4 Sep 2008

Defence force problems being addressed - Govt

5:56 pm on 4 September 2008

The Government says it is already tackling problems highlighted in a critical Defence Force annual report, and describes the report as nothing out of the ordinary.

The report says many areas of the Defence Force are plagued by staffing shortages and some deployments would be hampered by equipment that is obsolete.

The Air Force, in particular, has failed to meet a number of targets, according to the report.

It says though two P-3K Orion planes were available for deployment, sustaining that beyond six months would have been at risk because of staffing levels.

Maritime rescue tasks for a third Orion were passed to another squadron on five occasions, due mainly to maintenance staff shortages and the availability of spare planes.

The Navy is also affected, with HMNZS Endeavour only able to spend 50 days at sea instead of up to 120, and other ships were also at sea less than expected.

The report notes staff levels in the Navy resulted in pressure elsewhere both at sea and on land and presented challenges in meeting wider commitments.

Defence Minister Phil Goff told Morning Report on Thursday the document is no different to others he has read over the past 15 years.

He says there are 1000 more people in the Defence Force now than four years ago, and the Government has made huge progress in dealing with equipment and staff shortages.

Mr Goff says the Government is investing more than $4.6 billion, focused on the personnel side of the Army.

National Party defence spokesperson Wayne Mapp told the programme the report shows things are getting worse and is a cry for help.

Dr Mapp says if National is in Government next year, it will undertake a white paper to evaluate the defence force.

Staff problems 'understated'

New Zealand First defence spokesperson Ron Mark says the annual report makes a major understatement in highlighting retention and recruitment problems.

Mr Mark says attrition rates for the Defence Force of about 16% are the worst in five years, and pay rises have been drip-fed.

He says the Defence Force is playing catch-up, and the situation would be a lot better if staff problems had been taken seriously when he raised concerns in 1998.

Lance Beath, from Victoria University's centre for strategic studies, says the report indicates too much is being asked of the Defence Force.

Dr Beath says it is ironic the Government has been putting stress on the need for a high-readiness army, when there is not even one high-readiness company within the Army.

Trade staff shortfalls

The Defence Force is still experiencing staffing shortfalls in its critical trades, despite its total number of personnel rising.

Its annual report attributes its higher than expected staff attrition rate to trained personnel taking up higher paying jobs elsewhere.

The Navy's recruiting human resources officer, Lieutenant Commander Mike Hester, says it is having specific difficulty attracting people for technical and heavy engineering roles.

Lieutenant Hester says such shortages are being felt worldwide and the Navy is trying to improve recruitment from skilled tertiary graduates in an effort to fill the shortage.