What reports has he received on changes in defence policy?
Take your pills, Nick—come on! I have seen a report indicating that the policy of scrapping the air combat wing in New Zealand, which National has spent 8 years vehemently condemning as “dangerous and irresponsible” and “freeloading off its friends”, has now been embraced and adopted by the National Party. I, of course, welcome this latest flip-flop by the National Party, but I understand that the issue remains bitterly divisive within the National Party and we cannot be sure that it will not again flip-flop in the opposite direction.
Has he seen any further reports explaining proposed changes in defence policy?
I have seen the transcript of Television One’s Agenda programme where Murray McCully admits that the Labour Government was correct in its decision that New Zealand’s defence expenditure needed to focus on capabilities that it could execute really well, and I welcome National’s support for Labour’s policy. However, I am aware that the National Party is still run essentially by the same core of people—Bill English, Lockwood Smith, Tony Ryall, Maurice Williamson, and Murray McCully—all of whom vehemently criticised that policy just a few months ago. So one wonders about either the shallowness of its current policy or the shallowness of its previous policy.
When does the Government intend actually ever to get an unconditional sale of the Skyhawks, given that it is over 2 years since the Minister made his dramatic announcement of their sale, and he said he would follow it up when he went on his trip to the United States—or do they keep reminding him to not keep making the cheap shots against Australia and the United States that he has become expert at?
The member, of course, is inaccurate in his statement, because I was not the Minister of Defence 2 years ago—so he cannot possibly have that right. But the short answer to the question is the answer that the member already has—[ Interruption] Perhaps that is why he is still interjecting—because he has asked a question and he knows the answer. The answer is that the decision about the sale of the A4s to the Tactical Air Services company is in the hands of the Department of Defense and the Department of State in the United States. The United States has made it abundantly clear—and the member is aware of this, as well—that there is no fault on New Zealand’s side, and that the problem exists within its system.
Has the Minister seen reports of a political party that, when last in Government, signed up to purchase 28 F16s at a cost of around $650 million, that campaigned vigorously against the Labour Government’s decision to disband the air strike capability, that promised hundreds of Royal New Zealand Air Force staff at a public meeting in Bulls that it would reinstate that capability when elected to Government, and that has now stated it would not reinstate the air strike combat wing; if the Minister has seen those reports, what aspect of National’s flip-flop defence policy does this Government see value in, or has he concluded, as New Zealand First has, that National cannot be trusted with the defence of New Zealand?
I have seen those reports and I have seen those exuberant promises made by the National Party. It has broken its word. The member is right—National members cannot be trusted. They could never be trusted. They have done it in the past, and they would do it in the future if ever the country had to put up with their being in Government again.
What reports has he read that seek to explain the change in defence policy?
I have read an article in the Sunday Star-Times of 2 September that refers to past National criticisms of Government policy on the air combat wing as being New Zealand “freeloading” and “dropping leaflets on rogue fishing boats”; the journalist who wrote that report reached the conclusion: “So National is now either prepared to countenance bludging on its mates and leaving the [exclusive economic zone] unprotected, or it has decided that its former rhetoric was hysterical nonsense.” Either way, the National Party has egg on its face.
Does the Minister consider the sale of the Skyhawks and the Aermacchis to be a trade issue; if so, would he consider appointing a former World Trade Organization leader to negotiate the sale of those particular aircraft on behalf of his colleague the Minister of Trade?