6 Jul 2018

Defence policy: Climate change central to new strategy

4:32 pm on 6 July 2018

The government has put climate change at the centre of its new strategic defence policy.

Ron Mark, Minister of Defence.

Ron Mark, Minister of Defence. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

How New Zealand and its neighbours will combat the growing effects of global warming is central to the 2018 policy, which was released today by Defence Minister Ron Mark.

Mr Mark said New Zealand's defence capability would have to grow to deal with the challenges of climate change.

New Zealand and Pacific Island countries were increasingly being hit with events requiring defence assistance - rising sea levels, water contamination, food shortages, and displacement and migration.

Mr Mark said that affected security and had the potential to destabilise areas with weak governance.

He pointed to the government's Pacific Reset - launched earlier this year - as a focus area for the government in terms of today's statement.

'Small countries need friends'

But speaking at the review launch at Victoria University, he said New Zealand could not act alone.

"We need to be ready to lead [in the Pacific] .... [we] can't face challenges alone... small countries need friends," he said

But the policy statement's comments on China may be difficult to swallow, according to professor Robert Ayson from Victoria University.

The document talked of "an increasingly confident China" and its influence in the South China Sea and Pacific, and its move toward changing and potentially de-stabilising the rules-based order - which countries adhere to internationally.

Mr Ayson said China might not be pleased.

"Very clearly from the document you can see that on the whole the New Zealand government is concerned that China is seeking to change aspects of what it calls 'the rules based order' in parts of the Asia Pacific," he said.

However, Mr Mark said the government's concerns about China were nothing new.

The document outlined the global situation as the government saw it, he said, and there were activities that needed to be highlighted.

Mr Mark also reaffirmed the coalition government's support for the Defence Force.

"[The policy statement is] not just words on a page...[but] a call to action," he said.

Read the document in full here.

Meanwhile, Mr Mark said an announcement on the replacement for the old Orion plane fleet would be made "soon".

A review commissioned into the procurement of major defence assets was also released today.

As an opposition MP before becoming minister, Mr Mark frequently criticised the process, highlighting what he called cost blowouts.

Mr Mark commissioned the review from Sir Brian Roche shortly after taking office last year.

Sir Brian has made no recommendations, saying Defence processes were now a glowing example of how procurement should be done.

Mr Mark said he now had the confidence to take major capability procurement decisions to Cabinet.