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Speech: Reinforce Success In Peace As You Would In War - Hon Heather Roy, Associate Minister Of Defence

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Heather Roy
Heather Roy

Hon Heather Roy speech to the Inaugural NZDF Reservist of The Year Awards Dinner; Defence House, Aitken St, Wellington; Saturday December 12 2009.

Director-General Reserve Forces and Youth Development, Brigadier Sean Trengrove; Director Army reserve, Brigadier Ants Howie; captain Naval Reserve, Captain Peter Arnold; WOI, Dave Armstrong; contestants and fellow service personnel.

It is very pleasing to speak to you tonight at the inaugural awards dinner for the NZDF Reservist of the Year Award.

Since assuming responsibility for Reserves as part of my Defence portfolio, I have attended a range of awards ceremonies arranged by the TF Employer Support Council for employers who have gone the extra mile in helping their reservist employees to attend training or deploy on full-time duties. A few months ago, during the hosting of the ABCA Reserves Conference, I heard about the Australian Reservist of the Year Award and decided that New Zealand also needed a means of recognising the best in our Reservists.

Flexibility is a principle of war and I wish to note that General Mateparae demonstrated this at first hand when I phoned him with the suggestion. With his enthusiastic support, I announced the creation of this award an hour later in Parliament. Since then, Brigadier Sean Trengrove and his team have worked hard to bring together, at relatively short notice, this inaugural competition and awards ceremony. My congratulations to all involved in the establishment and conduct of today's event.

Since becoming Associate Minister of Defence, I have given many speeches about the Reserves. Government Ministers are acutely aware that their speeches are analysed by officials in order to seek out the encrypted policy indicators that may be camouflaged within the words. Tonight, I intend to be explicit about what this award means to me and why I initiated it.

I have been absolutely consistent in my view that the Reserves, across all three services, have been run down to below critical mass. There is no single person or event that can be singled out as being the cause of the current state of the Reserves. The current situation is a result of many decisions over nearly thirty years and my focus is on finding solutions rather than attributing blame.

Any coach knows the importance of strong leadership and taking the field supported by a dynamic, high utility bench. Fifteen rugby players - no matter how good they are - will not see you through a game, let alone a season. Even the NZRU has accepted that reducing the number of professional teams, while financially appealing, isn't a smart choice and that some of the best players and administrators are to be found in what might have been referred to, before the marketers got involved, as 'non-first division' unions and teams.

The same is true of national security. Tactically, it makes sense in both scenarios to keep some specialist performers and impact players fresh as reserves. We all know that without school and club rugby, New Zealand could not sustain a competitive All Black performance. In the Defence Force, as in rugby, full-time versus part-time is not a choice for administrators. It is not a case of either/or but, rather, both/and. You are here tonight because you understand that.

I am committed to increasing the size, depth and breadth of the NZDF Reserves across all three services because it is a fact that the useable ratio of part-time service personnel is 6 to 1 compared to 3 to 1 in the full-time forces. However, size is not everything. The quality of the Reserve and how it is used is equally important. Of note is that this is probably the first joint Reserve activity for a very long time.

Tonight's awards recognize the need to reinforce and reward quality. If we spend 80% of our time reinforcing the right behaviours instead of focusing on problems, the capability of New Zealand's Defence Force will grow much faster.

I know, from personal experience, that it is not easy to serve your country as a Reservist. When I joined the Territorial Force in 2006, I used a mix of Parliamentary recess time and leave in order to attend Basic Training. To avoid accusations of 'double-dipping', I donated all my Army pay to the RSA's Tasman Fund for Vietnam Veterans and their families.

While I received a lot of encouragement, I was also the recipient of significant public and private criticism of my choice - comments like "ACT MP missing in action" were not uncommon. I firmly believe that what I learned in Waiouru, particularly about myself, made me a better representative in Parliament. Looking around the room now, I see that your service has also made you 'twice the citizen'.

Platforms are not capabilities. The key to success in national security is a three-part team: personnel, families and employers. Each group is critical to the development and success of the NZDF. Service personnel face many challenges, and I couldn't speak about Reserve employment without mentioning families. It is impossible to understate the importance of support from the home front. Whether it is to attend training or to deploy on operations, the entire family of a service member contributes to the whole. In these days of the market that never closes, the same is also true for the wider commercial sector as more couples and single parents are forced to juggle work and family commitments, and employment is no longer just nine-five Monday-Friday. The support of your employers is vital to an effective Reserve Force.

Genghis Khan is attributed the famous quote "As you train - So shall you fight!" Each of you impressed me today with your commitment to this. In my view, every one of you deserves an award. However, as in battle, there has to be a winner and it gives me great pleasure to present this inaugural "Reservist of the Year Award" tonight to that person.

On the day after Germany and Italy declared war on the United States, in the wake of Pearl Harbour, in 1941, it is pertinent to close by remembering that supporting good causes is not, in itself, enough and we must all be prepared to take the field, to win and not to leave until our work is done.

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