When a Royal New Zealand Air Force C130 Hercules broke down in Vanuatu this week there was a certain irony in the event. It left Defence Minister Peeni Henare stranded in the Solomon Islands capital, Honiara, where he had been leading a delegation of 30 New Zealanders, including officials from the New Zealand Defence Force and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who were in the country for World War II commemorations.
Henare took over the Defence portfolio after the 2020 election, but so far he has done little to upgrade the rundown state of the country’s defence resources.
Whether his stranding might serve as a wake-up call could be monitored not just by Defence officials but by a wider public becoming alarmed at how defenceless NZ has become, even as threats in the Asia-Pacific region become all too obvious.
This week the ACT party drew attention to how numbers are dropping in the New Zealand Defence Force as personnel are faced with “poor pay, poor dwellings, and poor leadership from the Minister”.
ACT’s Defence spokesman, Dr James McDowall, said the NZDF is experiencing increasing attrition rates across all three services driven by low pay and poor living conditions
An internal survey obtained by ACT through Official Information Act requests shows that only 41% of army personnel are not actively looking at leaving the New Zealand Defence Force, while 54% don’t think the pay they receive is fair.
McDowall says he has received complaints from personnel who say are they’re upset by the poor conditions they are expected to live in, with many places not being up to the Government’s own Healthy Homes standards.
“Our defence force is full of hard-working patriotic Kiwis who want to serve their country, but Labour seems to think they serve on patriotism alone. The Government needs to acknowledge their service and back them with the resources and pay they deserve”
The answers to Written Parliamentary Questions from ACT show that between 2017 and 2021, 84 different job types – ranging from infantry to the trades – failed to meet enlistment targets; many of which are also at risk of not meeting the 2022 enlistment target.
The responses also reveal that 653 NZDF personnel involved in Operation Protect, NZDF’s COVID response operation, have since chosen voluntarily to exit the military.
McDowall said it has also been reported that Brigadier Matt Weston told Henare in a briefing that attrition rates are “increasing month on month” and “In some areas and trades where the job market is especially buoyant, it is over 20%.”
“The warnings have all been there, but the Minister refuses to act.”
According to McDowall, ACT thinks there should be a similar commitment b our government to that of traditional allies to increase defence spending to 2% of GDP. This would result in $7.5bn in extra expenditure over the next four years, almost double what Labour would spend.
“We need to give our Defence Force the tools and resources they need. This kind of targeted spending would send a message to our defence personnel that we value their service, and to the rest of the world that we take defence obligations seriously”.
As a footnote, Point of Order records the fact the RNZAF is due to retire its C130 Hercules which has had a number of breakdowns in recent years.
The deliveries of the first new C-130J aircraft ordered by the previous Defence Minister Ron Mark are due in 2024.
Some defence authorities believe NZ urgently needs to order missiles and drones as a first line of defence.