3 May 2009

NZ defence budget 'about right' - minister

9:56 pm on 3 May 2009

There are no plans for New Zealand to follow Australia's example in dramatically boosting its military spending, Defence Minister Wayne Mapp says.

The Australian government has announced plans to spend an estimated $A100 billion more on defence over the next 20 years.

Included in the spend-up will be 12 new submarines, eight new frigates and 100 US Stealth fighter aircraft.

Dr Mapp says New Zealand is working on its own defence white paper, which will complement that of Australia.

However, he says it makes no sense for New Zealand to simply duplicate on a smaller scale what Australia does.

Dr Mapp believes New Zealand's current defence budget is about right, and is confident the two countries will continue working closely together.

Australia's defence expansion signals what its white paper, released on Saturday, describes as a major new direction aimed at building a "heavier" naval, air combat and logistics capability in the Asia-Pacific.

The white paper says United States influence in the Pacific region is expected to decline as China's military strength grows.

Dr Mapp says China's military capacity has increased as its economic capacity has grown, but over the past 30 years the country has focused on trade and good relationships with its neighbours.

Relationship with Australia affected - Hensley

Former secretary of defence Gerald Hensley says Australia's plan highlights the dramatically different approach the country is taking to security in the Asia-Pacific region.

He says New Zealand's defence spending has almost halved in the past twelve years relative to gross domestic product, and that is likely to affect the degree to which New Zealand will figure in Australia's calculations.

While it is not reasonable to expect a large increase in spending during a recession, Mr Hensley says, New Zealand does need to develop long-term plans for its defence force.

Military academic Lance Beath says New Zealand will need to follow Australia's lead and spend significantly more on its defence force in the long-term.

Mr Beath, a senior lecturer with Victoria University's School of Government, says like Australia, New Zealand has a large off-shore zone to protect in times of increasing strategic uncertainty, increasing resource pressures and concerns over such things as large scale refugee movements.