PM changes tune on need for new planes

The 757 has been used for 96 flights in the past three months. File photo: Supplied / New Zealand...
The 757 has been used for 96 flights in the past three months. File photo: Supplied / New Zealand Defence Force
By Lillian Hanly of RNZ

The prime minister appears to be more open to replacing the country's aging Boeing 757s, saying it's a necessary upgrade that can not be put off for much longer.

Defence Minister Judith Collins has said the plight of the Defence Force planes is more likely to be resolved now than it has over the past few years and that sentiment has been echoed by Christopher Luxon in Japan.

Luxon said successive governments had put off a necessary upgrade, and that could not continue.

"We are in a place where we need to make sure we can replace that 757."

It is a change in tune for Luxon, who has previously said it was not the time for such a big-ticket investment.

He said the government was currently reviewing its defence capability and - as part of that - would look at potential replacements for the 757.

Luxon had to take a commercial flight to Tokyo this week after the 757 broke down during a stopover in Papua New Guinea.

Collins faced questions on the breakdown at a select committee during scrutiny week at Parliament.

It is a politically fraught issue, because no one wants to spend up large on what has been called the "PM's plane", but the new Chief of Defence, Air Marshal Tony Davies, wanted to remind New Zealanders that it did not just carry the prime minister.

"Just to highlight just how busy it is, in the last three months it's done 96 flights and during those 96 it had some minor technical issues, but it only had one that involved altering its mission."

The two-hour select committee also raised wider issues of investment in the Defence Force.

Christopher Luxon at Costco Tokyo yesterday. Photo: RNZ
Christopher Luxon at Costco Tokyo yesterday. Photo: RNZ
Collins spoke of the sadness she felt when she inherited the portfolio and understood the state of the force.

"I felt morale was down. I felt that there was a feeling of having to basically apologise for doing the work defence needs to do."

But she felt things were changing for the better.

"I do feel very hopeful for defence now. I think my colleagues in government get how important defence is, and particularly in this world which is very geopolitically unstable."

Labour MPs on the committee thought the government was not going far enough.

Defence spokesperson Peeni Henare said he did not think the government took defence seriously.

"It's hard to imagine that these things will be resolved given the downward trajectory of funding for defence over the next five years," Labour's Damien O'Connor said.

Collins rejected that notion, saying O'Connor had not seen the Defence Capability Plan (DCP).

That is the plan which outlines investment options for defence in the near future, which Collins expected to be able to share more detail on later this year.

Collins said it was significant.

"I think we live in a very difficult time.

"We have to up our game because everything is changing very fast."

But Henare said there had already been a DCP.

"You can't improve defence on reports alone, you've got to have money."