The impact of cost-cutting and restructuring by the Ministry of Defence came under fire from Montecillo Veterans' Home and Hospital Trust chairman David More during a hard-hitting Anzac Day speech in South Dunedin yesterday.
In front of 200 people, including veteran home residents, invited guests and members of the public, Mr More criticised the New Zealand Defence Force being forced by the Government, in 2010, to find savings of $400 million over four years, which included changes to the defence force in Otago and Southland.
Mr More said Dunedin had around 215 territorial service personnel who, until December 7, were part of the Fourth Otago Southland Battalion Group. However, since then they have amalgamated with Canterbury to form the 2/4 Battalion Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment, with the headquarters based in Christchurch.
"This is the first time in the history of Otago and Southland that we have not had our own battalion-strength territorial force.
"I believe the amalgamation was a retrograde step. It will inevitably mean a falling-off in the number of territorial force personnel in this part of the country."
Mr More said he believed this could affect the ability of "New Zealand to maintain overseas deployment".
"I think there is little doubt that at some time in the near future there will be a United Nations peacekeeping force in Syria, and New Zealand will be asked to play its part there."
It was important the country maintained sufficient territorial forces to respond to national disasters or emergencies, and he cited the Canterbury earthquakes, as a recent example.
"I believe a strong territorial force is necessary. To misquote a well-known expression, the price of peace is eternal vigilance, and maintaining vigilance includes sufficient defence force strength."
In late January, Auditor-General Lyn Provost criticised the Defence Force's cost-cutting project, saying it would not meet its savings targets and that staff morale had been dented. Large numbers of staff had left, undermining the force's ability to do its job.
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