Defence Force makes move for ‘culture change’
The New Zealand Defence Force is ramping up efforts to bring in a ‘‘culture change’’ to deal with inappropriate sexual behaviour and harassment.
The organisation is also clamping down on substance misuse, saying it is ‘‘taking a stand’’ and introducing a drug and alcohol harm minimisation framework, as well as consequences. In 2016, the NZDF set up Operation Respect, to reduce sexual harassment and harmful sexual behaviour, after research showed ‘‘persistent sexism’’.
But a 2018 NZDF engagement survey found a number of members still felt there was such behaviour. There have been various sexual harassment cases and in June Stuff reported personnel – including two senior leaders – had been removed from command after complaints of a sexual nature at the army’s recruit training course at Waiouru.
Defence Force chief Air Marshal Kevin Short said the ‘‘internal pulse’’ survey asked specific questions about respectful behaviours and the results would be published in its annual report. The majority of NZDF men and women who took the survey felt processes had been put in place so they could do their job free of harassment of any sort.
But 5 per cent still felt unsafe and the right systems were not in place. ‘‘That’s why a programme needs to continue and why we need to do a refresh and look at it, more as a culture change in the organisation, rather than what was originally set up for the safety of individuals.’’
He reported the survey findings at a foreign affairs, defence and trade select committee hearing yesterday, where he and secretary of defence Helene Quilter were questioned during the annual reviews of the Defence Force and the Ministry of Defence. He told the committee about 86 per cent of respondents agreed they could perform their duties free from inappropriate and harmful behaviour.
He was pleased to see an increase in reporting.
‘‘Giving victims and survivors the confidence to come forward has been a big focus.
‘‘From June 2016 to recently, people have been able to make disclosures to a specialist team to seek support without triggering a formal investigation. It’s only if they want to proceed with a formal complaint that the information is passed through the command chain to authorities.’’
So far 10,000 uniformed and civilian staff have attended compulsory three-hour modules on respectful behaviour and sexual assault prevention.
Most of NZDF would have attended by mid-2019, he said.