Part 1: Introduction

New Zealand Defence Force: Resetting efforts to reduce harmful behaviour.

The New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) plays a crucial role in promoting national and international security and stability. NZDF engages in a wide range of work, from humanitarian and relief work to peace support and combat operations.

NZDF is a values-driven organisation. Its stated values are Tū Kaha (courage), Tū Tika (commitment), Tū Tira (comradeship), and Tū Maia (integrity).

NZDF launched Operation Respect in 2016 after a series of reviews found that inappropriate and harmful sexual behaviour was a problem in the organisation. Operation Respect aimed to prevent inappropriate and harmful behaviour from occurring and ensure that, when it did happen, systems and processes were in place to deal with it properly. Initially, Operation Respect focused only on sexual harm, but in 2017 the scope was expanded to include all inappropriate and harmful behaviours.

While carrying out our work, we frequently heard that NZDF is a very different organisation from what it was 10 years ago. We were told that behaviours thought of as normal back then are not seen in the same way today.

However, we also saw that inappropriate and harmful behaviour persists in the organisation. In our survey of NZDF personnel, 78 people reported experiencing unwanted sexual activity in the last year, which is 1.3% of survey respondents. These rates were higher for uniformed women at 4.8% (compared to 1% for civilian women) and were highest for junior uniformed women at 7.2%.7

In our survey, 5.5% of respondents reported experiencing inappropriate sexual behaviour in the last year. This was most common for uniformed women (19.5%), with junior uniformed women most affected (24.6%). The survey also found that 12.6% of survey respondents reported experiencing bullying, discrimination, and harassment in the last year. These rates were higher for civilian personnel (17.6%) and for women (19.7%).

There are many organisations around the world facing these issues, including military organisations.8 There is no quick, easy, or obvious solution to achieve the change required. Militaries in Canada, the United States of America, and the United Kingdom have all been trying to address these issues but have seen limited progress to date. Achieving lasting progress requires clear direction from senior leaders, and a systematic and co-ordinated approach to influencing behaviours across all aspects of the organisation.

Why we did this audit

In mid-2019 the Ministry of Defence commissioned an independent review9 of NZDF's progress against the Operation Respect Action Plan (the Action Plan).10 The review found that some progress had been made, including the creation of the Sexual Assault Response Team, the two-track disclosure process,11 and the Sexual Ethics and Responsible Relationships12 training.

However, the review also found that while senior leaders supported Operation Respect and there was an initial impetus for change, it had not been sustained:

[NZDF] has not managed to maintain a consistent and thorough approach to its ongoing strategy or implementation. Momentum, visibility and focus have been lost.13

The review also found that fundamental cultural issues needed addressing. There was a perception that the culture of military discipline and command made it difficult for people to raise concerns about senior personnel. A culture in which comradeship and group cohesion are central meant speaking up could be viewed as a risk to team allegiance. A "code of silence" prevailed where personnel would not raise concerns because they feared repercussions and did not trust NZDF's systems and processes for responding.

The review made 44 recommendations on specific aspects of the Action Plan, one of which was that the Office of the Auditor-General review progress every two years for the next 20 years. NZDF accepted this recommendation and requested we monitor progress.

How we carried out this audit

The overarching aim of our work is to determine how well NZDF is progressing towards its aim of eliminating inappropriate and harmful behaviour and creating a safe, respectful, and inclusive environment for all NZDF personnel. Our first performance audit is focused on how well NZDF has reset Operation Respect and whether it has been designed and set up effectively to achieve its aims.

Our audit involved extensive fieldwork. We reviewed a significant number of documents about the development and refresh of Operation Respect, including planning documents, camp and base action plans, Health and Safety Governance Committee meeting minutes, Operation Respect Steering Group meeting minutes, internal communications to personnel about Operation Respect, and monitoring and evaluation plans.

We interviewed 253 people, including:

  • NZDF leadership (the Chief of Defence Force, the three service chiefs, and the Chief People Officer), personnel leading and delivering Operation Respect, personnel leading initiatives aligned with Operation Respect (such as work on diversity and inclusion and Operation Stand14);
  • personnel on camps and bases such as the camp or base commander, the command warrant officer, a selection of commanding officers, and support personnel (that is, Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Advisors, social workers, and chaplains);
  • members of the Operation Respect Steering Group and other relevant stakeholders;
  • experts in harm prevention, harm prevention in a military context, and organisational culture change; and
  • a cohort of 126 military and civilian personnel from across NZDF.

The scope of the audit did not include the effectiveness of other NZDF initiatives (such as Operation Stand, the Wāhine Toa programme,15 the Army Culture Development Programme,16 and the Navy culture programme17), except where it related to their co-ordination with Operation Respect. The work of Veterans' Affairs in supporting current and former NZDF personnel was also out of scope.

Separately, we have also developed an outcomes framework and carried out research to establish baseline information about the impact of Operation Respect. That research is presented in our first monitoring report – A safe and respectful New Zealand Defence Force: First monitoring report.

The monitoring report presents qualitative and quantitative data collected about people's knowledge and understanding of Operation Respect, experiences of inappropriate and harmful behaviour, and experiences reporting, and receiving support for, experiences of such behaviour. The report draws on interviews with a cohort of 126 NZDF personnel, a survey offered to all NZDF personnel, and other information provided by NZDF. Over time, we intend to measure change against the baseline data set out in that report.

The baseline data has also informed the findings in this report and is referred to where relevant.

What we expected to see

We wanted to know whether Operation Respect had been effectively designed and reset to achieve its aims.

To answer this, we looked at whether:

  • Operation Respect was underpinned by a clear strategy and focused on the right levers to effect change;
  • there was demonstrated commitment to Operation Respect from leadership, including ways to hold people to account for progress;
  • Operation Respect was sufficiently resourced; and
  • NZDF was well placed to monitor progress towards meeting the objectives of Operation Respect.

Later audits will focus on aspects of NZDF's implementation of Operation Respect's activities as well as NZDF's overall progress towards meeting the aims of Operation Respect.

To support our lines of inquiry, we reviewed available research on organisational development and culture change in militaries. We also drew on our own Integrity Framework.18 Our approach was informed by interviews with experts in culture change in militaries who also provided advice to our audit team and carried out a peer review of our work.

We identified five elements that the literature indicates are important to changing the culture in militaries. They are:

  • vision, strategy, and planning;
  • committed leadership and accountabilities;
  • systems, policies, and processes (for example, human resource policies, complaints and disciplinary systems, and training and education) that align to encourage the desired behaviour;
  • programme structure and oversight; and
  • communication and transparency.

We used these to guide our assessment of whether NZDF's approach to the Operation Respect refresh included the right elements to influence culture change.

Structure of this report

In Part 2, we look at the need for culture change, and the approach to Operation Respect after the 2020 review.

In Part 3, we discuss the need for NZDF to clearly define the outcomes of Operation Respect.

In Part 4, we discuss the need to prioritise, develop, and implement a co-ordinated strategy and plan for Operation Respect.

In Part 5, we look at the role of leaders and leadership in Operation Respect, and the need for strong governance, clear roles, responsibilities and accountabilities, and clear communication.

In Part 6, we look at whether there are suitable arrangements in place to support implementation. In particular, we look at whether NZDF has access to the right data and evidence to understand the extent and nature of harmful behaviours occurring, and to monitor progress.

In Part 7, we look at whether Operation Respect is adequately resourced to support implementation.

7: Junior uniformed women are those personnel ranked as Lieutenant or Leading Hand and below in the Navy, Flight Lieutenant or Corporal and below in the Air Force, and Captain or Corporal or below in the Army.

8: Cotter, A (2019), Sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces Regular Force, 2018; United States Department of Defense (2022), Department of Defense Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military, Fiscal Year 2021, Appendix C; Hendrikx, L J, Williamson, V, and Murphy, D (2021), "Adversity during military service: the impact of military sexual trauma, emotional bullying and physical assault on the mental health and well-being of women veterans", BMJ Military Health, Advance online publication; United States Department of Defense (2021), Hard Truths and the Duty to Change: Recommendations from the Independent Review Commission on Sexual Assault in the Military; House of Commons Defence Committee, 2021.

9: Teale, D and Macdonald, Dr C (2020), Independent Review of the New Zealand Defence Force's progress on the Action Plan for Operation Respect.

10: The Operation Respect Action Plan was announced in March 2016 with the release of the programme. The plan was developed by a team of military and civilian personnel. It outlined an overarching strategy and framework, and the specific tasks and timeframes that were considered to be required to eliminate harmful and inappropriate sexual behaviour in NZDF.

11: The two-track disclosure process was created to provide people who are victims/survivors of harmful sexual behaviour a choice, wherever possible, about how their report is dealt with. People can now choose to make either a restricted disclosure or an unrestricted disclosure. An unrestricted disclosure triggers notification to the commanding officer and the start of a formal investigation. Restricted disclosures allow victims/survivors to disclose the incident and receive support from a Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Advisor (SAPRA) without command or the New Zealand Police being notified or a formal investigation being initiated.

12: Sexual Ethics and Responsible Relationships training is delivered by SAPRAs and designed to help prevent harmful and inappropriate sexual behaviour. It allows for discussion about what constitutes harmful behaviour and provides information about how it could be reported.

13: Teale, D and Macdonald, Dr C (2020), Independent Review of the New Zealand Defence Force's progress on the Action Plan for Operation Respect, page 12.

14: Operation Stand is NZDF's programme of work focused on alcohol and drug harm minimisation.

15: Wāhine Toa is NZDF's programme focused on enhancing the participation of women across NZDF, covering four main areas of attract, recruit, retain, and advance.

16: The Army Culture Development programme is intended to draw together several organisational and Army-specific initiatives that rely on a culture change to be successful or are intended to change the culture.

17: The Navy Culture programme is a navy-wide cultural refresh programme.

18: Office of the Auditor-General (2022), Putting integrity at the core of how public organisations operate, at