4920 from the Army and 82 of 2579 from the Air Force. When these 308 job cuts are added to the effects of natural attrition as people are not replaced, NZDF is forecasting to lose approximately 500 military personnel by year’s end..More cuts have been foreshadowed for next year. The impact on the already shaky morale in the armed forces will be highly negative. Recently, Defence Force Chief Lieutenant-General Rhys Jones conceded to a Parliamentary select committee that forces morale had dipped over the past six months.

Much the same process of course, is occurring elsewhere across the public service. In this case, the impact on overall morale and wider performance is easier to observe. New Zealand is currently captive to a school of management that looks only at the bottom line of labour costs, and cares nothing for the impact on morale, efficiency and quality of service delivery that the resulting waves of penny wise, pound foolish internal disruption will bring in their wake. The current government however, seems indifferent to arguments based on the quality of public services – maybe because it is ideologically opposed to the notion of public services per se. in anything but the most rudimentary form.

With our defence forces, the recruitment message has been that joining the Army/Navy/Air Force offers a career path to those in uniform, and one not solely consisting of being on dropped onto a battle-ground. If the government now wants to shrink the career diversity and job security on which it is basing its armed forces recruitment advertising, then perhaps it should say so, upfront, to its new recruits. As Green Party MP Keith Locke has pointed out, those who join the armed forces forego certain rights – eg to collective bargaining – in return for a measure of job security and preference in selection for the jobs available.

Does the government have any idea – or concern – about what the overall efficiency outcome will be the administrative split that it is now zealously promoting – whereby only strictly military roles (ie warfighting, peacekeeping) are being reserved for those in uniform and everything else that can be farmed out will be contracted out at the cheapest rate that the free market can deliver? Is that “ two culture” scenario likely to attract the best and the brightest into a career in uniform – or will the armed forces become a residual re-training ground for the failures of our education system? Probably the latter, if one can judge by the recent Defence White Paper, which as Scoop pointed out last year includes this dimension:

In a poignant paragraph, the armed forces are advised to ‘manage’ the recruitment of good prospects who are failing the literacy and numeracy tests that are currently required. Elsewhere, the possible impact of employing civilians on military career structures and retention is barely addressed. It is simply taken on faith that military personnel will want to move in and out of military service over the course of their career. Contracting out, it concedes in an aside (6.49) will increase the possibility of price gouging by contractors. Not to worry about that, though.

Time will tell ( come the Defence Review in 2015) if this privatization process has saved as much money as the White Paper proposes. Certainly, some of its recommendations will increase the paperwork – the demands for supportive documentation for every single major purchase for instance, and the addition of a specific manager to manage the interface between the Ministry and the NZDF on each purchase, do not look consistent with the drive to prune back bureaucracy.

As it sheds those in uniform, is NZDF adding or subtracting the number of managers and form-fillers to quantify and document the “savings’ it is allegedly making? As mentioned, the centre right may talk tough on Defence, but it is habitually terrible at looking after its fighting needs, Those Vietnam era M113 APCS for instance, that kept breaking down in the mid 1990s and being hauled back to base in Bosnia by our British allies were emblematic of the way the last National government looked after the welfare of those in uniform. Nothing seems to have changed in that respect.

[Some of course, will point out that it was the incoming Labour government in 2000 that scrapped the ageing Skyhawks air strike wing and also refused to buy the bargain bin US replacements that were on offer at the time. Those steps however, were merely the prelude to the Clark government embarking on a massively expensive refocusing of Defence spending onto providing a combat trained, well-equipped land force supported by the Air Force and the Navy. The price of staying out of the Iraq war and cleaving to the UN rather to our traditional allies proved to be a major uptick in the long-neglected era of Defence spending and re-equipment. True to form, a National government is now resting complacently on that foundation.]


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    1. 9 Responses to “On National’s neglect of the armed forces”

    2. By Robert M on Jul 2, 2011 | Reply

      The real purpose of the military should not be to be just another job. In reality it should be a machine for deterring, patrolling and fighting and eliminating enemies of the west and freedom. Those in support roles may better be civilians without the need for the same degree of training and indoctrination.
      In some respects the military were better provided for under Clark, but many of the most important innovations such as significant Orion updates came as a result of pressure from the United States and the brass. Even if support for the Army was considered a priority and the desire was to equip for support rather than frontline fighting it is difficult to understand why twice as many LAV3s than could usefully be manned, serviced and deployed were brought and why much of the money was not spent instead on 5 new Hercules.
      The real nature of the deal clark did to get out of the F-l6 purchase is not known-but it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the proposed sale of the Skyhawks and Aermacchis was an elaborate shadow scheme and deception to say Clark and the Americans face. It is now obvious that they really couldn’t have been sold after about 2005 because both types of aircraft would have had to be reengined and were therefore of little retail value, particularly as far better Skyhawks were available from plane dumps in the USA. So it seems a likey scenario of what happened was that the US didn’t approve of the disbanding of the strike force, that they wouldn’t allow the Skyhawks and Aermacchis to be sold in the first decade of the 21C and therefore a phony sales process to a shadow company tech services was instituted to save both parties face and allow the Americans and forces to maintain pressure for their reactivation as long as possible. That is a pretty good guess and synthesis. To get out of the F-l6 deal Clark of course had to pay for them to be refitted to the higher standards needed to allow them to reenter service with the USAF with look down shoot down.

    3. By Andrew P Nichols on Jul 3, 2011 | Reply

      “In reality it should be a machine for deterring, patrolling and fighting and eliminating enemies of the west and freedom.”

      What? Attack the USA, NATO and Israel? Suicidal! We’d only last 5 minutes

    4. By Robert M on Jul 5, 2011 | Reply

      My view has always that the NZ military should be a high skill employer. That is one of the main reasons I opposed the Anzac frigates which have 130 ordinary ratings in their crew, most of the male and at least half of low skill and questionable capability. It is also the reason I gave a degree of support to the F-16s as all jobs related to the strike force would be high skill, possibly including the barmaids and strippers that serviced them everywhere the MB339 sticker was stuck up, which tended to be in the toilets of every hot singles bar or sex club. The reason that left/ right commentators opposed the F-16s was that they did not want NZ to be a high skill silicon valley type employment economy. Trotter said as much. As an alternative to the Anzacs- the best option at the time would have been $200 million Meko 140s or stretched Famous cutters.And today something like the Dutch OPVs Holland and Zeeland.
      In reply to Andrew P. Out friends are Nato, USA and Israel. The enemies of freedom are the PLO, Hamas,Taliban, Muslim Brotherhood, Michel Bachman, Sarah Palin and any fundamentalist graduates of the likes of the Oral Roberts

    5. By Elyse on Jul 6, 2011 | Reply

      @ Robert M

      Your cliched view of who are our friends and enemies is laughable.

    6. By Elyse on Jul 6, 2011 | Reply

      @ Robert M

      Surely your list of our enemies should include the French who actually carried out a terrorist attack in our country which resulted in a loss of life?

    7. By Robert M on Jul 7, 2011 | Reply

      France and China are neither friends or enemies. Japan and Russia are potentially too powerful to be friends and that should have influence over trade policy. To the United States and Israel, France is probably the most valuable ally with its 36,000 ton nuclear carrier De Gaulle and Rafele fighters giving the power and reach to say hit Iranian nuclear, naval, submarine and missile sites in combined strike with Israel. I am not of course a rabid, anti shite or anti Iranian calling for elimination of Iranian nuclear potential and influence as the over intense Rhode Island Congressman, Patrick Kennedy did on the BBC at 6.10am some months ago. I am consistently anti nuclear, but the French carrier is about the right size and what Britain should have built.
      Frances reliance on nuclear deterrence and nuclear power is a mistake but an understandable one. In the early l960s , JFK and McNamara wanted Nato in Europe capable of fighting a 90 day conventional war, but Ardenaur and De Gaulle would not stock their forces for more than one half days of conventional fighting and De Gaulle retailliated by withdrawing from Nato and developing and independent deterrent ( so called). In the l970s the German based RAF, Jaguars, Buccanears and Vulcans were armed with thermonuclear tonnage because Helmut Schmidt wanted that and cruise, to in some deter the Americans as much as the Russians from conventional war. A degree of nuclear armament was necessary during the cold war and I have always been more stongly opposed to costly and outdated nuclear power than some nuclear armamament.
      I support Sea Shepperd and believe naval patrols are necessary to stop predatory fishing in the Ross Sea and Antarctic waters.
      Greenpeace with its policy of non violence and non force is a subversive anti west organisation which is effective only against weak mushy western powers, it will not prevent resource exploitation in Africa or by Asian powers.

    8. By mike e on Jul 15, 2011 | Reply

      while in opposition Wayne Mapp complained endlessly about Labours lack of commitment to the armed forces but the previous 9 years the only new spending that National did was update our veitnam era walky talkies and thats all, they continually cut and cut DF spending .Labour came to power in 2000 scraped the aging skyhawks as they were too expensive to run [$130million a year on fuel alone $250million a year on maintenance and parts which some had to be indvidualy engineered because they were no longer in stock. The cost fuel today to run them at minimum flying time would be something like 400milion year] maintain they were falling out of th sky.

    9. By mike e on Jul 15, 2011 | Reply

      Labour from 2000-08 spent up to $5billion dollars on renewing a very run down DF with lavs which half were not put into use because in a war situation 1/2 are always being maintained, they were bought to keep our allies happy mainly aus. all our helicopters were bought new as the old ones were past their use by date the p3 orions were updated new navy patrol boats were bought a new roll on roll off boat they began upgrading hercules.and replaced the worn out and dangerous land rovers with 4wd nissans &6wd universal drive vehicles now National is up to its old tricks saying its helping its allies out but its cutting again

    10. By Brent Efford on Mar 10, 2012 | Reply

      Us old baby boomers can remember the Vietnam-era days when Labour was derided as the party of pacifists and (shock, horror) communists and the Nats were the reliable backers of the military. How times change! Despite the right-wing image-makers, it always seems to be Labour governments that actually take modern defence issues seriously, perhaps because they are not ideologically driven to slash state employment at any cost.
      Of all the services, the Navy is the most potentially useful to NZ – whether for fisheries or sovereignty protection, or blasting pirates out of the way of our trade routes (wish they would!) – but it seems to draw the perennial short straw where funding is concerned.

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