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Source: New Zealand Government

E ngā mana, e ngā reo, e ngā karangatanga maha, tēnā koutou

Ki a koutou Te Āti Awa, Taranaki Whānui, Ngāti Toa Rangatira,

ngā mana whenua o te rohe nei, tēnā koutou

Ko Te Whare Wānanga o Aotearoa ki ngā take o te Ao (NZIIA),

Ko te Rōpū Tohu Tono (DIP Corps) Tēnā koutou

Ko Te Whare Wānanga o Wikitōria e whakamanuhiri ana tātou

Mihi maioha ki a tātou katoa

Thank you for the kind introduction, and good evening to members and guests of the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs.

Special thanks to Victoria University for hosting this event. It is a pleasure to be here tonight to reflect on my time as Minister of Defence, and discuss New Zealand’s role as a contributor to regional and collective security.

Over the past two and a half years as the Minister of Defence, I have focused on ensuring that Defence is a Force ready to respond to a range of operational requirements at the direction of the Government. It has been a privilege to hold this position.

Tonight, I will discuss some specific areas of my portfolio that are likely of particular interest to this audience, including the international security environment, the strategic direction for Defence, our international relationships, deployments, as well as the role the NZDF has played in communities around New Zealand.

 Geopolitical arena

I will begin by identifying the key impacts COVID-19 is having on Defence.

As we are all aware, the pandemic is having an extreme impact on the world, and in particular the global economy. The World Bank is forecasting the worst global recession since World War II and global unemployment is expected to rise to its highest level since 1965.

Consequently, New Zealand will continue to navigate an increasingly complex and dynamic international security environment.

The pandemic has resulted in further strain on the international rules-based order, which is foundational to our security.

At the point when the world needs a coordinated global response more than ever, the global rules and institutions that support and sustain the system are under serious pressure, with consequences for New Zealand’s interests across the board.

Although the full implications for global security will only become clear over time, the spread of COVID-19 has accentuated geopolitical shifts, tested the robustness of democratic governance, and increased social inequalities.

The pandemic is one of a combination of forces increasing pressure on the international rules-based order.

The three key forces are:

  • States pursuing greater influence in ways that challenge international norms and at times the sovereignty of small states
  • Challenges to open societies that threaten those states’ willingness to champion the rules-based order, and
  • Complex disruptors that disproportionately affect open societies and weak states, and are forces for disorder. 

With the backdrop of COVID-19 and a strained international environment, New Zealand is facing intensifying disruptors closer to home. These include, climate change, transnational organised crime and resource competition.  These forces will disrupt our neighbourhood, including our extensive maritime area, which covers 11% of the Earth’s surface, in complex and compounding ways.

Further afield, the stability of the Asia-Pacific region is under pressure from a range of factors, from violent extremism in Southeast Asia to North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes. 

Strategic direction for Defence

How can we ensure New Zealand will be able to navigate these challenges?  We achieve this through our policy settings, which articulate and define how Defence responds to this evolving security environment.

Over the past two and a half years, Defence has seen significant updates to its policy settings.

This has included the introduction of the Community, Nation, World framework, which acknowledges the NZDF’s important role in supporting community wellbeing and national resilience. 

An important theme that derives from this framework is Defence support to other agencies’ outcomes. Ministers from Social Development to Conservation, Customs and Police are all supported by Defence and have a stake in Defence.

The establishment of  clear, concise “Defence Principles” articulate long-standing and widely held expectations of our Defence Force, and describe at a fundamental level what it is, and how it should operate and promote New Zealand’s interests and values.

These include:

  • Ensuring that Defence is combat capable, flexible and ready,
  • Making sure our personnel have the resources to meet operational and strategic priorities
  • And ensuring Defence is a credible and trusted international partner, particularly in our own region.

This has lead us to place a greater emphasis on regional engagement, especially in the Pacific. New Zealand is a Pacific nation through geography, culture, identity, historical and economic linkages, and valued people-to-people ties.

“He tini o ngā Iwi, engari, ko tētehi Moana nui-a-Kiwa”.

“We are one Pacific of many nations. Many nations but one Pacific”.

New Zealand is both in and of the Pacific, and our security and wellbeing are intrinsically bound to the peace and stability of the region.

The Coalition Government has recognised challenges in our region, including climate change, economic resilience and human development as well as more contested strategic environment.

As a result, the Pacific will require more humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, stability operations, and search and rescue missions.

The Pacific Reset has responded to these challenges with a lift in our strategic ambition and investment in the region.

The priority for our Defence Force to be able to respond in the Pacific is at the same level as our ability to operate in New Zealand’s own territory. This elevation represents a commitment by New Zealand Defence to be ready when called upon by our Pacific partners.

Our goal is a stable, prosperous and resilient Pacific.

Prioritising cooperation with likeminded partners is fundamental to achieving this. We can achieve more together than any of us could on our own. Together we work hard to promote strong, independent Pacific governance, human rights, rule of law and transparency – and we encourage other partners operating in the Pacific to respect these principles

“Ehara taku toa I te toa taki tahi, engari he toa takitini”. 

“My strength is not that of an individual but that of a collective”.

When the effects of climate change intersect with a range of environmental and social issues, these can be significant contributors to both low-level and more violent conflict. New Zealand is now considered a world leader on climate change and security.

As Minister of Defence, it has been a priority of mine to articulate the significant security challenges climate change will present for Defence in the coming decades.

In consultation with the Minister for Climate Change, our Defence assessment demonstrates how the links between climate change and conflict are indirect but demonstrable.

Reaching out across the aisle is a priority of mine, and lively discussions with colleagues from other political parties is something I do not shy away from. Climate change is a key example of my commitment to cross party and cross agency collaboration.

International relationships

Turning now to international relationships and engagements. Defence diplomacy has been a highlight for me over the past couple of years. A few stand-out moments come to mind –

  • It was a privilege to share the stage at the 2019 Shangri-La Dialogue and speak alongside Dr Ng Eng Hen, Singapore’s Minister of Defence, a truly impressive statesman;
  • I’ve particularly enjoyed forming close relationships and having frank discussions with Australian counterparts past and present, especially Ministers Marise Payne and Linda Reynolds; 
  • I’ve been hosted in far off places with such generosity and graciousness, including in Thailand, Fiji, PNG, China, Timor Leste and the UAE. 
  • I’ve also travelled to places most would never even imagine visiting, I of course think back to Antarctica, South Sudan and Iraq.  
  • And in my capacity as Minister of Veterans I’ve been proud, and moved when paying my respects on visits to Kranji War Memorial in Singapore, or to Italy to represent the Government at the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Cassino.

Despite COVID-19 preventing global travel, staying in touch with my counterparts has been a priority during the pandemic. I have had calls with my Tongan, Fijian, Singaporean, UAE and Japanese counterparts.  

I also recently participated in a virtual Five Eyes Defence Ministerial Meeting. New Zealand benefits from close engagement with these partners. You may have seen these relationships highlighted in the media recently, with many of my ministerial colleagues also participating in virtual Five Eyes meetings over the past few weeks.

I value the insights of these partners and the collaboration amongst us. Staying in contact with Five Eyes, sharing lessons learned is especially important during difficult times like we have experienced over the past few months.

New Zealand and the US share a particularly longstanding friendship. This history is built on deep personal connections. During World War II more than 150,000 American service personnel came to New Zealand.

 At the Pukeahu National War Memorial Park, there is a quote from U.S Secretary of the Navy, Frank Knox in 1943. It reads…

 Together, in our strength, we shall keep that ocean – Pacific! As we are comrades in battle, so we shall be partners in victory. I salute the lands of the ANZACs as our companions in the peace that will follow, comrades and partners as an example to all the world of what can be accomplished by a fraternity of free men.”  

 I find this quote, despite being nearly 80 years old, effectively captures the essence of our enduring relationship.

While New Zealand and the United States work together on a range of global issues, our cooperation and like-mindedness is now coming into sharper relief in the Asia-Pacific where the region is becoming more contested and its security is ever more fragile.

My visit to China in 2019, where I addressed the Peoples’ Liberation Army National Defence University was an opportunity to reaffirm New Zealand’s values.

I talked about how as beneficiaries of the international rules-based order we have the responsibility to step up, and safeguard it.

We must face challenges together in practical ways, such as through cooperation in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief or peacekeeping. I reiterated the need for transparency, and frank conversations in order that we can cooperate in this shared commitment to peace and security.

New Zealand continues to be concerned by developments in the South China Sea. New Zealand has consistently urged parties to resolve disputes peacefully in accordance with international law, and in particular the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Across all our partners, New Zealand’s defence engagements are guided by our values. From Pacific Island Countries to China, to the US to NATO, we listen, we work to understand the needs of our partners and respect their perspectives and diverse identities.

 When defence engages, when we deploy, these values are put into action. We stand up for what we believe in.


It is imperative that we continue to contribute to collective security efforts where they are aligned with our values.

It enables us to pursue an independent foreign policy and prosperity, and sets the foundation for our security.  Support for the international rules-based order is a key pillar of our independent foreign and defence policy.

As such, New Zealand remains firmly committed to supporting the diplomatic efforts to achieve the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation of North Korea, including through the implementation of the United Nations Security Council sanctions.

In 2018 and 2019 we deployed a P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft in support of these sanctions as part of Operation Whio.

These efforts are a key element of the global effort to persuade North Korea to abandon all of its nuclear weapons and nuclear programmes, as well as all other weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programmes.

In the last few months, Cabinet has considered some of New Zealand’s deployments to the Middle East and Africa.

This region is complex, and the operating environment is challenging. We see ongoing and pernicious threats of violent extremism, transnational organised crime, and threats to freedom of navigation.

These challenges to the rules based order undermine the social fabric, have a global reach and impact on New Zealand’s prosperity, resilience and national security interests.

We have a proud history of contributing to international efforts to counter these threats. Last year, I was privileged to visit our serving personnel across the Middle East and Africa.

I saw first-hand how respected our personnel are, and what professionalism they bring to each mission. By working with partners, New Zealand personnel are helping to support peace, create stability, and ensure that our values are demonstrated across the globe.

In March this year, marking another key milestone, saw the return to New Zealand of remaining personnel who served in Building Partner Capacity Programme at Camp Taji, Iraq.

Since 2015 nearly 1000 NZDF personnel have deployed to Taji in order to train the Iraqi Security Forces and provide mentoring support. In concert with our Australian partners, over 47,000 ISF personnel were trained by this mission, including Federal Police.

While the Building Partner Capacity mission was successful in completing its objectives, we recognise that the work in Iraq is not over. ISIS – while territorially defeated – continues to commit horrific atrocities and human rights abuses.

Even now, when the world is gripped by a pandemic, ISIS continues to call for its members to exploit the confusion, and gain further footholds across the region, and further afield.

New Zealand remains committed to the work of the Defeat ISIS Coalition, and in May agreed to retain staff officers in the region, which provide support in a number of headquarter roles, including support to training, planning, logistics and legal advice.

31 of our troops are deployed to the Multinational Force and Observers in Sinai, Egypt.

New Zealand has contributed to the MFO since 1982, when I was among the first tranche of officers deployed to the mission. A New Zealander, Major General Evan Williams currently holds the position of Force Commander and is serving with mana, steering the 1200-strong mission through these uncertain times. General Williams is the third New Zealander to hold the appointment.

New Zealand also has a range of personnel in other theatres. This includes Jordan, South Sudan, Lebanon, the Golan Heights and Afghanistan, demonstrating New Zealand’s steadfast commitment to the maintenance of the international rules-based order.

Domestic story

Domestically, the NZDF has had to be prepared to respond to a range of unpredictable events. The last three years have seen major challenges confronting New Zealand and our wider region, including the March 15th attack, the White Island disaster, the Australian bushfires, Cyclone Harold in the Pacific, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic.

Through these periods of uncertainty, the Defence Force was prepared to respond to these events at the direction of the Government, and I am proud of the way Defence has conducted itself during these challenging times.

This Coalition Government is dedicated to ensuring that the Defence Force will be able to continue to deliver value to the community, nation and world for decades to come.

Our investment in long term capabilities is a reflection of this commitment. With strong backing across the Coalition Government, we have delivered the greatest injection of defence funding in decades, with $4.3 billion in operating and capital funding allocated in total across the past three Budgets.

The planned $20 billion capital envelope out to 2030 demonstrates our commitment to ensuring that the Defence Force have the capability to deliver what we ask of them.

The purchase of five C-130J-30 Super Hercules transport aircraft as well as the four P-8 Poseidon are once in a generation investment that will ensure the Defence Force has the capability it needs to carry out future tasking’s on behalf of all New Zealanders.

HMNZS Manawanui has been successfully conducting sea trials in New Zealand and is proving to be a highly capable vessel. This vessel is a game-changer for the disaster relief, search and recovery and explosives disposal work the NZDF does in the South Pacific region.

The arrival of HMNZS Aotearoa in New Zealand last week, the Navy’s largest ever vessel, is also an exciting development for our Defence Force.

This capability will enable Defence to contribute to combat operations, humanitarian relief functions and operational and training support. Aotearoa will provide global sustainment to New Zealand and coalition maritime and air units, as well as United Nations security operations.

She boasts state of the art features that include ice-strengthening and winterisation features, meaning this capability will be able to sustain New Zealand’s presence in Antarctica. 

The benefit these procurements provide to New Zealand’s diplomatic and trade relationships is substantial, as we are demonstrating to our international counterparts that New Zealand is serious in its commitment to ensuring the security and prosperity of our community, nation and world.

To conclude, thank you for the opportunity to speak with you all tonight about these important topics.

While there may be a number of challenges ahead, I take great comfort in recognising New Zealand’s reputation as one of the most trusted and respected Defence partners in the world.

Our values, our integrity and our mana will enable us to deal with whatever challenges lie ahead.

 Kei a tātou tēnei ao, kei a tātau hoki ēnei iti kahurangi.

This is our world; these are the challenges we must strive to overcome.

 He waka eke noa.

We are all in this together.