Heather Roy

25 June 2020

I was recently interviewed for this Democracy Project podcast by Geoffrey Millar. The Democracy Project has also published a summary of the podcast here.

We covered a fair bit of territory including:

  • COVID-19 has revealed the need for a National Security Agency

“I think that the problem initially for New Zealand with Covid was the border and the problem now is the border.

“We’ve had a very reactionary response to Covid, rather than a planned response that could have happened if we had a properly developed national security strategy with a National Security Advisor as an officer of Parliament.

“Australia and the United States do have a separate agency, which acts as an umbrella – you still have defence, you still have police, you have your health system, you have biosecurity dealing with all sorts of border control issues, customs…but the National Security Agency acts as a co-ordinator and brings all of those functions together when you need it.

“If you had an umbrella agency covering all of those areas and drawing the expertise in, but responsible for the planning before any event, you’ve got a much stronger and more robust response to any threat to the border.

  • Whether military service is beneficial to the political role of Minister of Defence

Roy told the Democracy Project podcast that she found her military experience beneficial for her political role, but direct experience from a portfolio area could also be an obstacle to being a competent minister.

“For me it was a definite advantage having had that personal experience and having the knowledge did really help me make better decisions as a minister. For some in politics having had specific experience works really well, and for others not so much.”

“There is sometimes a downside to politicians knowing too much about their portfolio and that’s the temptation to get too operational…rather than maintaining the governance perspective. Whether one ends up being remembered as a knowledgeable and engaged minister or an annoying armchair general is for history to determine…I hope that I’ll be considered in the former camp.”

  • New Zealand’s new defence strategy

“We’re entering a phase that New Zealand’s been in before, where there are very few opportunities for our service personnel to serve overseas… we went through the period where we were quite significant in Timor Leste and the Solomon Islands and Afghanistan, and we’re just coming out of that phase now.”

But Heather Roy told the Democracy Project podcast that the government’s Defence Capability Plan – announced in 2019 and involving some $20b of spending over the next decade – is not as radical as it might first appear.

“The spending commitments that have been announced are mostly not new. The replacement aircraft and the ships that we’re talking about now were in the Defence White Paper that I was involved with in 2009 and 2010. Some of that spending was put on hold following the Global Financial Crisis and the Christchurch earthquake happening in quick succession…the then National-led government decided to kick for touch on any really big defence spending.

“Those platforms were mostly re-announced in the subsequent Defence White Paper, the 2016 paper which was authored by the previous National government…when the current Labour-led government came to power in 2017 there really was no longer any timeline left to wriggle along. Not only were the P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft having serious availability issues due to their age, the manufacturer of one of the replacement options, Boeing, was going to close off the P-8 Poseidon production. So really for the government that was a use-it or lose-it choice.”

  • China Tensions

Heather Roy says that New Zealand’s relationship with China – New Zealand’s biggest trading partner – remains a tightrope, with tensions highlighted by the coronavirus pandemic and New Zealand’s foreign policy pivot to focusing on its immediate region, or the “Pacific Reset”.

“Our relationship with China is hard to describe in many ways, but I think it’s fraught but evolving…we all love that there is a free trade agreement, exporters love having that relationship because it allows them markets that they mightn’t have had previously.  We certainly like having that component to our economy, but there are significant challenges that we do need to worry about.

  • ACT Party and the election

A decade on from leaving Parliament, Heather Roy says she is optimistic about Act’s prospects at the 2020 election. Recent polls have shown Act as a high as 3.5%, a result that if maintained would represent a significant improvement on its past three election results.

“It’s really pleasing to see that level of polling and if anybody deserves that, David Seymour does. He’s done a spectacular job, particularly in very recent times and several people have commented to me that he is the Opposition at the moment. I think he deserves to be back, it’s very hard on your own, and he deserves to be back with more Act MPs.

“I talked about that contest of ideas that politics offers – the smaller parties do have a huge amount to offer in our NZ political spectrum and system and I would be very sad to see them go.”

For the full discussion go to the Democracy Project podcast.