Brownlee MIA when it comes to NZSAS

Gerry Brownlee in Iraq

DEFENCE MINISTER Gerry Brownlee hasn?t made a single visit to the Army?s special unit forces base at Papakura since being appointed to the role nearly a year ago.

It?s an astonishing revelation, according to Labour?s defence spokesman Phil Goff, who says he would have thought a visit to the Papakura military camp would have been top of Brownlee?s priority list given the NZSAS were the premier combat unit of the New Zealand Defence Force.

The NZSAS was accorded Regimental status in 2013 and presently has the responsibility of conducting domestic Counter-Terrorism operations, overseas Special Operations missions and performing the disposal of chemical, biological, radioactive and improvised explosive devices for both the military and civilian authorities.

But it appears Brownlee, who was appointed Defence Minister in October last year, has little interest in any of the work being carried out here. ??

In response to an Official Information Request sought by Whaleoil, Brownlee confirmed that since taking over the role he had not visited the base once.

We asked Brownlee to provide details of ?? how many times and the dates of any visit by the Minister of Defence to NZSAS at Papakura base since taking on the role of Minister of Defence.?

His response: ?None. I had organised a visit in December 2014, but the NZSAS, subsequent to agreeing, declined my visit due to an ?exercise?. Arrangements are being discussed for a visit.?

Goff said it was a startling admission.

He said during his time in Government he had made a number of visits to the NZSAS military base ? including one where he landed in the compound by parachute.

?That is curious given the SAS are at the frontline of our defence force. You would think the Minister would want to meet with them, talk with them and get a better understanding of how the unit operates,? Goff said.

?I have travelled to at least half a dozen different countries in the company of the SAS, even shared a hotel room in Kabul in 2002 with them. It is rather odd that he has not made that effort yet.?

Rather than visit the soldiers here, Brownlee travelled more than 15,000km to Baghdad in June for a secret 48-hour visit to see New Zealand Defence Force personnel stationed there to train Iraqi soldiers to fight Islamic State.

“Our soldiers are in very high spirits,” he said in a statement released after he left Iraq.

“Early indications are Iraqi trainees are responding and relating well to our trainers.”

New Zealand has deployed 143 Defence Force personnel to run a joint training programme of Iraqi forces with the Australian Defence Force.

Mr Brownlee also met Iraq Defence Minister Khaled al-Obedi in Baghdad and said the Iraqi Government and Commanders recognised New Zealand’s contribution.

cookStephen Cook is a multi award winning journalist and former news editor and assistant editor of the Herald on Sunday