Video transcript: New Zealand Defence Force: Resetting efforts to reduce harmful behaviour

A transcript for a video about our report, New Zealand Defence Force: Resetting efforts to reduce harmful behaviour.

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

Marianne Bevan (Senior Performance Auditor):

The New Zealand Defence Force launched Operation Respect in 2016. Operation Respect aimed to prevent inappropriate and harmful behaviour from occurring and ensure that, when it did happen, there were systems and processes in place to deal with it properly.

The Ministry of Defence commissioned an independent review which was completed in 2020. The review found that, while progress had been made, Operation Respect had lost momentum and needed renewed focus.

The review recommended that the Office of the Auditor-General review progress every two years for the next twenty years. We’ve agreed to this. We will regularly review how well NZDF is progressing towards its goal of eliminating inappropriate and harmful behaviour and creating a safe, respectful, and inclusive environment for all personnel.

The focus of our first audit is on how well NZDF reset Operation Respect after the 2020 review, and whether it has been designed and set up in the right way to achieve its aims.

While NZDF has made progress since 2016, there’s a long way to go. We heard that NZDF is a very different organisation from what it was 10 years ago. Most people do work in safe and respectful environments.

However, we also saw the scale of the problem NZDF has to address. In our survey of NZDF personnel, 78 people told us they had experienced unwanted sexual activity in the previous 12 months. Harmful behaviour can affect anyone, but it disproportionately affects women, especially junior women in uniform.

Nearly one-quarter of those women who responded to our survey said they had experienced some form of inappropriate sexual behaviour – for example, sexualised jokes or comments. And nearly one-fifth of them told us they had experienced some form of bullying, harassment, or discrimination.

After the 2020 review, NZDF moved quickly to address the recommendations. However, we don’t think the response was sufficient. We saw genuine willingness to change and lots of good intentions.

However, despite this, the absence of a clear and well thought-through strategy meant NZDF’s actions have not always been well co-ordinated or targeted at the right issues. If this is not addressed, we think there is a risk that Operation Respect will have limited and only temporary impact.

NZDF is aware that there is more to do and it is rethinking its approach. To be successful, we think NZDF needs to put in place the right foundations for change.

We think Operation Respect is fundamental to the military’s operational effectiveness. NZDF personnel must be ready to work in a wide range of environments, and in sometimes dangerous conditions. This requires strong leadership and teams where everyone trusts each other. There won’t be trust if personnel are harming each other.

To meet the challenges of the 21st century, NZDF also needs to attract and retain people with a wide range of skills and perspectives. Operation Respect is critical to its ability to do this, but NZDF has not clearly explained this to its people.

NZDF has started to work on a new Operation Respect strategy and plan. This is positive. We think they need to start with establishing a clear and shared vision of what a safe, respectful, and inclusive organisation looks like, why it matters to NZDF’s success, and what needs to change to make it happen.

We think Senior leaders are committed to Operation Respect and that they recognise the task ahead.

However, we think they need to provide more direction and oversight. It is crucial that senior leaders play a central and visible role in driving Operation Respect forward. They need to be very clear and specific about what they want Operation Respect to achieve.

Operation Respect presents a significant opportunity for NZDF. We’ve made 11 recommendations designed to help NZDF put in place the foundations needed for Operation Respect to succeed and create a safe, respectful, and inclusive environment.

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