Defence Force staff leaving in droves, majority unhappy with pay and housing assistance

Andrew Little has walked straight into his first battle as Defence Minister - keeping personnel.

Newshub can reveal nearly 3000 regular force and civilian staff have resigned over the past 18 months.

The Beehive is in a battle of its own - stopping the flow of personnel leaving the Defence Force.

New Defence Minister Andrew Little said retaining personnel "is my number one priority."

Briefings to the new Minister highlight the "unsustainable" problem of attrition.

More than 2000 regular force personnel and nearly 700 civilian staff have left over the past year and a half.

"Our attrition rate is pretty pronounced - it's a pretty serious issue," Little told Newshub.

So serious, that every Regular Force, civilian member, and LEC will get more than $3000 in the hand as part of a $60 million spend on retention incentives.

Little said: "The fact that we have to make one-off payments is an indication that current levels of remuneration aren't satisfactory and the fact we are losing people to the private sector."

Pay is a big reason for the exodus.

Exit surveys reveal how unhappy those leaving are. Just 20 percent agreed their pay was fair, and only 25 percent thought the housing assistance they got was fair.

Last year, the Chief of Defence Force, air marshal Kevin Short, issued a blunt plea.

"I need further support to actually keep delivering for the Government," he told Newshub.

The lack of personnel raises concerns over the force's ability to respond to natural disasters or deployment overseas.

Little said: "If we'd have two events at the same time, that would put real pressure on the NZDF and we have to make sure we do everything we can to avoid that."

It's a hint that reinforcements are on the way.

"Remedial action needs to be taken pretty smartly so I've been working with the Chief of Defence Force and Ministry of Defence and Treasury to make sure we can respond effectively to it," he said.

Next month's Budget will show if the Government is up for the fight.