Exclusive: NZ Defence Force paid out $570k on settling staff complaints

The vast countryside of Waiouru is a training ground for army recruits - and now, it's a place rocked by allegations of sexual misconduct and bullying.

A Newshub investigation can reveal that more than $500,000 of taxpayer money has been spent paying out staff who have made complaints against the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF). 

Many of the payments were made after employees raised allegations of bullying and harassment. 

Documents obtained by Newshub show that since 2012, NZDF has paid out $570,000 to settle personal grievances. The payments were made to 41 people.

The figures show that from 2015, cases of discrimination, bullying and sexual harassment have been on the increase. 

  • If you have further information, contact Michael Morrah by emailing michaelmorrah@mediaworks.co.nz

Sexual assault survivor Cherie Ham is not one of the 41 former staff who were paid out, but she was among five women sexually assaulted by Royal New Zealand Air Force employee Robert Roper in the 1980s.

It took years for that offending to come to light, and she says pay-outs are not the way to create change. 

"They are supposed to be actually looking after their personnel, not paying them out to shut them up," she told Newshub, describing it as "hush money". 

But Defence Minister Ron Mark and NZDF says the total figure of $570,000 isn't that bad. 

"Those figures appear to be within the norm of an organisation that employs that many staff," Mr Mark said. 

The Employment Relations Authority does not apply to members of the armed forces, meaning the 41 personal grievance cases where payouts were made come from a pool of 2900 civilian employees.

And Ms Ham thinks that number of cases is far too high. 

"I'm absolutely gobsmacked and yes... I'm really pissed off," Ms Ham said. 

One person paid out after laying a bullying complaint told Newshub that in their mind, the NZDF "is completely out of step with how to deal with employees in the modern world". 

The person went on to say "there is still a culture of attacking the complainant" - a sentiment Cherie Ham agrees with. 

"Until those old boys get out, it's never going to change," she said. 

Figures show that complaints of discrimination and bullying have more than doubled from 11 in 2015, to 27 in 2017. Sexual harrassment allegations are also up - though those numbers don't include the Waiouru allegations.

NZDF says the increase could be down to "more awareness and better reporting". Mr Mark says he has "great confidence" in the current leadership. 

The most recent scandal at Waiouru involving instructors and their students will be the first test of that leadership.