Independent Review of the New Zealand Defence Force’s progress against its Action Plan for Operation Respect

16/07/2020 Publication

Today the Ministry of Defence released an independent review assessing the New Zealand Defence Force’s (NZDF) progress implementing the Action Plan for Operation Respect.

The Operation Respect review was commissioned by the Ministry of Defence under section 24(2)(e) of the Defence Act 1990.

In 2016, the Chief of Defence Force at the time launched the Operation Respect programme to eliminate harmful workplace behaviour in the NZDF. Operation Respect has now been in place for over three years. In 2019, it was considered timely to assess the progress against the Action Plan for Operation Respect. NZDF senior leadership also expressed a strong interest in gaining an independent perspective on progress and whether NZDF is well-placed to achieve the objectives of Operation Respect.

To carry out the review the Ministry of Defence commissioned independent reviewers with the relevant expertise to provide an independent view and analysis of NZDF’s progress.

The purpose of the Operation Respect review is to understand what progress NZDF has made in creating a culture of dignity and respect in the Defence Force.

Overall, the reviewers found that some progress is being made. The review notes the standing up of Operation Respect to foster a culture of respect is a success in itself. Other successes of Operation Respect include:

  • the establishment of the Sexual Assault Response Team and Sexual Assault Prevention Response Advisors;
  • the provision of Sexual Ethics and Responsible Relationships training;
  • the creation of the Operation Respect Steering Group with members external to the NZDF; and
  • the buy-in from many great leaders across the organisation who are committed to making a difference but who need more tools and resources to achieve their objectives.

However, the review also found significant barriers to progress. The final report notes four fundamental challenges impeding NZDF’s success in realising the Action Plan:

  • a lack of transparency and accountability of NZDF’s progress in addressing and preventing harm;
  • the current culture still encourages a ‘code of silence’;
  • the culture of military discipline and command prevents personnel from raising concerns of speaking out; and
  • the culture also makes it is difficult to call out behaviours or decisions made by personnel more senior in the hierarchy.

Based on their findings, the reviewers made 44 recommendations. The recommendations include: request that the Auditor-General carries 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 Ministry of Defence would like to acknowledge all who took part in the review process, and in particular those who shared experiences that are distressing in nature.