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Conscription in New Zealand

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Conscription in New Zealand

Compulsory military training (CMT), a form of conscription, was used in New Zealand.

Origins and world wars

CMT was introduced with the Defence Act of 1909. It applied to all males from 14 to 21 years of age.

There were increasing criticisms of CMT voiced in Parliament, but this declined upon the outbreak of World War I in 1914, providing sufficient justification for CMT. In mid-war, conscription was introduced by the Military Services Bill (10 June 1916). CMT was abolished in 1932 for economic reasons. In this period, high school students were subjected to a few periods each week of military training.

The compulsory sections of the Defence Act were not invoked until nine months after the outbreak of World War II: under the National Service Emergency Regulations of 1940, conscription was reintroduced. Anyone aged between 18 and 46 became liable to be called up by ballot.


1949 Referendum

On 25 May 1949, Prime Minister Peter Fraser announced that a referendum would be held on the future of CMT. The results on 3 August 1949 strongly approved reintroduction of CMT, with 77.9% in favour and a turnout of 63.5%.[1]

Choice Votes %
For 568,427 77.9
Against 160,998 22.1
Invalid/blank votes -
Total 729,245 100
Source: Nohlen et al.


Under the Compulsory Military Training Act of 1949 all males became liable for military service upon reaching 18 years of age, taking effect in 1950. All men aged 18 and over were required to register with the Department of Labour and Employment, and apart from those exempted for medical or compassionate reasons, all had to undergo 14 weeks of intensive, full-time training, three years of part-time service, and six years in the Army Reserve. All trainees had the option of serving with the Royal New Zealand Navy, Royal New Zealand Air Force or the New Zealand Army. A total of 63,033 men were trained before CMT was abolished by the Labour Government in early 1958.

In 1960 National, under Keith Holyoake, was elected and CMT was reinstated in 1962 as 'National Service'. Under the provisions of the National Service Act all males were required to register on their 20th birthday with the Department of Labour. Ballots, based upon dates of birth, were conducted to decide who would undertake compulsory service. Those selected were required to complete three months initial full-time training, followed by an annual commitment of three weeks part-time training for three years. (Although New Zealand sent troops to the Vietnam war, all who served there were full-time professional volunteer soldiers. Conscripts were not sent, unlike Australians or Americans).

In 1972, Labour under Norman Kirk ended National Service as a result of a campaign of civil disobedience and lobbying by the Organisation to Halt Military Service A Radical Hippie movement ("OHMS", a pun on both resistance and "On Her Majesty's Service", as OHMS was an abbreviation used on official envelopes).

Since 1972

Since 1972 there has been no conscription. There has been sporadic calls for its re-introduction, especially as a measure to reduce youth crime, but no political party has that as its policy.


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