An independent review of the New Zealand Defence Force’s progress against its action plan for Operation Respect has recommended the establishment of a Defence Ombudsman to receive and handle complaints.
The report’s authors, Debbie Teale and Dr Carol MacDonald, found that while some progress had been made, a number of “recurring problematic themes about the real challenges that stand in the way of Operation Respect’s success” were also identified.
“There is a lack of transparency and accountability of the NZDF’s progress in addressing and preventing the harm that continues to be experienced as a result of sexual violence and/or discrimination, bullying and harassment,” the report states.
It found a ‘code of silence’ prevails and many personnel will not raise a complaint or report serious issues such as sexual violence because they fear the repercussions and do not trust the NZDF processes and systems.
“The culture of military discipline and command makes it difficult for personnel to raise concerns or speak out against the behaviour or decisions made by their immediate manager or others more senior in the hierarchy,” it said.
Operation Respect was implemented in 2016 with the objective to address inappropriate and harmful sexual behaviours, discrimination, harassment and bullying.
The post-implementation review was commissioned by the Ministry of Defence and included interviews with past and present personnel across all camps and bases.
Defence Minister Ron Mark today acknowledged the bravery of those who took part in the review.
“Their contributions to the process are vital and I know this may have been a difficult and traumatic experience for some of those interviewed,” said Ron Mark.
“The review was critical and clearly outlines there is more work to be done in this space – this is not where the Defence Force wanted to be. While I am disappointed, the Defence Force has welcomed this report and is accepting of this criticism.
“I’ve met with the Chief of Defence Force and the reviewers to discuss the way forward and I am encouraged to see that the Defence Force remains committed to addressing these issues.
“Post-implementation reviews are essential and we know culture change within any organisation takes time. Our Five Eyes partners are also struggling to address similar issues in their militaries, as are other Government agencies. This is an opportunity for the Defence Force to build and improve on the positive streams of work within Operation Respect.
The review made 44 recommendations for consideration, including a request that the Auditor-General carry out an audit every two years of NZDF’s progress; consider the steps towards establishing a Defence Ombudsman to receive and process complaints; and create an integrated data management system to collect data and report on complaints and outcomes of incidents.
“The two recommendations put forward for the Minister of Defence will be considered carefully, and the Defence Force has initiated contact with both the Ombudsman and the Auditor General to discuss potential options. NZDF are now focused on addressing the recommendations in the report and I will be briefed regularly on their progress,” Minister Mark said.
“I also note that disclosures of inappropriate behaviour have increased since the implementation of Operation Respect, and it is important that reporting of these matters continues. I would encourage personnel to continue to reach out and report any unacceptable behaviour.”
The full report can be found on the Ministry of Defence website: https://www.defence.govt.nz/publications/publication/operation-respect-review