The New Zealand navy is relying on Australian sailors to keep
it afloat as skilled crew leave in droves for higher-paid
jobs across the Tasman.
There are now about 20 Australian sailors at the Devonport
naval base in Auckland, many of whom will soon make up the
numbers for a New Zealand-led mission in the Pacific.
One patrol vessel has been tied up for a year, and two others
for seven months, because of recruitment and staffing issues.
Just days after Auditor-General Lyn Provost published a
report highlighting the loss of morale and staff in the
Defence Force because of cost-cutting, a source told the
Herald about 20 Australian navy personnel along with New
Zealand Army staff were working at Devonport.
While exchanges of naval staff between the two countries had
taken place for years, the number of Australians with the NZ
navy was higher than usual, the source said.
Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman this week confirmed
that the offshore patrol vessel Wellington had been tied up
since last June but was scheduled to leave next month for sea
training before a deployment in the southwest Pacific.
Yesterday, a navy spokeswoman told the Herald the ship's core
crew of 35 now included seven Australian sailors. In total,
18 Australian sailors were on NZ vessels in addition to
personnel involved with regular exchanges.
Dr Coleman said: "There's no question that the Australians
are making a very valuable contribution which is helping us
get our ships to sea."
Asked whether there were more Australian sailors helping out
now than ever, Dr Coleman said: "The overall numbers are
high, yes." That was because of the skills shortages within
"It's no secret that we've got fewer people in the navy and
we're short of some crucial trades, so that Australian
assistance is really helping us out."
The staff attrition rate across the Defence Force was 21 per
cent last year but is understood to be even higher in the
navy, where many staff are trained in sought-after trades
such as engineering.
Labour defence spokesman Iain Lees-Galloway said Defence
chief Lieutenant General Rhys Jones - when quizzed about the
attrition rates during parliamentary hearings - said many
skilled navy staff were being lured away by the high pay on
offer in Australian mines.
Mr Lees-Galloway said morale as a result of cost-cutting was
"appallingly low, so you've got a lot of people looking
around to see what their other options are".
"It is deeply ironic that because we're bleeding personnel to
Australia, we're having to use Australian personnel to put
our ships to sea."
Dr Coleman said the shortage of staff with crucial trade
skills "does make it harder to put those ships to sea but at
the same time they are able to do what the Government needs
them to do".
"What they are doing is delivering all the tasks they're
contracted for - all the multi-agency stuff: police, customs,
fisheries, all that stuff - as well as the basic defence
Official navy figures show the four inshore patrol vessels
missed targets for total days at sea by almost 33 per cent
This year's fleet target has been reduced by about 9 per
The Australian sailors serving with the NZ navy are paid by
Australia at Australian rates and with Australian conditions