Gordon Campbell on the endless spending on Defence

c7ef96111c366bbcf0f1Defence is the one area of government spending where the politicians never, ever demand – but how on earth do we propose to pay for this? A Budget supposedly focussed on “bread and butter” issues has still managed to allocate another $748 million (over four years) to a new batch of military spending.

The aim of this package, as Reuters put it, “is to stop the loss of military personnel, and ensure the country’s military can operate alongside allies and partners.” All part of the price of our membership of the old club.

Some $419 million of this package will go on wage increases to show the members of the armed forces that they’re valued for the job they do, and that they should be paid accordingly. “It means 90 percent of NZDF personnel,” as Defence Minister Andrew Little explained yesterday, “will now be paid at, or close to, market rates.”

The same arguments should, of course, be being applied to nurses. They also have been leaving their more socially valuable profession in droves, and heading for countries that offer better pay, better work conditions, and more modern equipment – all of which enables nurses to put their expensive training to better and more sustainable use.

Despite their selfless devotion to duty during the pandemic, nurses have had to fight tooth and nail ever since for wage increases. The military, we are now being told, deeply resented the work they were called upon to do during the pandemic, and many have reportedly left the jobs in a huff for precisely that reason. “That was not what they signed up for” say the Defence boffins. It seems that many of our soldiers are happier when they’re shooting at people than when they’re being asked to pitch in and help save lives.

Our hospital wards are in crisis every day. Around the country, there is still unequal access to healthcare, depending on the luck of the postal code that patients live within. Yet it is the military that gets the emergency relief. That’s the case even though there are no rational grounds for thinking the people of New Zealand (or anyone living in the rest of the South Pacific) face a military threat either now, or over the next decade, or more.

In fact, Pacific nations keep on telling Australia and New Zealand that the imminent threat they face is from climate change, not China. Yet presumably, our armed forces would be grumbling about helping out there as well. Humanitarian relief work? That’s not what they signed up for. No prospect of much ‘bang bang’ in that work, either.

Endless largesse

Over the past five years, the NZDF has received almost anything it has asked for from the government. A $3 billion plus outlay on a wing of Posiedon P-8A anti-submarine surveillance aircraft? Sure, why not? Yesterday’s package also contained another $90 million to upgrade the fuel storage facilities for the Poseidons at Ohakea air base, so the meter is still ticking on that one.

Five Lockheed Martin C-130J-30 Super Hercules transport aircraft? Sure, there’s $1.52 billion readily available for that, for starters. Upgrade of the expensive and barely fit for purpose NH-90 helicopters? Chicken feed at a mere $21 million. Replacements for the RNZAF‘s two Boeing 757s? That’s on the way.

The really big ticket item on the horizon is the replacement of the ANZAC frigates. This will be a wildly expensive (as in, tens and maybe hundreds of billions of dollars) exercise in military symbolism that will do nothing whatsoever to make New Zealanders more safe. After all, those frigates would be sitting ducks should any shooting war ever eventuate.

Buying new frigates would be an investment in a capacity for military posturing, for war gaming and for dangerous adventurism alongside our US and Australian allies. These Defence allies seem to regard a shooting war with China as inevitable, if they can have anything to do with it.

Across the Tasman, the Australians are rubbing their hands at how readily we cave in to pressure. They have good reason to feel pleased. More than anything, our looming outlay on new frigates will finance a massive job creation scheme for Australian workers, within Aussie shipyards. That surely, is not something New Zealand taxpayers would ever want to sign up for.

The no shame, blame game

The cultural pieties in which Meka Whaitiri has wrapped her exit from Labour would have had more credibility if they’d been accompanied by at least some expressions of good will towards her former party, and colleagues. When the PM repeatedly calls, why doesn’t she pick up? A lack of courtesy is a sign of weakness, not strength.

Showing some gratitude to one’s host, one would have thought, would also have been consistent with tikanga. If her puku really is calling Meka Whaitiri home, then maybe she should also be reflecting on how well that puku has been fed by her association with Labour over the past decade.

While Whaitiri is portraying her decision as an irresistible call to return home, it is worth reflecting on just how carefully she has timed her response to that call. Close enough to the election so as not to trigger a by-election, and close enough to maximise the electoral benefit from being seen as a victim of Labour allegedly “not listening” to her needs, or to her wise counsel.

Good grief. She was a Cabinet Minister with weekly access and rare opportunities for input into all of the key decisions taken by the government to which she belonged, and that offered her any number of regular opportunities to put her talents to good use. What, exactly, was she saying that they didn’t hear? What abilities did she possess that were being shackled?

Given the ugly, bad faith nature of her departure from Labour… Does this mean that a Te Pāti Māori with Whaitiri on board would now be a bit more open to going with National post-election, than might have been the case, say, a month ago?

Answers on that point would be advisable to have, pre-election. One would hate to think of Whaitiri being taken in shackles by her new friends into a governing arrangement with Labour and the Greens. That might not end well. Overall, is Te Pāti Māori feeling OK about the baggage that their new prospect will be bringing on board?

James Brown, unshackled

Any clip sequence featuring James Brown has to find some excuse to include “Night Train” from the T.A.M.I. show in 1964. A young Mick Jagger waiting in the wings with the Rolling Stones, had every reason to wonder how on earth he was going to follow this onstage:

In more reflective mode on the Ed Sullivan Show, Brown needed no shackles to remind him that in the USA of 1966, he was still a prisoner: