National questions how $20 billion defence spend is 'wellbeing'

National's defence spokesperson has labelled the Government's $20 billion defence spending plan "disingenuous" and questioned how it fits into its 'wellbeing' mantra.

Mark Mitchell, Defence Minister under the previous National-led Government, said while he agrees with defence spending, it seems out of place in the Government's Wellbeing Budget.

"The point that we're making is that you can't, as a government, come out and say to the country, 'We're going to do something completely different, we're going to deliver a Wellbeing Budget, these are our five priorities', and then continue to prioritise defence."

Mitchell said the Government was "completely disingenuous when they came out and said, 'This is going to be a special Wellbeing Budget'. It wasn't - it was just a Budget".

The Government's new Defence Capability Plan outlines how $20 billion will be spent in the Defence Force out to 2030, $5.8 billion which had already been committed since 2014 by both the current and previous governments. 

Part of the spending includes more than $1 billion to replace New Zealand's five ageing C-130 Hercules Defence Force planes with new C-130J-30 Super Hercules aircraft.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern defended the heavy defence spending on Tuesday. She insisted that replacing the old Hercules aircraft was necessary.

"When we look at some of the disasters we face in New Zealand, or even when we go into the Pacific to drop aid, it's our Hercules that delivers it," she said before her caucus meeting. 

"They do a very practical job for us at home and for our region, and the fact is we have a choice: either we replace them because they are tired and have to be replaced, or we don't have that capability anymore.

"Without it we just couldn't look after ourselves and our neighbours. I see it as core and I don't see it really at all as a choice - we have to replace them."

The Government also announced in July last year that it would spend $2.3 billion on purchasing four Boeing P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft from the US to replace the ageing Air Force P-3 Orions.

Ardern, as leader of the Labour Party, had a commitment to New Zealand First under its coalition agreement to re-examine how New Zealand spends money on defence "within the context of the 2016 Defence Capability Plan".

National leader Simon Bridges labelled Budget 2019 "the Winston [Peters] Budget" pointing to the defence spending that didn't seem to align with the five Wellbeing priorities including mental health and reducing child poverty.

Mitchell said the new defence spending announcement "is reconfirming that we were on the right track with our 2016 Defence Capability Plan - they've confirmed that".

Defence Minister Ron Mark said the spending plan "signals growth in the New Zealand Army to 6000 personnel by 2035, and an uplift in defence intelligence personnel and cyber security and support capabilities".

Peace Movement Aotearoa slammed the Government's increase in military spending after the Wellbeing Budget was released, making a similar argument to National.

 "Military spending does nothing to address the levels of poverty, homelessness, lack of access to comprehensive healthcare, low income, incarceration and despair affecting so many here in Aotearoa New Zealand."