Independent Review on the New Zealand Defence Force’s progress on the Action Plan for Operation Respect

The independent review assessed the progress on creating a culture of dignity and respect in the Defence Force by asking the question: “What progress has the NZDF made creating a culture of dignity and respect in the Defence Force through the implementation of its Operation Respect Action Plan?”

How the independent review was done

The reviewers:

  • studied international and domestic practices including a document review, quantitative data analysis and an assessment of leading practice knowledge;
  • visited all camps and bases to hold focus groups;
  • conducted one-on-one interviews;
  • received written submissions; and
  • interviewed NZDF senior leadership past and present.

Findings and recommendations

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.