Auditor-General's findings 'old news' - Defence Minister

Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman said people had left the Defence Force because of a ''number of factors'', including moving to Australia.

His comments come after a critical report by Auditor-General Lyn Provost slated the handling of Defence Force redundancies and says the effect on morale sparked an exodus of staff, affecting defence capabilities.

Ms Provost criticised the force on several fronts, including overstating the savings from its planned 1400 redundancies. She was also critical of the speed and manner in which those redundancies were carried out in 2010 and 2011.

Defence boss Lieutenant-General Rhys Jones said he had big regrets about the way staff were told they were for the chop. And he admitted the Defence Force was now considering downsizing its naval fleet.

But Dr Coleman said the Auditor-General's findings were ''old news'' and the defence force had largely moved on.

''The fact is there had to be some change in the NZDF over time, those changes could have been implemented better than they have.

''I wouldn't say isolate it and say that it's because of  civilianisation, a lot of these guys have very good skills, there's a very good market in Australia for those skills, people have said 'well look it's time to cash in those opportunities and move on'.

''The Defence Force had met their savings targets and the process had not been a failure, he said.

''You've got a fixed baseline there, they're getting new equipment, how are they going to run that without new cash?''

Cabinet approved civilianisation plans at the time.

Labour MP Phil Goff said civilianisation meant brand new navy ships were tied up at the wharf because there were no crews to sail them.

The Government had ''gutted'' the defence force, he said.

''I don't think it is a reasonable request to say that defence force find savings of $400 million a year without affecting the capacity and the morale of their service personnel.''

Morale was at an all time low and high attrition rates were undermining the defence force's ability to carry out its role, he said.

Manawatu Standard