11 November 2018 – 100 years since the end of World War One – is a significant event. It means many different things to people. That ranges from remembering the fallen to the addition of Maori troops to the Empire’s order of battle and the treatment of conscientious objectors. While it commemorates the end of one war, it could be thought of as a touchstone for everyone who seeks peace – the end of all wars.
It should not be politicised by anyone but it probably will be. There will be protests as there usually are. Most servicemen and women would probably shrug their shoulders and say “we fought so they could have the right to protest.” However, when politicians use commemorations to score points it is nothing short of disgraceful. That’s why I was surprised to learn from sources that the Government and, in particular, Defence Minister Ron Mark, intends to release the freshly reviewed Defence Capability Plan in the days leading up to 11 November. Actually, I was appalled.
If true, this would have to be one of the most poorly advised decisions any Government could make – effectively saying “here’s some new guns – don’t forget to remember the dead.”
Armistice Day commemorations are about when the guns fell silent and church bells rang out. People celebrated in the streets but, when the party was over, were then confronted with the grim cost of victory. Only a cynic or a fool would connect an announcement for major re-equipment of the NZ Defence Force with such an event.
Where is the Ministry of Defence in all this? Perhaps complicit in this foolhardy plan? They have been obfuscating for months on my official information act requests about the review of the Defence Capability Plan despite all that was asked for was a timeline and terms of reference. On 6 August, the ministry claimed that only preliminary work was being undertaken and that there were no Terms of Reference. If true, that’s poor project management, if you consider that the Strategic Defence Policy Statement, which they wrote, was released a month earlier on 6 July. Then, on 25 September following intervention by the Ombudsman, the Ministry sent another response claiming that the Minister would be briefing Cabinet in October and releasing the review in December. I know that Ron Mark signed the Terms of Reference in September before the Ministry sent that response to me. On 28 September, I sent a very specific follow-up request which the ministry declined.
The culture of an organisation reflects its leader. The Ministry of Defence has been neither open nor transparent. Ironically, the agency responsible for getting defence up to speed on high tech matters is invisible on social media. Just a website, phone…and a fax. I’m looking forward to things changing under the new, incoming Secretary of Defence.
Ron, there’s still time to change your mind. Don’t use Armistice Day to announce the Defence Capability Plan. Besides, if you delay a few weeks, you’ll be back on the Ministry’s declared timeline!