Big challenges for new Defence boss

Last updated 12:00 03/02/2014

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OPINION: With change often comes a new direction and reinvigoration.

These two things will be key for newly promoted Lieutenant General Tim Keating who took over the reins as the new Chief of the Defence Force on February 1.

When his predecessor, Lieutenant General Rhys Jones, was appointed as NZDF's chief at the end of 2010, he was thrown a hospital pass which came in the form of a three-year term, instead of the usual five, to oversee a massive shake-up of the Defence Force.

The Defence White Paper 2010 resulted in various projects aimed at redistributing funds, including the controversial civilianisation project.

More than 1400 military positions that were deemed to be "middle" or "back office" such as training and administration were civilianised.

The move was highly criticised by the Auditor-General Lyn Provost who found in her 2013 report that the NZDF failed to "fully consider the civilianisation project's potential effect on staff" or address the "significant risks of the process".

"Discharging military staff has to be carried out with great care to avoid damaging the bonds of camaraderie, integrity, and commitment that are part of NZDF culture," she wrote.

"Instead, NZDF chose a course that led to a drop in morale and an increase in attrition resulting in reduced capability. NZDF now needs to recover from the damage caused by the civilianisation project."

Provost did, however, commend the NZDF for their honesty and willingness to adapt to learning lessons from the civilianisation process.

"My staff saw much evidence in reviews and in brieļ¬ngs to Cabinet and the minister of defence that NZDF recognises that it made mistakes during the civilianisation project."

It is these lessons learnt that Keating will need to pick and run with as he begins to rebuild and lead the new-look Defence Force.

The past few years have been rough; eight combat deaths in Afghanistan, a drop in morale and an increase in attrition have all had an effect.

Potentially the biggest challenge for Keating will be maintaining and motivating staff with most major deployments having shut down, while simultaneously trying to attract new recruits to the services.

The former SAS commanding officer's own 32-year military career saw him on various operations including as a commander of the sixth rotation of troops in Afghanistan.

So it will be interesting to see how Keating approaches this new era of military life in New Zealand, and just how he will draw from his extensive organisational, management, leadership, and operational experience to lead from the front.

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- Manawatu Standard


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