Shaw, Mitchell question Mark on extended Middle East deployment

In Parliament today Green co-leader James Shaw took Minister of Defence Ron Mark to task after the deployment of New Zealand troops in Iraq and Afghanistan was extended.

4. Hon JAMES SHAW (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister of Defence: Is it his intention to continue the deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq beyond 2019?

Hon RON MARK (Minister of Defence): Ultimately, those decisions are for Cabinet to make. This Government will undertake a strategic reassessment in early 2019. All options will be on the table at that point in time. Those decisions will be made around the strategic situation, our values, our independent foreign policy, and how we think that this Government might make a difference to the lives of the Iraqi people.

Hon James Shaw: Does he agree that continued military involvement of outside forces has actually further destabilised the region and made it easier for terror groups to recruit and has led to an increase in violence rather than a decrease?

Hon RON MARK: No, we don’t. We’re confident that the independent, principles-based decision that Cabinet made yesterday was the right thing to do. I think I would add that for Iraq to become a prosperous nation once again, for its people to enjoy a quality of life that we enjoy, and for them to enjoy the well-being and the support of a good Government such as we enjoy, they need security. Security is paramount to the well-being of the people of Iraq, and I think that is the greatest contribution we’re able to make at this time. But, again, come next year, this Government will reassess the situation.

Hon James Shaw: Does he agree that if New Zealand were to play a role beyond 2019, then the New Zealand public would rather it be focused on building schools and roads and hospitals rather than a seemingly never-ending military engagement?

Hon RON MARK: Mr Speaker, we understand that that is the view of some people, and we would share those views that ultimately that is where we would like Iraq to be. Right now the most important thing is to guarantee security. Right now where we can make a strong contribution, along with our Australian partners, is to improve the quality of the security forces there and thereby lend greater security. For NGOs to be able to deliver to those people, they need security. We’ve seen examples in Sudan where the wonderful efforts of NGOs have been interdicted by the lack of security. I would also point out that in Afghanistan alone this Government over the years since 2001 has put in over $100 million in aid. There’s another $2 million to the UN Development Programme and there is about $3.5 million going into the UN Development Programme around technical assistance for de-mining support.

Hon James Shaw: Well, would he agree that the money that we spend on these military deployments would be better spent on humanitarian aid and reconstruction?

Hon RON MARK: I guess a quick add-up of the cost of all of the deployments that the Government has just announced comes to a grand total of about $31.4 million, bearing in mind that a couple of those deployments are for two years, not one year. Ultimately, the Government will in time—and I think next year—look at how we can make a contribution. It may well be that there may not be a military contribution; the focus may be on humanitarian assistance. Of course we’d like to build hospitals. Of course we’d like to help build schools. Of course we’d like to help re-establish the infrastructure. Iraq, in particular, is looking at a $100 billion bill for reconstruction, but $31.4 million is not going to build a new school, it’s not going to build a new hospital, and it’s not going to rebuild the infrastructure. It can make a substantive difference to the NGOs who are delivering that sort of support and thereby enhancing security.


National’s defence spokesperson Mark Mitchell also questioned Ron Mark.

Hon MARK MITCHELL (National—Rodney): Has he seen the quote “Does he not realise that he sent our brave New Zealand soldiers to Iraq on a fool’s errand, and that training the Iraqi Army to stand and fight is literally Mission: Impossible?”, and does he agree with it?

SPEAKER: Order! Order! Can the member read the question, please? Read it again.

8. Hon MARK MITCHELL (National—Rodney) to the Minister of Defence: Has he seen the quote “Does he not realise that he sent our brave New Zealand soldiers to Iraq on a fool’s errand, and the training the Iraqi Army to stand and fight is literally Mission: Impossible?”; if so, does he agree with it?

Hon RON MARK (Minister of Defence): Yes, I recognise that quote.

SPEAKER: No. The member will finish answering the question.

Hon RON MARK: Yes, I recognise that quote, and on the information I had at the time, I still stand by that statement.

Hon Mark Mitchell: How does the Minister reconcile his statement on Morning Report today that there was never any attempt by the previous Government to work across parties, when New Zealand First declined a briefing, an invitation, to visit troops in Iraq with Gerry Brownlee, Andrew Little, and myself in 2016?

Hon RON MARK: I have never received an invitation from Mr Brownlee or from that member on any visit, and, in fact, that member can enlighten people about the conversation that he and I had on the telephone where that member apologised for not inviting me.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can I ask the Minister as to whether it’s a fact that, contrary to being asked, with respect to consultation, the troops were already there before the invitation was sent to the New Zealand First Party in the first place?

SPEAKER: Order! That is not something the current Minister has responsibility for.

Hon Mark Mitchell: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. There appears to be some confusion. The Minister stood up and said that he’d never personally received an invitation—and I was very clear about the fact that the invitation went to New Zealand First—and the Deputy Prime Minister then stood up and contradicted him and said that we did receive an invitation. Which is correct?

SPEAKER: You’re not serious? Stand up and ask a supplementary, if the member wants to.

Hon Mark Mitchell: Why didn’t the Minister consult with or brief either the New Zealand National Party or the ACT Party before a decision was made to deploy our New Zealand Defence Force men and women into theatres of war?

Hon RON MARK: On numerous occasions, I have taken National Party representatives with me. In fact, I took Mr Simon O’Connor into Iraq and into Afghanistan. In those conversations that we had on that trip, it became very apparent and very clear to me what the National Party’s view was on the deployment. In fact, one would have to be deaf, dumb, and blind not to know that the National Party supported a continuation of that deployment, unless, of course, it’s just now changed its mind.

Hon Mark Mitchell: Has the Minister consulted with the ACT Party?

Hon RON MARK: No, I have not had consultation, but I would say this to that member also, and I would say it to Mr Seymour: the way that we have operated my office is that we make the door wide open. In fact, the member has been into my office for a briefing.

Hon RON MARK: We will always keep the door open, and I am fully ready, at any time, Mr Seymour, to give a full background briefing. Members of the National Party sat in on the bilateral conversations with the Prime Minister of Iraq. They sat in on the bilaterals with the Minister of Defence of Iraq and visited Afghanistan and sat in on the bilaterals with the NATO ambassador to Afghanistan. A member of the National Party has participated at all levels of those conversations and has made it very clear to me that the National Party support it. To Mr Seymour: the door’s open. I apologise for not getting round to you. I would have done that after the announcement.

Hon Mark Mitchell: Mr Speaker, can I just seek some guidance from you, because—

SPEAKER: No, you can’t. The member can ask a supplementary question or, if he has a real point of order, he can do it, but if he trifles with me again, he’ll be losing his supplementary.

Hon Mark Mitchell: It is a point of order, because—

SPEAKER: Well, the way the member does it is stand up and say, “Point of Order!”

Hon Mark Mitchell: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The point of order is simply this: the Minister is talking about taking other members away on trips. That’s not the question. The question was around consultation with Opposition parties before decisions are made on deploying New Zealand Defence Force men and women.

SPEAKER: Between the last two supplementaries, that has been very clearly answered.

Hon Mark Mitchell: Why hasn’t he applied his own high standards to himself in terms of a cross-party consultation and consensus in an MMP environment?

Hon RON MARK: Right at the outset of being sworn in as Minister, I think I made it very, very clear that I sought, for the benefit of the men and women in uniform, to gain as wide a cross-party consensus on defence matters as we possibly can. It is for that reason that we have gone out of our way to invite National Party representatives to attend briefings. It’s for that reason that I have never refused a request from the Hon Paula Bennett. I think there are about two or three National Party members who’ve sought permission to go on to military bases and talk with Defence Force personnel, unlike what happened to me when I was specifically blocked by the National Government at the time.

6 Comments

  1. Gezza

     /  September 18, 2018

    This is a can that has only been kicked down the road until next year. Hypocrisy Central & fractiousness all round.

    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  September 18, 2018

      Much ado about naught.

      • Gezza

         /  September 18, 2018

        It sounds like it will be the subject of fierce debate in 2019. It’s not really naught. Putting our service personnel’s lives on the line when we’re not threatened directly is not a small thing. We’ve lost some.

  2. Blazer

     /  September 18, 2018

    Mark Mitchell ex police dog handler and mercenary…what credentials for an aspiring leader of the Nats.

  3. Nookin

     /  September 18, 2018

    Right on Blazer, just can’t beat the credential of a fish and chip wrapper

  1. Question Time today | Your NZ