Calls for more ethnic, gender diversity in New Zealand Defence Force

11:58 am on 2 July 2019

The Defence Force is aiming to attract a more diverse range of people as current numbers suggest a large proportion still identify as New Zealand European.

New Zealand Army soldiers inside an Australian Army vehicle during the mission rehearsal exercise for Task Group Taji 3 at RAAF Edinburgh, with about 300 Australian soldiers, sailors and airmen prepared for deployment to Iraq in exercise at RAAF Edinburgh in Adelaide, South Australia.

Photo: NZDF / Supplied

Figures given to RNZ show a rise in the number of people identifying as New Zealand European and European from 2003 to 2019, and a fall in the number of Māori in uniform.

Fiona Cassidy is Māori and served in the Army from 1982 until 1998 where she reached the level of Major - she was deployed overseas to the Middle East and Bougainville.

She said even in 1982, there were very few Māori in her intake.

"There were two Māori officers who graduated before me, and I think I was probably the most senior regular force Māori woman officer," she said.

Documents provided give a breakdown of the Defence Force and each of the different services - Army, Navy, Air Force - from 2003 to February this year.

Overall, the military has more men and women in uniform.

2003

Total NZDF personnel - 8,660

2019 (as of February 2019)

Total NZDF personnel - 9,459

But there are fewer Māori.

2003

Total Māori personnel - 1,580

2019 (as of February 2019)

Total Māori personnel - 1,437

And people from the Pacific, Asia and the Middle East are only a fraction of the total force.

2019 (as of February 2019)

Total Pacific person - 358

Total Asian personnel - 209

Total MELAA (Middle Eastern, Latin American and African) personnel - 22

Recording an ethnicity was something Ms Cassidy never had to do.

"I certainly know that during my time - we were never asked whether or not we were Māori or not - we just were," she said.

The documents say more people are choosing to report their ethnicity when they sign up today - however, it still remains optional.

Green Party defence spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman said while the military painted a diverse front - it didn't appear to be flowing through in the ranks.

Defence Minister Ron Mark and Greens Party defence spokesperson Golriz Ghaharaman have clashed over the purchase of a new fleet of Hercules.

Golriz Ghaharaman and Ron Mark. Photo: Photo / RNZ

"Where there is poor indicators when looking at gender, or race, or sexual orientation, or whatever it is - that we have to assume that there has been systemic marginalisation.

"We actually do have to actively say to our higher-ups 'hey can you actively dismantle whatever has been marginalising Māori?'," she said.

Defence Minister Ron Mark said the numbers weren't good enough and he wanted to recruit more people from different backgrounds.

"We want to encourage more diversity - we definitely need more Asians in the Defence Force.

"When we talk diversity - we are not just talking about in terms of ethnicity - it is also in terms of gender - we've still got room to improve," he said.

He said a diversity recruitment working group had been created within the Defence Force to encourage enlistment from young people still in school, especially girls.

"[They can] see for themselves that actually, engineering is a good career path and ... so long as they get the academic grades they can have a career in that space - it's not just a career path for men," he said.

Mr Mark hoped the working group would report back with recommendations in about six months.

The Defence Force did not want to be interviewed but in a statement, it said it prided itself on being an organisation that promoted multiculturalism.

It said key recruitment information was available in te reo Māori and serving personnel - who have close links to their background - could participate in recruiting activities.

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