By JOHN ARMSTRONG
The Army's commanding officer, Major-General Maurice Dodson, will serve out his remaining four months in the job despite an internal investigation describing his role in the shredding of sensitive Army documents as "unwise and inappropriate".
However, the investigation by the Defence Force inspector-general, Colonel Bob Bywater-Lutman, also determined that General Dodson's actions were not illegal.
The armed forces' commander, Chief of Defence Force Air Marshal Carey Adamson, has formally advised General Dodson of his "concerns", but is taking no further action.
In an extraordinary move, General Dodson reacted to the inquiry's finding and his telling-off by immediately dismissing the affair as a "storm in a teacup".
"I am very pleased about this and feel it is time to move on from these distracting allegations, which have come on top of a stream of leaked information involving half-truths and speculation."
His lack of contrition was greeted with dismay in Government quarters. Beehive sources said the outcome only heightened the perception that the defence hierarchy was in a shambles during an international crisis.
National's defence spokesman, Max Bradford, said it was unacceptable that such a senior officer continued in his job.
"For the perceived and actual integrity of the Army, General Dodson should be suspended from his position until all the inquiries are completed.
"Had this happened to someone lower in the Army chain, they would almost certainly have faced a court martial. Integrity in the Army has to start at the top - and be seen to be so."
General Dodson is due to retire in February, and his chances of staying on to succeed Air Marshal Adamson in the top post are now thought to be scuppered. The relationship between General Dodson and Air Marshal Adamson was strained well even before the investigation.
General Dodson, whose title is Chief of General Staff, became the subject of the investigation after his deputy, Brigadier Lou Gardiner, complained about an order to shred a document relevant to other pending inquiries into the Army's behaviour and Defence Force relations.
Air Marshal Adamson said yesterday that the document - the Army's 1997-98 public relations plan written by public relations firm Communications Trumps - was shredded despite Brigadier Gardiner's refusal to comply with the order.
"No checks were carried out to establish that a master copy was held on file and Brigadier Gardiner's misgivings were ignored."
Air Marshal Adamson said a copy of the shredded document was subsequently discovered and would be referred to the appropriate inquiry to establish its significance.
He said another internal investigation would examine the propriety of a letter allegedly generated within the Army. This suggested that a surreptitious public relations campaign be mounted to promote the Army's interests at the expense of the Air Force and the Navy.
Meanwhile, Brigadier Gardiner will take up a pre-arranged post as head of defence liaison staff in Canberra in December.
By JOHN ARMSTRONG