Part 4: Strengthening strategy and planning

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

In Part 3, we highlighted the importance of NZDF being clear about what it was trying to achieve and defining what a safe, respectful, and inclusive environment looks like. In this Part, we discuss the need to develop an organisation-wide strategy and plan for Operation Respect that:

Bringing about behaviour change is difficult. Lots of factors shape behaviour – values, norms, assumptions, policies, processes, and practices – and all need to be targeted for action in an aligned way.32

NZDF has some specific challenges. It has three services with distinct identities and ways of working and a large civilian workforce that operates under a different legal framework.33 There is a matrix management structure which means camp and base commanders are not always in charge of all units on their camp or base. In some cases, commanding officers of those units might be of a higher rank.

Operation Respect is one of many programmes focused on changing aspects of NZDF's culture. The Army and the Navy have overarching culture change programmes. There is also work on alcohol and drug harm minimisation, diversity and inclusion, and a Māori Strategic Framework that aims to advance bicultural competency at all levels of the NZDF. Operation Respect needs to align with, and complement, these programmes of work.

For the Operation Respect strategy to be effective, it needs to target levers that can influence behaviour throughout the organisation. Levers include policies, procedures, and practices – the factors that shape people's work environments. They set expectations about what behaviours are valued in the organisation.

We expected to see a strategy and plan setting out how different levers – such as education and training, career development paths, and the disciplinary and complaints systems – would be used to bring about change. We also expected to see consideration of the sequence in which these changes would be made.

We expected to see an implementation approach that enabled different parts of NZDF to design activities relevant to their circumstances and priorities. The three services, for example, each have their own operating environment, policies, procedures, values, and traditions. All create different behavioural norms, identities, and characteristics that can be drawn on to create positive change.

At the same time, any service-led plans need to align with an overall organisational strategy with clearly expressed roles and responsibilities between the services, camp and base commanders, commanding officers, and the different portfolios in NZDF.

Summary of findings

After the 2020 review, NZDF prioritised work to address individual recommendations and encourage activities to be identified in camp and base action plans.

Local ownership was a priority. Each camp and base was tasked with leading the preparation of their own plans. However, this work was initiated without the benefit of a clear organisational strategy or approach. There was little specific guidance provided about the purpose of the camp and base plans and how they should be designed and implemented. The quality of camp and base plans varied. In our view, this approach has not been successful in creating widespread ownership and action.

The organisational structure of NZDF is complex. For Operation Respect to be successful, all parts of the organisation – the services, Joint Forces, the camps and bases, the Operation Respect programme team, and the various portfolios – need to work together effectively. Without a clear operating model for how Operation Respect would be implemented, it was not clear who was leading the programme. The roles and responsibilities of the different parts of the organisation were unclear.

As a result, activities pursued throughout the organisation have not always been well co-ordinated or targeted at the right issues. This puts them at risk of having limited or temporary impact, and undermining the credibility of the Operation Respect programme.

NZDF need to determine what should be led from the centre, and what needs to be driven from the individual services. In our view, what is needed is an organisational strategy that sets direction through clear outcomes, objectives, and priorities and that is built around the levers of change in the organisation. This should include suitable mechanisms for measuring, monitoring, and evaluating progress (we discuss the importance of having the right data to support monitoring in Part 6).

The organisational strategy should be supported by a service-led approach where each of the services create their own plans that set out the actions they will take to achieve the organisational objectives, and camps and bases can then develop their own action plans.

The strategy and plan needs to be built around the levers of change

Culture change programmes need to identify and draw on the levers that influence behaviours across an organisation. Activities need to be aligned so they send consistent and reinforcing messages to encourage the desired behaviours.

Levers of change can be both instrumental and symbolic. Instrumental levers include systems and structures that set out the way an organisation operates and how individuals carry out their roles (for example, policies, standard operating procedures, training and education, performance management frameworks, and other recognition and reward models, including remuneration).

Symbolic levers include an organisation's values, traditions, rituals, norms, and artefacts. An organisation communicates its culture through the stories it tells about itself to its people and those outside the organisation. Stories that celebrate people and their achievements, or events that have taken place, send powerful messages about how an organisation defines success. Physical objects and images (such as memorabilia that celebrate events a team has experienced together, logos, team symbols and slogans, or posters and images in a workplace) also tell stories about what the organisation values.

The people we spoke to broadly understood the levers that influence behaviour. In our discussions, there were references to training and education, leadership development, and changes to infrastructure being important to Operation Respect. Environmental assessments that were carried out at a few camps and bases demonstrated an understanding of the influence of symbolic levers. However, we did not see evidence that this understanding was brought together to inform an overall strategy or plan.

Developing leaders who are equipped to manage harmful behaviour and set a healthy culture is an especially important lever (see Part 5). The other levers that we consider need to be prioritised in the strategy and plan are described below.

Education and training are important influencers of behaviours

In militaries, education and training are used extensively to communicate what it means to be part of the organisation and build the right skills to achieve these aims.34 Uniformed personnel receive general initial training and then further targeted training in their chosen field. They are required to complete specific courses to be eligible for promotion up the ranks.

Education and training are important opportunities for organisations to set expectations about appropriate behaviours. They are also important to establish the specific skills leaders at all levels need to prevent, and respond to, harmful behaviour. This includes developing the interpersonal skills needed to create a safe and respectful environment.

We saw examples throughout the three services of potentially helpful training. For example, all new civilian and uniformed personnel complete Sexual Ethics and Responsible Relationships training. For all three services, we saw examples of Operation Respect being integrated into recruit training and promotions courses.

However, training related to Operation Respect was also described as sporadic. Some people told us they felt the training was inadequate in preparing them to properly respond to harmful behaviour. This was especially so for those entering junior leader ranks, such as Corporals and Lieutenants.

In our view, once the Operation Respect strategy has been developed, the approach to training and education needs to be aligned. This will ensure that it incorporates a focus on developing and embedding the skills needed to prevent and respond to harmful behaviour.

Career and performance management systems can be used to set behavioural expectations

A career and performance management system plays a crucial role in setting expectations about the types of characteristics and behaviours that are rewarded in an organisation. This includes how people are selected for roles, how performance is measured, who is selected to participate in specific training, and how people are promoted.

An organisation also needs effective systems for tracking allegations of harmful behaviour throughout a person's career.35 In our interviews, we often heard concerns that people who harm others do not experience negative consequences in their careers. We were told that the performance development and promotions systems could be better used to ensure that only those exhibiting the desired behaviours progress in their careers. Better methods are required to ensure that instances of harmful behaviour are recorded and inform decisions about promotion and training opportunities.

Better methods are also needed to encourage desirable behaviours through the performance review process. NZDF's Performance Development Reports currently have a section on "ethos and values". However, we were told that this is not routinely used to assess whether someone is behaving in ways that promote a safe, respectful, and inclusive environment.

In our view, once NZDF has an agreed definition of what a safe, respectful, and inclusive environment looks like, and which behaviours support it, that definition should be incorporated into the ethos and values component of the Performance Development Reports. This will help create clear expectations that only those who meet behavioural expectations will progress in NZDF.

Changes to the physical and social environment on camps and bases can influence behaviour

NZDF is unique in that uniformed personnel often work, live, and socialise together. This creates more opportunities for harmful behaviour to occur.

The physical and social environment on camps and bases is an important influencer of people's behaviour. The design of physical infrastructure, the protocols for living in communal spaces (including which images and objects are permitted to be displayed), access to and use of alcohol, and other recreational activities all send messages about what is and is not acceptable. These factors have all been a focus of Operation Respect's activities.

Alcohol is a significant risk factor for harmful behaviour. The research for our monitoring report found that 56.8% of the people who reported experiencing unwanted sexual activity said the incident was related to the alcohol or drug use of the person/people responsible.

Alcohol policies are set by the camp or base commanders or commanding officers of the Navy's ships. They decide where alcohol is permitted and during what periods (for example, in barracks or aboard a ship).

Operation Stand is a programme of work focused on alcohol and drug harm minimisation. The relationship that alcohol has with sexual harm has also been recognised and that recognition has been a feature of Operation Respect – for example, it has featured in some camp and base action plans (see paragraph 2.26).

Positive changes have been made to alcohol policies, such as removing alcohol from ships while at sea. Consideration is being given to the availability of alcohol in messes36 and providing social activities and environments that are alcohol-free. However, we also heard that heavy drinking is still an issue at some locations and is connected to incidents of sexual harm. This was partially attributed to the low price of alcohol at those locations.

There have been improvements made to the condition and design of physical infrastructure, which has been a strong focus of Operation Respect's activities. In our visits to camps and bases, we saw changes to physical infrastructure intended to limit opportunities for harmful behaviour, particularly physical harassment and assault. These include improvements to security and privacy in bathrooms, installing door viewers in barracks,37 and increased lighting around buildings.

Throughout our fieldwork we heard the term "Operation Respect compliant" used to describe buildings and facilities, and infrastructure works described as related to Operation Respect. However, we did not see a clear definition of what Operation Respect-compliant infrastructure meant, and what Operation Respect-compliant work did (and did not) include.

Defence Estate and Infrastructure is responsible for infrastructure in NZDF. NZDF's work to improve the condition and design of physical infrastructure is informed by the Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design guidelines. However, we have not seen any guidance setting out the minimum standards each camp and base should be aiming for to specifically reduce incidents of sexual harm. We did not see an investment plan that sets out when this will be achieved for all camps and bases.

Although we saw some progress, it was widely acknowledged that there is still a lot of work needed to bring facilities up to an acceptable standard. We encourage NZDF to continue to prioritise investment on this. The Defence Estate and Infrastructure team is now represented on the new Operation Respect Programme Board (see paragraph 5.35 for discussion of the Programme Board) which should help align its work with Operation Respect.

We were told about efforts in recent years to reduce or eliminate harmful cultural artefacts from camps and bases. People told us that it was common in the past for there to be displays of inappropriate material, such as sexualised pictures of women or racist or homophobic images. Environmental assessments carried out in Whenuapai Air Force Base, Woodbourne Air Force Base, and Burnham Military Camp identified and removed explicit images in barracks, workplaces, and other common spaces.

While there has been good progress in some areas, it has been uneven across NZDF. In our view, having clear guidance for how to create a safe and respectful physical and social environment would better support the goals of Operation Respect.

Unit/team policies, practices, and norms shape behaviour

Behavioural norms are strongly influenced by unit/team environments. Unit-specific traditions, rituals, and symbols influence behaviour (both positively and negatively). How the team defines success is an important factor. We were told, for example, that bullying people because of their fitness and physical ability in units where a high level of fitness was essential (such as combat units in the Army) was a particular risk.

The demographic mix in teams can both present risks and be a protective factor. Through our audit, we found that the incidence of inappropriate sexual behaviour was greater in male-dominated teams. Ensuring more gender diverse teams could be a protective factor.

Appendix 1 has information about the low proportion of women in the regular forces38 (19% as at 30 June 2022). Women continue to be recruited in traditional trades (for example, medics and logistics). NZDF is making an active effort to increase the recruitment and retention of women, including in non-traditional areas such as combat. This is positive.

However, it is not enough just to increase the numbers of women. It is also important to ensure that adjustments are made to norms and behaviours to ensure they are supportive. We heard that if this does not occur then the women joining these units can still experience harm.

Units/teams need to have a shared understanding of what is appropriate behaviour. This involves teams taking time to examine what shapes their identity and how this could contribute to harmful behaviours. For example, humour is often described as an important way to bring a team closer together. However, using humour for team bonding can create risks if, for example, sexualised jokes are common. Teams need to work together to redefine their standards – for example, to agree that jokes should not be made at the expense of others.

We heard about examples where unit leaders were making efforts to change behavioural norms. We heard about changes in one Army unit where an inappropriate team mascot was removed and deliberate efforts were being made to celebrate contributions to the trade by women. We heard about an Air Force unit taking time for the team to collectively define what was appropriate and inappropriate behaviour. We also heard about work in a training unit in the Navy to set out what respect and inclusion meant in that environment.

Work at the unit level is occurring throughout the organisation. However, in our view (see paragraph 4.98), there needs to be clearer guidance on what is needed.

Recommendation 2
We recommend that the New Zealand Defence Force prioritise development of an Operation Respect strategy and refreshed plan that sets out how the New Zealand Defence Force will bring about behavioural change. This should include suitable mechanisms for measuring, monitoring, and evaluating progress.

Improvements to the complaints and discipline systems need to be prioritised

Operation Respect cannot target all the levers at once and its strategy needs to clearly set out priorities. Work is under way to improve the complaints and disciplinary systems. We encourage NZDF to continue to prioritise this in the strategy.

Effective complaints and disciplinary systems are essential to identify and address harmful behaviour and help people access the support they need. Good systems also assist with deterrence and prevention by interrupting harmful patterns of behaviour and demonstrating that there are consequences.

NZDF has a range of internal and external channels for reporting inappropriate behaviour.

The Armed Forces Discipline Act 1971

All uniformed personnel are subject to the Armed Forces Discipline Act. All forms of sexual assault (such as indecent assault and unlawful sexual connection) are offences under the Armed Forces Discipline Act (and the Crimes Act 1961). Personnel can report allegations of sexual assault to their chain of command. For allegations of unlawful sexual connection that occur in New Zealand, NZDF will refer the allegations to the New Zealand Police for investigation and prosecution through the civilian criminal jurisdiction.39 Allegations of other forms of sexual assault trigger an investigation and then the offence might be tried through Summary Trial or Court Martial.40

The complainant can also make an unrestricted disclosure to a Sexual Assault Prevention Response Advisor (SAPRA), who can assist them with making a report. The Armed Forces Discipline Act also has provisions that cover non-criminal sexual harm – for example, offences such as disgraceful and indecent conduct, threatening, insulting, or provocative language, and breaching orders that might include behavioural requirements.

The two complaints processes

There are two complaints processes uniformed personnel can use to raise a complaint outside of the Armed Forces Discipline Act – a complaints process for bullying, harassment, and discrimination (under Defence Force Order Three (Part 5)), and a formal administrative complaints process (under Defence Force Order Three and section 49 of the Defence Act 1990).

Defence Force Order Three (Part 5) sets out that personnel should first attempt to address these behaviours at the lowest level possible, such as by raising concerns with their chain of command or an Anti-Harassment Advisor (who should use informal resolution strategies where possible). Personnel can also request in writing that their commander resolve the problem through a mediation process or a formal investigation.

The administrative complaints process can be used for any member of the Armed Forces who believes they have been wronged. This process requires personnel to submit a verbal or written complaint to their chain of command, which triggers an investigation.

Civilian personnel can make complaints of bullying, harassment, and discrimination as laid out above under Defence Force Order Three (Part 5). They can also lodge a personal grievance (under the Employment Relations Act 2000).

External reporting processes

Where personnel have experienced criminal behaviour, both uniformed and civilian personnel can report this to the New Zealand Police. They can also make complaints to the Human Rights Commission if they feel they have been unlawfully discriminated against.

Not all personnel trust the current complaints and discipline systems

Through the research for our monitoring report, some personnel reported positive experiences of raising issues and reporting harmful behaviours. Positive experiences were generally associated with:

  • access to confidential support;
  • the person they are reporting the harmful behaviour to takes it seriously and responds sensitively;
  • the person has some control over the way the incident is dealt with; and
  • the person sees behaviour change from the person who committed the harmful behaviour.

However, the research for our monitoring report also showed that most people who had experienced harmful behaviour did not report it. Some of the most common barriers to reporting harmful behaviour included fearing negative repercussions and not trusting that anything would happen as a result. When people did raise issues, satisfaction with how the harmful behaviour was dealt with was low. They often felt that it was not taken seriously enough or the consequences were not adequate or effective.

Power imbalances often create barriers for people reporting harmful behaviour.41 This is particularly so in hierarchical organisations like militaries. As described above, we heard that some people in these situations felt it was difficult to report or, when they did report, it was not taken seriously or was ignored.

These issues are not easily resolved. They need further discussion by senior leaders to ensure the current discipline and complaints processes provide safe and effective pathways for victims/survivors and personnel accused of engaging in harmful behaviour.

NZDF are making changes to better support victims/survivors but more work is needed

NZDF are working on changes to the Armed Forces Discipline Act. One area that is being considered is how serious, complex, and sensitive offending is dealt with. Currently the commanding officer of the accused determines whether a charge will be brought. Concerns have been raised, including that:

  • the independence of the process could be affected because the commanding officer might protect the person in their team who is accused of the harmful behaviour;
  • commanding officers do not always have the expertise to determine whether charges should be brought; and
  • when a commanding officer does not consider that an offence has occurred, the incident is not properly dealt with.

The proposed changes to the Armed Forces Discipline Act are intended to provide more independence to the process by removing responsibility for investigating these types of complaints from the chain of command. Responsibility for determining whether charges are laid will shift to the Director of Military Prosecutions.

In our view, consideration also needs to be given to ensuring that there are safe and effective pathways for victims/survivors to report all harmful behaviours. This includes ensuring that the processes avoid re-traumatisation of victims/survivors, victims/survivors are kept well informed throughout, and victims/survivors are given as much control as possible in the process of raising and reporting issues.42

This can be challenging in a military environment. For example, when a person discloses experiencing or witnessing an offence under the Armed Forces Discipline Act (such as an indecent assault) to another uniformed person, there is an obligation under Standalone Defence Force Orders 06/2016 to report that to the accused's commanding officer. We were told that this requirement seeks to ensure that risks to operational effectiveness are managed, for example, by not deploying a person who could harm others. However, this also reduces the control that a victim/survivor has over whether the issue is reported.

There are no easy ways to resolve these tensions. The introduction of SAPRAs has helped by adding ways for people to access support confidentially. The changes NZDF are working on to the Armed Forces Discipline Act should add more scope to consider the wishes of the victim/survivor. Changes are also proposed to the Summary Trial process, which will allow a not guilty outcome or a case that has been dismissed to be revised if deemed defective by a judge. NZDF has also been considering introducing a Victim Advocate role to support the victim/survivor, which would help them have more of a voice in how evidence is given. Other areas where we consider further work would be beneficial are discussed below.

Clearer processes are needed to deal with non-criminal harmful sexual behaviour

As identified in paragraph 4.51, non-criminal harmful sexual behaviour can be dealt with through the Armed Forces Discipline Act. Personnel can also use the two complaints systems to address non-criminal harmful sexual behaviour. However, we observed that personnel were often unsure how the different systems and processes could be used for this sort of behaviour. We did not see clear information on how non-criminal harmful sexual behaviour should be dealt with through the various processes.

For example, people we spoke to were not always aware that non-criminal harmful sexual behaviour could be dealt with through the Armed Forces Discipline Act or felt that the Act was not always fit for purpose or was inconsistently used. Non-criminal harmful sexual behaviour outside of recognised criminal acts can involve patterns of subtle behaviour that can be difficult to identify and recognise and do not always easily tie to offences in the Act. We heard this can make it difficult to press charges.

Personnel who experience non-criminal harmful sexual behaviour often want issues resolved informally. The administrative complaints process (under Defence Force Order Three and section 49 of the Defence Act 1990) does not provide for this. It always requires a formal investigation to occur. Changes are being proposed to this process, which will allow informal responses to be used in the future. However, the complaint system for bullying, harassment, and discrimination (under Defence Order Three (Part 5)) sets out a process for issues to be resolved informally through the command chain or through Anti-Harassment Advisers.

We have heard that leaders are not always well equipped to deal with these situations. Anti-Harassment Advisers are also not specialists trained in dealing with behaviours on the spectrum of sexual harm. SAPRAs are specially trained, but people often do not think to go to them where non-criminal sexual harm (such as sexual harassment) has occurred. In our view, more work might be required to ensure that the right type of support is available for managing all forms of sexual harm, and that information about that support is clearly communicated.

The complaints system needs to be easier to navigate

Escalating an issue, such as raising a formal complaint to initiate an investigation or mediation, can be difficult. We frequently heard that the process for lodging formal complaints could be difficult, stressful, and lengthy. People going through this process did not always feel supported or properly informed.

The approaches for resolving issues outside of the Armed Forces Discipline Act (either informally or formally) are focused on using the chain of command in the person's unit. Some people told us that the behaviour they see or experience comes from senior personnel, or they felt that the behaviour was accepted in the unit. When there is low trust in leadership, using the complaints process is especially difficult. There are limited options for people to raise issues without having to go through their chain of command.

NZDF is aware of the challenges in the complaints system. A review has recently been completed and NZDF intends to rewrite the formal complaints process. We heard, for example, that NZDF is considering simplifying the complaints process and introducing a civilian investigating officer for incidents of bullying, harassment, and discrimination. This could provide more independence to the process. In our view, any changes to the complaints system also need to consider how to respond effectively to incidents of inappropriate sexual behaviour and complaints about more senior personnel.

More support is needed for people dealing with bullying, harassment, and discrimination

There are processes in place for people to raise and report experiences of bullying, harassment, and discrimination. However, the research for our monitoring report found that although awareness of the options available to get support in dealing with bullying, harassment, and discrimination was high, personnel did not always have a clear understanding of the process.

There are a range of different ways people experiencing other forms of bullying, harassment, and discrimination can seek support, including through Anti-Harassment Advisors, social workers, and chaplains. However, these options were not always well understood, including the extent to which people's confidentiality would be protected when accessing such support.

The approaches set out in Defence Force Order Three place a lot of responsibility on Anti-Harassment Advisors. However, these roles are often filled by relatively junior personnel and carrying out their role can be difficult when the allegations involve more senior personnel.

Defence Legal Services have been leading the reviews of the complaints processes. After changes to the processes have been made, it will need to be clear:

  • who is responsible for leading work to ensure that issues related to bullying, harassment, and discrimination are well understood;
  • who is responsible for ensuring that people are supported; and
  • who is responsible for ensuring that the complaints system is working effectively.

Transparency about the consequences for harmful behaviour is needed

A range of formal and informal punitive and non-punitive approaches to addressing harmful behaviour are required as part of a clear complaints management process.43

NZDF has a range of approaches it can take – for example, sanctions through the Summary Trial and Court Martial system range from fines and reprimands to dismissal and imprisonment. NZDF is also introducing a new administrative system for low-level disciplinary infractions that sits under the Summary Trial System. It could be used for forms of inappropriate sexual behaviour and bullying, harassment, and discrimination, which sit at the lower end of the continuum of severity but can still cause harm.

The research for our monitoring report showed that personnel who had experienced harmful behaviour often had low levels of satisfaction with how it was dealt with. People did not always feel that the consequences were fair or consistent.

We heard that people were often frustrated when they raised an issue of harmful behaviour and were told it had been dealt with, only for the behaviour to continue without further consequences. Conversely, people were more positive in cases where consequences for harmful behaviour eventually resulted in behaviour change.

We heard about variation in how similar behaviours were dealt with across different work areas. We did not see clear information about the consequences on all types of behaviours.

The Armed Forces Discipline Committee publishes sentencing guidelines for offences under the Armed Forces Discipline Act. This provides guidance for what punishment should be applied for offences under the Act through the disciplinary system. This means that the consequences for those offences are clear. However, it is not clear how some forms of inappropriate sexual behaviour should be addressed where they are not clearly linked to an offence under the Act.

It is also not clear what consequences should be applied when harmful behaviour is dealt with outside of the disciplinary system (for example, through the complaints systems). This made it more difficult for people to know whether their case had been dealt with fairly.

Transparency is important. To build trust, people need to see that there are appropriate consequences. Privacy considerations and other obligations of confidentiality about employment matters can make transparency difficult. These considerations need to be carefully balanced.

We were told of situations where there was anonymised reporting of results of Summary Trials and Court Martials. A few people commented that this helped them better understand the issues.

In our view, increased transparency, combined with more clarity about the consequences for all types of behaviours, could help build confidence that harmful behaviour will be dealt with consistently and appropriately.

More oversight of investigations and outcomes is needed

More independence and transparency could be provided by strengthening oversight of the investigation of incidents of harmful behaviour. Currently, there is limited independent oversight of how incidents of harmful behaviour are investigated and the outcomes of them.

It is important that incidents are properly investigated and that there is consistency in how different types of harmful behaviours are dealt with. Introducing mechanisms to provide oversight would contribute to a fairer and more transparent system.

Recommendation 3
We recommend that the New Zealand Defence Force prioritise work to improve the complaints and disciplinary systems to ensure that there are appropriate, effective, and trusted ways to report inappropriate and harmful behaviour.

A clear operating model for implementing Operation Respect is needed

NZDF is made up of uniformed and civilian personnel. There are uniformed personnel in the three services, Joint Forces, the Joint Defence Services (which covers areas such as logistics), and other enabling functions.

The three services are responsible for training and sustaining ready and capable forces. Headquarters Joint Forces is responsible for planning, preparing, and managing deployments of personnel. Civilian personnel also work in a variety of roles and environments.

In our view, NZDF needs an approach to Operation Respect that works with this structure. Clear direction needs to be set at an organisational level while the services and people on camps and bases own and lead the work. All parts of the organisation need to see Operation Respect as core to their work and be able to design and implement activities that are informed by, and relevant to, their circumstances.

Direction, guidance, and support are needed from the centre

After the 2020 review, NZDF wanted to create local ownership of Operation Respect. To encourage this, the Chief of Defence Force directed service chiefs to ensure that their service or portfolio had an Operation Respect plan. All camps and bases were also required to prepare an Operation Respect action plan.

As discussed in Part 2, the services have taken different approaches. The three Air Force bases have been free to design their own action plans. The Army and the Navy are incorporating Operation Respect into their broader culture programmes.

Some of the best levers for enabling change are managed by the services, rather than camps and bases. They include, for example, training and education. Other levers require organisational-level decisions – for example, decisions about Defence Estate and Infrastructure, aspects of the military justice and complaints systems, and aspects of career and talent management. There is also a need to ensure that Operation Respect is addressing the needs of groups not working in the single services, such as those in civilian roles.

Some camp and base plans in the services were incomplete and the level of detail provided varied. We heard from some senior leaders that they were hesitant to provide too much direction or guidance. They did not want Operation Respect to be too "top down" and get in the way of camps and bases identifying their own priorities and activities relevant to their situations. Although this was in line with the directive, the result was that little specific guidance was provided about the purpose of the camp and base plans and how they should be designed and implemented.

We agree that camps, bases, and units need to be empowered to lead their own activities. Camp, base, and unit leaders frequently talked to us about not wanting activities imposed on them. This is because they know their camp or base best and are in the best position to determine activities that would be accepted. We saw evidence that supported this. Activities were more likely to be prioritised when they were initiated by leaders on camps and bases and in units. We saw examples of useful initiatives developed in this way.

However, in our view, there was not enough direction and guidance provided to camps and bases to support development of effective plans that would create lasting change. For example:

  • the priority given to Operation Respect work varied between camps and bases;
  • the extent to which the activities in the plans were targeted at preventing or responding to inappropriate and harmful behaviours also varied;
  • the activities in the plans did not always appear to be informed by knowledge or research on what works in harm prevention. Overall, support personnel on camps and bases (such as SAPRAS, social workers, psychologists, and chaplains) were not involved early enough in the development of these plans. Support personnel often know about the risks and issues on the base and in the units; and
  • most plans did not have any mechanisms for monitoring and measuring progress. This was an area that interviewees commonly noted they needed support with. Without monitoring and measuring, there was no way for the effectiveness of activities to be assessed.
Recommendation 4
We recommend that the New Zealand Defence Force support each service and the Joint Forces to prepare their own plans to implement the objectives of Operation Respect, which are clearly aligned to the Operation Respect strategy and refreshed plan.

The role of the programme team needs to be more clearly defined

The Chief of Air Force is currently the military sponsor of Operation Respect. The Chief People Officer is the business owner. When we describe the Operation Respect programme team, we are referring to the individuals whose work is focused primarily on the design and implementation of the programme. This includes the Operation Respect Programme Lead and the Operation Respect Military Lead, with involvement of the National SAPRA Manager.

The absence of a clear strategy and an organisation-wide plan has meant that there are no clearly agreed priorities and related workstreams across NZDF. This has made it difficult for the programme team to know what they are responsible for delivering and what they should prioritise. It is not clear, for example, whether its role is to drive and monitor the programme, co-ordinate work across the organisation, or lead particular workstreams.

Overall, it was not clear to us who was responsible for leading the programme day to day, ensuring that work was completed, or monitoring progress.

We heard from a range of people about the roles they think the Operation Respect programme team could have taken on but have not. These include setting objectives and developing measures, developing a data management system, co-ordinating infrastructure work, and providing guidance and tools for camps and bases to implement action plans.

The programme team has not had a clear mandate to lead or be involved in work elsewhere in the organisation that has a relationship to Operation Respect:

  • The Chief of Defence Force's directive did not define the programme team's role in influencing the services' direction of work.
  • The programme team has limited involvement in the different streams of culture-related work happening across the services and therefore has had limited ability to ensure that there is sufficient focus on Operation Respect in that work.
  • The programme team was not given clear responsibility for ensuring that the camp and base plans were completed, for reviewing quality, or for monitoring implementation of these plans.
  • The programme team has not had a clear mandate to be involved in areas where there are opportunities to progress Operation Respect – for example, through training and education, talent and career management, and Defence Estate and Infrastructure. This has limited their ability to influence this work.

In our view, the programme team should take responsibility for developing the strategy and plan. In the work that has been occurring since May 2022 (see paragraph 3.56) this has been happening. The strategy and plan will set out different streams of work that must occur (for example, under training and education, career development, and Defence Estate and Infrastructure). The role the programme team should play in shaping those work streams will also need consideration.

Although those work streams will likely be led from different parts of the organisation, the programme team needs to have at least a co-ordination role. They could also assist in ensuring that the approach is evidence-based and well targeted at the drivers of sexual harm and inappropriate behaviour.

Recommendation 5
We recommend that the New Zealand Defence Force clarify the role of the Operation Respect programme team and how it will work with the services, Joint Forces, and portfolios.

Senior leaders need to take more ownership

After the 2020 review, strong emphasis was placed on Operation Respect being owned by the services and work led from the camps and bases. However, in practice we saw that the priority given to Operation Respect in the services has varied.

We expected to see a senior leader in each of the services and Joint Forces driving Operation Respect work and monitoring progress. Warrant officers in each of the services and Joint Forces were appointed as leaders to enable and champion Operation Respect. Although they were all committed to the work and its objectives, most struggled to describe to us their specific responsibilities beyond championing the overall messages. The only exception was the Navy.

In our view, if Operation Respect is going to be effective, service chiefs and other senior leaders need to have a much more visible and active role. The need for strong leadership is discussed further in Part 5.

Camp and base commanders need a mandate to drive camp and base plans

Once camp and base plans have been refreshed (in line with the organisation-wide strategy and service level priorities), responsibility for Operation Respect work needs to be clearly assigned and progress monitored.

Some features of the way the NZDF is organised present challenges for working out who is best placed to lead and drive Operation Respect work at the local level. Camp and base commanders, for example, do not always command all units on their camp or base. In some cases, commanding officers of these units are of higher rank.

We heard that, for some, this inhibited the development of camp and base plans. Some camp or base commanders felt that they could not create an effective plan because they did not have visibility of all risks and issues in these units nor an ability to set the direction of Operation Respect in all units stationed on their base.

This was not the case for all camps and bases. We were told that in some Air Force bases there was a shared understanding that all commanding officers on that base were obligated to engage with the base commander on the Operation Respect action plan. However, we saw evidence that this was not happening consistently across other camps and bases.

In our view, it makes sense for a camp or base commander to develop and lead camp and base action plans. Camp and base commanders are responsible for the safety and security of all people on the base, and they control several levers that can influence the prevention of harmful behaviour, such as alcohol policy.

However, service chiefs also need to set clear expectations that all commanding officers must work with the base or camp commander of their camp or base on Operation Respect. For example, commanding officers need to provide anonymised information about the types of risks and issues in their units to camp or base commanders (so they have visibility of these risks across the whole camp/base) and agree to collaborate on any base-wide initiatives.

In our view, there is value in commanding officers leading their own unit-specific initiatives because it is a key environment where behavioural expectations are set. However, as discussed earlier, NZDF needs to provide more guidance to commanding officers to support this work.

The roles and responsibilities of key portfolios need to be better defined

There are also several cross-cutting portfolios of work that need to play a role in Operation Respect. These include the Defence Estate and Infrastructure portfolio (which is responsible for infrastructure), Defence Legal and Human Resources (which leads work on the disciplinary and complaints systems), and the Institute for Leadership Development. How these portfolios interact with the strategy and programme team also needs to be worked out.

At the moment, for example, it is not clear who is responsible for implementing changes to Defence Estate and Infrastructure in response to Operation Respect. The degree to which camp and base commanders have the authority to influence the priority or extent of infrastructure work done in their camp or base is unclear. We observed tensions in the relationship between leaders on some camps and bases and the Defence Estate and Infrastructure portfolio.

In our view, NZDF needs to put in place clear minimum standards for Operation Respect-compliant infrastructure. NZDF also needs to set aside funding and assign responsibility for achieving this as a priority.

Recommendation 6
We recommend that the New Zealand Defence Force set out clear accountabilities for senior leaders, camp and base commanders, and commanding officers for Operation Respect.

NZDF has a range of programmes and initiatives that have overlapping aims with Operation Respect. There is a need to better co-ordinate Operation Respect with these programmes. These programmes include the service culture change programmes described in the previous section, Operation Stand (alcohol and drug harm minimisation), the Wāhine Toa programme (increasing recruitment of women), and Kia Eke (NZDF's Māori Strategic Framework). Many of these programmes are the responsibility of the People and Capability portfolio.

We were told that programme leads keep each other informed and collaborate on initiatives where relevant. This is positive but not enough. In our view, more work needs to be done to examine where there are overlapping aims, make sure that objectives are aligned, and integrate activities where they are likely to use the same levers. Tight co-ordination is necessary to ensure that these programmes:

  • make the best use of resources – currently, people working on these programmes could feel like they are competing for resources;
  • align effort and avoid duplication – programmes are independently trying to address some of the same issues (for example, there are similar issues with reporting/asking for help through Operation Stand and Operation Respect) or rely on the same initiatives to make change (for example, changes to data management at the organisational level);
  • have coherent and reinforcing messages – Operation Respect, Wāhine Toa, and Operation Stand have obvious similarities. There is an opportunity to create a shared communications strategy to co-ordinate messages and ensure that there is no confusion about the different programmes; and
  • understand dependencies, particularly for monitoring and evaluation – success in Operation Respect might rely on other programmes, for example, Operation Stand's alcohol and drug harm minimisation initiatives. It will be important to understand how these other initiatives intersect with Operation Respect and ensure that governance and monitoring arrangements are coherent and not overly burdensome for programme leaders.

In the late stages of our audit we saw evidence of some work in the People and Capability portfolio to map the relationships between the various programmes of work and establish more formal co-ordination. We encourage NZDF to continue this work.

A communications reset is needed

Clear and consistent communication is critical to any culture change programme. We did not see evidence of a clear communications approach to Operation Respect. Those we spoke to in Headquarters (including people in senior positions) and in camps and bases had little knowledge or awareness of a reset after the 2020 review. Many could not recall receiving any recent messages about Operation Respect.

Dedicated resources have now been assigned to preparing a new communications approach. This is positive. NZDF needs a communications approach that is aligned to the overall strategy, linked to the values of the organisation, relevant to different parts of the organisation, and consistent with the messages coming out of other change programmes (such as Operation Stand) and portfolios.

There is also a need to refresh the narrative of Operation Respect. It is important that this work is done alongside the development of the organisational strategy and plan.

In the research for our monitoring report, we identified how some people were frustrated about a lack of tangible action from Operation Respect in recent years. In our view, there is an urgent need to communicate to NZDF that an Operation Respect reset is occurring and that all parts of the organisation can expect to participate in discussions to define what a safe, respectful, and inclusive environment looks like.

The Operation Respect narrative needs to be repositioned

As discussed in Part 3, backlash to the initial messaging about Operation Respect might have led some leaders to avoid discussing sexual harm.

In our view, leaders need to continue to reinforce that Operation Respect is about preventing harmful behaviour, including sexual harm. However, the new narrative also needs to be informed by the past. During interviews, we heard that personnel did not want messaging that could be viewed as divisive. Communications need to make a clear case for Operation Respect as key to operational effectiveness and draw on values that are important to people – such as comradeship and looking out for colleagues – to build collective ownership.

Views about gender and sexual harm can be deeply entrenched, and resistance is a predictable consequence of culture change efforts. Persistent and ongoing dialogue between leaders and their personnel is required to reveal and dismantle biases and harmful attitudes. Leaders need to be equipped to talk about sexual harm in nuanced ways and prepared to confront their own biases and misconceptions. They are likely to require additional support to do so (see Part 5).

Recommendation 7
We recommend that the New Zealand Defence Force develop a communications approach that renews focus on preventing harmful behaviours. This approach needs to make a clear case for Operation Respect as key to operational effectiveness and draw on values that are important to people – such as comradeship – to build collective ownership for creating a safe and respectful environment.

32: Celermajer, D (2018), The Prevention of Torture: An Ecological Approach, Cambridge University Press.

33: Section 45(5) of the Defence Act 1990 provides that nothing in the Employment Relations Act 2000 applies to the conditions of service of members of Armed Forces. This means that members of Armed Forces cannot raise a personal grievance or use many of the other employment processes normally available to civilian employees. Section 7 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 also sets out some circumstances where the Act does not apply to members of the Armed Forces.

34: Meredith, L, Sims, C, Batorsky, B, Okunogbe, A, Bannon, B, and Myatt, C (2017), Identifying Promising Approaches to U.S. Army Institutional Change: A Review of the Literature on Organizational Culture and Climate, RAND Corporation.

35: Acosta, J, Chinman, M, and Shearer, A (2021), Countering Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment in the U.S. Military: Lessons from RAND Research, RAND Corporation.

36: The mess is a designated area where military personnel socialise, eat, and (in some settings, such as aboard a ship) live.

37: Door viewers allow occupants to see who is on the other side of the door.

38: Regular Force personnel are full-time soldiers, sailors, and aviators.

39: In exceptional circumstances NZDF may seek the Attorney-General’s consent to lay a charge of unlawful sexual connection in the military jurisdiction.

40: The Court Martial of New Zealand administers justice and discipline to members of the armed forces and, in some cases, closely associated civilians. In the military justice system, an accused person can be tried for service offences such as absence without leave, mutiny, disobedience of orders, cowardly behaviour, insubordination, and negligence, as well as all other offences against New Zealand law. Less serious offences can be dealt with summarily by commanders. More serious or complex offences are tried through the Court Martial, where the accused may be represented by defence counsel. The court consists of three or five military members presided over by a civilian judge. Potential punishments include fines, reduction in rank, detention, and imprisonment. Appeals can be made to the Court Martial Appeal Court, and then to the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.

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

42: The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (2020), A Victim-Centred Approach, at

43: Zedlacher, E and Koeszegi, ST (2021), "Workplace bullying in military organizations: Bullying inc?", in P D'Cruz (Ed.), Special Topics and Particular Occupations, Professions and Sectors, 435-464; Joychild QC, F (2017), Report to Chief of Air Force: Inquiry into Historic Sexual Abuse, Workplace Sexual Harassment and Bullying related to Robert Roper and Contemporary New Zealand Defence Force Systems and Processes for Handling Such Complaints (Commissioned by the Chief of Air Force, New Zealand Defence Force).