SSC report into NZDF behaviour released

  • Mark Burton

The State Services Commissioner's report into standards of behaviour in the New Zealand Defence Force has identified inappropriate behaviour by a small number of mainly army officers, but found no evidence of a systemic problem in the handling of official information.

"The misguided actions of a few are a blight on the entire defence force, and in response to this report all practical steps will be taken to ensure that all defence force personnel meet acceptable standards of behaviour," Defence Minister Mark Burton said.

Mark Burton and the Chief of Defence Force Air Marshal Carey Adamson today publicly released the report they jointly commissioned from the State Services Commissioner. The State Services Commissioner was asked, under section 11(4) of the State Sector act, to "review the performance of the New Zealand Defence Force in relation to standards of behaviour and in particular the leaking and inappropriate use of information by Defence Force personnel."

The State Services Commissioner appointed Douglas White QC and former Foreign Affairs Secretary Graham Ansell to carry out the review.

"The reviewers found that overall standards of integrity, commitment and professionalism in the New Zealand Defence Force are high, and unauthorised disclosure of official information is generally disapproved of," Mark Burton said.

"Nevertheless, they have identified at least 30 "probable leaks" of official information since 1998, the majority related to the Army. The reviewers found that "the leaks which occurred were originally designed to advance the interests of the Army, primarily against the interests of the other Services. Subsequently the leaks were designed to counter the influence of a faction in the Army by causing personal embarrassment to CGS (Chief of General Staff)."(Para 126).

"The reviewers were not asked to identify the individuals responsible for "leaks", and they found no clear evidence of culpability. However, they did conclude that many of the leaks came from two competing factions within the Army.

"This infighting is not acceptable, and it must end. However, it is important to note that none of the disclosures involved classified information or information relating to the security or defence of New Zealand. The reviewers regard this as a "most significant" finding," Mark Burton said.

"The lapses in judgement, discretion and, indeed, loyalty which have been deemed sufficiently serious to justify this review appear to have done no damage to New Zealand's security interests or international relationships." (Para 94).
Air Marshal Carey Adamson said the report has confirmed that the great majority of officers in the NZDF are hardworking, loyal and dedicated to serving the interests of New Zealand.

"There have been, however, a disturbing number of incidents involving unauthorised disclosure. These actions do not indicate widespread malaise in the NZDF or Army – they involved a small number of individuals who misguidedly believed their actions were justified.

"Their behaviour has dishonoured and dismayed their colleagues. We will be moving swiftly to stamp it out," Carey Adamson said.

Both the Chief of Defence Force and the Defence Minister said they have given careful consideration to this report over the past few days.

"We see considerable merit in the suggestion that a 'Code of Conduct' is developed, to ensure that the obligation of all defence personnel to observe political neutrality is outlined in a way that is clear, comprehensive and accessible.

"In similar vein, extending the education and training of the officer corps with regard to the constitutional relationship between military and civilians, will be explored.

"The need to modernise the appointment process has been addressed, by the introduction of a public sector model for the appointment of the Chief of Defence Force and Service Chiefs. And the reviewers have noted the widespread support of defence personnel for the establishment this year of the Joint Force Headquarters, which is seen as fostering a collaborative approach towards a common purpose."

Mark Burton and Carey Adamson both believe that this report offers timely advice to the incoming Chief of Defence Force.

"With the increased emphasis on a joint approach, and the appointment of a new defence management team, we have an opportunity to put the past problems behind us," they said.

Mark Burton said the new Chief of Defence Force and the three Service Chiefs will be left in no doubt of the need for clear and decisive leadership to deal promptly and effectively with the unacceptable behaviour that led to this report.

"Any individual who is not prepared to meet their obligations of loyalty and service, does not have any future in the New Zealand defence force."