Review of the Performance of the Defence Force 2/6

Mark Burton Defence


  1. As our terms of reference state, the object of our review was to make an
    assessment of standards and behaviour in the Defence Force in the areas of the
    handling of official information and relations with Government. To carry out
    this assessment and to answer the specific questions raised in our terms of
    reference, it has been necessary for us to enhance our understanding of the
    current constitutional, legislative, political, economic, military and social
    environment in which the New Zealand Defence Force and the Ministry of Defence
    are required to function, by further background reading and the interview
    process. We make the following brief observations. 1
  2. In constitutional terms, protecting the security of a nation is generally
    recognised as one of the principal functions of a Government. The adequate
    defence of a nation is a critical part of ensuring its security. For that
    purpose Parliament has empowered the Governor-General to raise and maintain
    armed forces for the defence of New Zealand: Defence Act 1990, s 5. The Minister
    of Defence has general responsibility for the defence of New Zealand and, for
    that purpose, has power to control the New Zealand Defence Force through the
    Chief of Defence Force: Defence Act 1990, s 7. It is clear from these provisions
    and the scheme of the Defence Act that the Government of the day has statutory
    responsibility for determining defence policy and for directing the
    implementation of that policy through the Defence Force which it has power to
    control2. The Government's responsibilities and
    powers are reinforced in practical terms by the obligation for the Government to
    obtain Parliamentary appropriations for Defence Force operating and capital
    expenditure budgets. The Chief of Defence Force also receives detailed terms of
    reference from the Minister of Defence which stipulate the duties and
    obligations of the Chief of Defence Force and include a purchase agreement which
    defines the "outputs" the Government requires from the Defence Force: Defence
    Act, s 25(2). The role and functions of the Chief of Defence Force and the
    Chiefs of Staff are plainly subsidiary to the Minister of Defence. In New
    Zealand there is civilian control of the military.
  3. There is a range of legislation which affects the Defence Force and which is
    relevant to our terms of inquiry. The principal statutes are -

    19.1  The Defence Act 1990;
    19.2  The Armed Forces Discipline
    Act 1971;
    19.3  The Official Information Act 1982;
    19.4  The Protected
    Disclosures Act 2000.

    The effect of this legislation is summarised
    in the Crown Law Office opinion and we refer to aspects of it in our report.
    Broadly speaking, all of this legislation applies to Defence Force personnel and
    affects the way they should behave.

  4. In political terms the Government of the day is responsible for determining
    defence policy, which is invariably concerned primarily with an assessment of
    risks and consequent funding and equipment issues in the context of an ever
    changing international scene and of New Zealand's international treaty
    obligations. During our history defence policy has usually been bipartisan (eg
    during World Wars and the Cold War), but there have also been occasions when it
    has been intensely political. 3 Over the last
    10-15 years defence policy has become increasingly political as Governments and
    Opposition parties have developed distinct policies based on different
    assessments of New Zealand's defence interests and equipment priorities, with
    controversial decisions including the establishment of New Zealand as a nuclear
    free zone by the New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament, and Arms Control
    Act 1987, the decision to replace the Skyhawks with F-16s, the subsequent
    reversal of that decision, the decision not to proceed with the Sirius upgrade
    of the Orions and the priority given to acquisition of new light armoured
    vehicles for the Army. The advent of MMP with a wider range of views represented
    in Parliament and the consequential increase in the role of the Parliamentary
    Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee have resulted in defence issues
    receiving a relatively higher public and political profile. The ebb and flow of
    New Zealand's defence policy over this period is chronicled in the reviews which
    have been carried out, including the New Zealand Defence Resource Management
    Review 1988 by Strategos Consulting Ltd; The Defence of New Zealand 1991: A
    Policy Paper; The Shape of New Zealand's Defence: A White Paper, 1997; the 1999
    report of the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee, Inquiry into Defence
    beyond 2000; The Government's Defence Policy Framework - June 2000; and the
    Government Defence Statement - 8 May 2001.
  5. In the context of the Defence Act, the Government of the day, when
    determining defence policy, is expected to obtain advice from both the Secretary
    of Defence, who is the principal civilian adviser, and the Chief of Defence
    Force, who is the principal military adviser: ss 24(2) and 25(1). Furthermore,
    they are required to consult with each other: s 31(1). Having obtained this
    advice, the Government of the day has final responsibility for the determination
    of New Zealand's defence policy. Both the Secretary of Defence and the Chief of
    Defence Force then have significant responsibilities in respect of the
    implementation of the Government's defence policies. Major policy shifts,
    coupled with substantial lead-in times for implementation (eg equipment
    acquisition), together with close scrutiny from Opposition political parties,
    defence interest groups such as Just Defence and the Centre for Strategic
    Studies, and the news media have created tensions within the Defence Force and
    the three separate Services. Political and interest group scrutiny of defence
    issues has also been reflected in a significant increase in the number of
    requests for information under the Official Information Act and the number of
    Parliamentary questions. Whether these tensions have affected the political
    neutrality of the Defence Force, or any component of it, and the level of trust
    between the Government and the Defence Force are issues which we address later
    in this report.
  6. The economic environment over the last 10-15 years has not encouraged
    Governments to spend substantial sums on defence. There have been other
    priorities. The 1999 Report of the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs, Defence and
    Trade Committee, Inquiry into Defence beyond 2000, stated at p 12 -

    "Faced with a declining defence budget, the result has been a
    dramatic run-down in capabilities, exacerbated by all the disadvantages inherent
    in the replacement syndrome as NZDF has struggled to upgrade whatever equipment
    and facilities it can afford to retain."

    And the Government Defence Statement of 8 May 2001 states at p 4 -

    "When the government took office in 1999 it inherited a Defence
    Force suffering from neglect, underfunding, and confused government decision
    making. Much of its equipment dated from the Vietnam War era. Operational and
    personnel spending had been cut by almost eighteen per cent in real terms
    between 1991 and 1997. The previous government's 1997 Defence White Paper was
    neither funded nor followed through."

    The overall reduction in defence spending which occurred during the 1990s had
    a significant impact on the Defence Force. It no doubt contributed to
    difficulties within the Defence Force and the Ministry of Defence when
    significant re-equipment decisions were required, and to rivalries between the
    three Services as they competed, inevitably, for their share of the defence
    budget. Morale in the Services which believed that their aspirations had not
    been adequately met was inevitably affected, at least initially.

  7. Some of the problems which occurred as a result of these pressures are
    illustrated by the Report of the Controller and Auditor-General dated 22 August
    2001 entitled "Ministry of Defence: Acquisition of Light Armoured Vehicles and
    Light Operational Vehicles". The Report described relationships between the
    Defence Force, the Ministry of Defence and the Army as "dysfunctional",
    involving mistrust and confusion: paras 4.18-4.19. The Report recommended that
    the dysfunctional relationships needed to be corrected - and be underpinned by
    clear accountabilities, a more trusting environment, and more face-to-face
  8. There are aspects of the military environment which are relevant to our
    assessment of standards of behaviour in the Armed Forces which may not always be
    fully appreciated by civilians. Members of the Armed Forces have joined up for
    the purpose of defending their country and in the knowledge that in doing so
    they may lose their lives or be seriously injured. They are not public servants
    or covered by the Employment Relations Act 2000. Their commitment is based on an
    oath of allegiance to the Sovereign: Defence Act, ss 34 and 35. And the Armed
    Forces operate through a command structure which requires unquestioning
    implementation of superior orders which may be conveyed orally or by written or
    electronic directive. The "command" structure is based on the need in a fighting
    force for hard decisions in difficult situations and short time frames. As the
    following cartoon from a recent Spectator issue so graphically illustrates, the
    command structure does not provide an opportunity, in a battle situation, for
    debate -
  1. The command structure is derived from the Crown prerogative and is reflected
    in the Defence Act, ss 8(3) and 28, as well as the Armed Forces Discipline Act
    1971, s 38, which makes it an offence to disobey the lawful command of a
    superior officer. Under the Defence Act the Chief of Defence Force "commands"
    the three Services and the joint force "through" their respective commanders: s
    8(3). And each Service Chief and the commander of the joint force "command"
    their respective Services and the joint force: s 28. All members of the Armed
    Forces are inculcated in the command structure which permeates all aspects of
    the military, operational and managerial. It understandably affects all
    relationships within the Armed Forces and the manner of communication both
    within and between the respective Services and Defence Headquarters.
  2. The Chief of Defence Force also has power to issue and promulgate Defence
    Force Orders which bind all Defence personnel: Defence Act, s 27. In addition
    the Chief of Defence Force has power to authorise other persons to issue Defence
    Force Orders: s 27(2). We understand that this power has been exercised by the
    Chief of Defence Force in favour of the three Service Chiefs. Defence Force
    Orders are used for many purposes, including the prescribing of conduct in
    relation to classified and official information. We discuss the effect of this
    on our terms of reference further in this report. In the meantime we note that
    failure to comply with a Defence Force Order may be an offence under the Armed
    Forces Discipline Act 1971: s 39.
  3. The traditional military command structure has come under pressure from
    changes in New Zealand society which are reflected in the Armed Forces. Defence
    personnel, especially those of officer rank, are generally well educated and
    articulate. A number of officers view their military service as one step in a
    career. They are aware of their rights as citizens as well as their obligations
    as members of the Armed Forces. They have views on the future of their Services
    and the role of the Defence Force. They would like to be involved in the
    formulation of policies which affect them. Once policies have been formulated
    and are being implemented, they would welcome positive recognition and support
    for their efforts from the Government and the country. They appreciate comments
    such as those made in the Report of the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs, Defence
    and Trade Committee Inquiry into Defence beyond 2000 at p 10 - "Lest it be
    thought that we are denigrating our armed services personnel, the Foreign
    Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee of Parliament places on record its high
    regard for the job they are doing in difficult conditions with limited
    resources. They deserve the respect of all New Zealanders for the contributions
    they are making to our foreign policy and security interests and in carrying the
    New Zealand flag so proudly into international peacekeeping operations, so often
    far from home."
  4. Overall we were impressed by the calibre, commitment and professional
    approach of the Defence personnel whom we met in the course of our review. There
    was general disapproval of the unauthorised disclosure of information which had
    led to our review and a concern at the impact of the consequent adverse
    publicity on the Defence Force. But it was also apparent to us from our
    interviews that the environmental factors which we have identified set the scene
    for the unauthorised disclosure of information which we were asked to consider
    in assessing the standards of behaviour in the Defence Force and the Ministry of

The Defence structure in New

  1. New Zealand's Defence structure has been designed on the basis of principles
    widely applied in the State sector reform phase of the 1980s and early 1990s,
    including the separation of policy and operational functions,4 and provision for contestability in advice to Ministers.
    The structure is understood to have represented a response to concerns held by
    the Government of the day about the efficient and effective conduct of some
    aspects of Defence business, including planning for capability to meet the
    Government's policy goals, and procurement of major equipment items.
  2. Broadly, the structure locates responsibility for performance of the
    functions and duties of the Armed Forces with the Chief of Defence Force, and
    responsibility for production of defence assessments, procurement of equipment,
    and audit of defence functions, with the Secretary of Defence. Section 24 of the
    Defence Act 1990, which sets out the functions of the Secretary of Defence,
    requires the Secretary to formulate advice on defence policy in consultation
    with the Chief of Defence Force. This and other provisions appear to reflect a
    desire by Parliament for effective communication and cooperation between the two
    institutions, balanced by an element of constructive tension.
  3. The three main institutions are the Minister of Defence, the Defence Force,
    and the Ministry of Defence.

The Minister of

  1. The Minister of Defence has the power of control of the New Zealand Defence
    Force, exercised through the Chief of Defence Force under s 7 of the Defence Act

The New Zealand Defence Force

  1. The New Zealand Defence Force is constituted under the Defence Act. It
    comprises the Armed Forces of New Zealand and the Civil Staff of the Defence
    Force. It is not a department of the Public Service under the State Sector Act
  2. The Chief of Defence Force is appointed from time to time by the
    Governor-General in Council under s 8 of the Act. The Chief of Defence Force is
    the principal military adviser to the Minister of Defence and other Ministers,
    and is responsible to the Minister for carrying out the functions and duties of
    the Defence Force, its general conduct, and the efficient, effective and
    economical management of its activities and resources, among other things.
  3. The Chief of Defence Force commands the Navy, Army and Air Force through the
    Chief of Staff of each of those services. The Chiefs of Staff are appointed from
    time to time not by the Chief of Defence Force but by the Governor-General in
    Council under s 28 of the Defence Act. The Chief of Defence Force also commands
    any joint force either directly through a joint force commander or through any
    of the Chiefs of Staff.

The Ministry of

  1. The Ministry of Defence is a department of the Public Service under s 27 of
    the State Sector Act 1988. The Secretary of Defence is appointed by the State
    Services Commissioner under s 35 of the State Sector Act. The Secretary is the
    principal civilian adviser to the Minister of Defence and other Ministers, and
    is responsible to the Minister of Defence for the carrying out of the functions
    and duties of the department, the general conduct of the department, and the
    efficient, effective and economical management of the activities of the
    department, among other things.


  1. A more detailed description of some aspects of the background environment
    may be found in Rolfe, The Armed Forces of New Zealand, 1999, Chapter 3 - "The
    superstructure: command and control".

  2. The limitation on the power of the Courts to intervene in the carrying out
    of these statutory responsibilities by the Government is illustrated by the
    recent decision of Heron J in Curtis v Minister of Defence, 20 November 2001,
    which involved an unsuccessful attempt to review the decision to disband the Air
    Combat Force. It is understood, however, that this decision is under appeal.

  3. For instance, in the late 1930s four senior colonels in the New Zealand
    Army, with strong connections to the Opposition, spoke out strongly against the
    Government's policies: see Barber, "The New Zealand Colonels' 'Revolt', 1938"
    (1977) NZLJ 496.

  4. Ewart and Boston, "The Separation of Policy Advice from Operations: the Case
    of Defence Restructuring in New Zealand", Australian Journal of Public
    Administration, Vol. 52, No.2, June 1993, p 223.