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Military Manoeuvres Act Repeal Bill — Third Reading

[Sitting date: 04 April 2012. Volume:679;Page:1663. Text is incorporated into the Bound Volume.]

Military Manoeuvres Act Repeal Bill

Third Reading

KANWALJIT SINGH BAKSHI (National) : I move, That the Military Manoeuvres Act Repeal Bill be now read a third time. The repeal of this Act reflects the overall change of military tactics and organisation that has occurred in the 100 years since the Military Manoeuvres Act was originally passed. During the tragedy of World War I, military strength was largely measured by the number of available fighting soldiers. The Military Manoeuvres Act allowed for these large formations of soldiers to practise and train en masse, and were the recognised tactics of the day, which are now known for their tactics episode on the Western Front and were decidedly flawed.

Since this time, military tactics have significantly evolved. Although the courage and the fortitude of our soldiers remains unchanged, technology, rather than weight of numbers, has largely become the deciding factor in military engagement. The New Zealand Defence Force today demonstrates where we have come in the last hundred years. The serving men and women of the Royal New Zealand Navy, the Royal New Zealand Air Force, and the New Zealand Army are all highly trained, highly motivated individuals. They utilise complex and state-of-the-art equipment that requires extensive training and ability to use, and are mostly deployed in small, agile, and independent formations. Although they are a fraction of the size of our forces during the two world wars, the New Zealand Defence Force is more agile, more effective, and more situated to the geopolitical requirements of the present world today.

The Military Manoeuvres Act is a relic from an uncertain period of New Zealand’s history. This history has been ably recorded elsewhere and will not be forgotten. The law in New Zealand should remain current and uncluttered. This repeal bill will address a broader issue of older legislation clogging up the books. This Government’s focus is on providing better public services and cleaning up and improving the quality of regulations.

I would like to say as a parliamentarian that it is one’s duty to look at the aspects where we can contribute. By repealing this Act I want to bring awareness to the problem—which has also been pointed out by Sir Geoffrey Palmer—that there are many redundant Acts that remain in force that needlessly clutter the statute book. These Acts add clutter but provide no value to the statute book. By repealing this Act now, and other Acts, we will be cleaning up our statute book. In the words of Sir Geoffrey Palmer, the law and the statute book should have as little dead wood as possible.

The Military Manoeuvres Act Repeal Bill is an indication that there are many bills that are out of date in today’s context. The Regulatory Reform (Repeals) Bill, which is on the Order Paper, has repealed 31 Acts that have been identified as redundant. They are no longer needed and are completely unnecessary. We believe in better regulation, and less regulation is essential to the 21st century New Zealand.

Finally, I would like to thank the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee, then chaired by my colleague John Hayes, for careful consideration of the bill. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank all the parties who have supported this bill. It is time to make these changes now. Defence policy is a long-term commitment. National is giving our defence forces some certainty about their future, and we are preparing them to meet the challenges they may face, looking forward. I commend this bill to the House.

IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY (Labour—Palmerston North) : Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi went looking for a way to contribute to Parliament, and he came up with the repeal of the Military Manoeuvres Act through the Military Manoeuvres Act Repeal Bill. Well done, Mr Bakshi! You have found your way to contribute. I suspect that this will be the highlight of that member’s contribution to Parliament, however long his career is in this place. This is a day to celebrate. This is a day to savour. He can lap up all the faux applause that he will get from his colleagues for bringing this pointless and meaningless bill through the House.

Mr Bakshi is absolutely right that Sir Geoffrey Palmer did suggest that this was a piece of legislation that could be got rid of. There is a way of doing that—that is, through a Statutes Amendment Bill. That would be the appropriate way of doing it. This is an absolute waste of a members’ day. It is a waste of a space in the members’ bill ballot.

Hon Trevor Mallard: So is the member.

IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: Mr Mallard might say that, but I will not go that far. I want only to note that the Labour Party supports this bill because it does no harm. It certainly will not do the nation any good. It will not fix the economy. It will not do anything useful whatsoever. And for that reason, Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi is probably absolutely the appropriate member to have in charge of this bill.

JOHN HAYES (National—Wairarapa) : Thank you for the opportunity to contribute to this bill, the Military Manoeuvres Act Repeal Bill, brought by my colleague Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi to our Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee, and processed through the ballot system here in our Parliament. The select committee was unanimous in its support for the bill, and the National Government supports this bill.

The repeal of the Act supports the clean-up of legislation that is no longer necessary, thereby reducing bureaucracy and tidying up our books, and I think that that is a very good thing to be doing. We believe in better regulations and in less regulation, because it is not required for the 21st century. What is required is a lean military system that is suited to our strategic view of the environment that we find ourselves in, or we think we are going to be finding ourselves in, over the next 20 or 30 years.

We want to make our Public Service more innovative, more efficient, and more effective so that people in our communities can see a Government that is running a very efficient administration. We do not want our legislation cluttered with this Act, and there are other Acts of a similar sort that also need to be taken out of the book. So I hope that when Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi completes this exercise, he will go back to our legislation and look for further Acts to take the same action with. It is a very, very good idea. We need to—

Dr David Clark: This isn’t why we voted you FEC chair.

JOHN HAYES: Ha, ha! To the best of the Defence Force’s knowledge, it does not think that this Act has been used in the last 30 years. It was specifically enacted to deal with extraordinary circumstances related to mobilisation in the First World War. It was seen as necessary by successive Governments, including the 9 years of the party now in Opposition, to keep the legislation just in case a war occurred again and land needed to be appropriated. But this bill addresses the broader issue, I think, of old legislation clogging up the books. I commend my colleague for bringing this bill to the House and pushing it through the system. Thank you.

Hon MARYAN STREET (Labour) : This bill should not have been called the Military Manoeuvres Act Repeal Bill; this should simply have been called the “Members’ Manoeuvres Bill”. This is simply a waste of time. For the members opposite to rail about how wonderful it is to get rid of regulation, they could have managed a lot more efficiently by shoving this, along with a lot of other unnecessary legislation, into a Statutes Amendment Bill. They know it. This was simply put in place to clog up the members’ ballot, and I am not going to take any more time of the House in debating it. We support the import of this bill. We absolutely oppose the way it has been ushered through the House.

Dr KENNEDY GRAHAM (Green) : We come now in the House to the end of this critical exercise of repealing the Military Manoeuvres Act 1915. With all the twists and turns of this Military Manoeuvres Act Repeal Bill through the first reading, select committee deliberation, second reading, and now the third reading, the twists and turns that have characterised the passage of this bill can only have been to good effect. It has allowed us an opportunity to express the collective wisdom of this House and insight into issues pertaining to military manoeuvres. It is not too much to say, I think, that the collective wisdom of this House has been spent on this bill.

I heard our Labour colleague Mr Lees-Galloway suggest—it cannot have been; did he say that it had been a waste of this House’s time? How could that be? How could it be, when it has given the House the opportunity to express its depth of wisdom on an Act that has been unused for 30 years and that is about to be repealed? We heard our colleague from the Government Mr Hayes, who said that not only did it allow us to express our wisdom on this legislation but also it was an expression of Government efficiency in repealing the Act. We can only agree, because by removing this Act from the statute book we can ensure that there is no chance of it being used for the next 30 years, as well.

I now feel obliged to advise the House that, notwithstanding that in the second reading I had floated the notion of introducing a member’s bill to bring it back in, the burden of this debate has now persuaded me against that line of approach. So—[Interruption] No, no, I give an undertaking—a categorical, unqualified undertaking—that that will not occur. I have no intention of bringing in another member’s bill to bring this Act back in. The House has spoken. The Green Party joins others in supporting the repeal of this Act. It is with a light-hearted feeling of cooperation and unity that is unsullied that we say let this Act be repealed.

Dr PAUL HUTCHISON (National—Hunua) : It gives me great pleasure to speak on this Military Manoeuvres Act Repeal Bill and, indeed, to congratulate Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi on the initiative he had in clearing out the Order Paper. I must say, I am deeply relieved that Dr Kennedy Graham has decided not to bring in another member’s bill to replace the Act. The only sort of bill that perhaps could replace this one might be a “Labour Party Leaders’ Manoeuvres Bill”, reminiscent of the Grand Old Duke of York leading the men up the hill, but in this case dispatching its leaders at the top and returning empty-handed. Maybe we will see more of that, but, indeed—

Iain Lees-Galloway: That’s not as good as Ken.

Dr PAUL HUTCHISON: No, no, indeed, it is not. I must admit, Ken was indeed a lighthouse in Parliament today, and it is great to see the Greens being so thoughtful about legislation such as this.

I do want to say that there were some derisory comments made in the second reading by the Hon Maryan Street about the sense of this bill, but one of the marvels of it is that it is a melody of brevity. Indeed, during the select committee process, with the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee so ably led by John Hayes, the bill was actually cut down by 40 percent, becoming even more melodic in terms of its brevity.

This has been a great triumph for Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi. It is not often that a member’s bill goes right through. He needs to be congratulated, and I commend this bill to the House.

RICHARD PROSSER (NZ First) : I am pleased to rise on behalf of New Zealand First to speak to the third reading of the Military Manoeuvres Act Repeal Bill. The possibility of this bill passing and the consequent repeal of the Military Manoeuvres Act 1915 have been a source of great consternation amongst the New Zealand First caucus since our first opportunity to speak on this bill. The bill has gained importance in recent days, which was not the case previously. The world is an uncertain and ever-changing place. New threats can and do present themselves without warning, and from the most unexpected of quarters. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance, and New Zealand must be prepared to meet any new threats as and when they arise.

Without recourse to the Military Manoeuvres Act 1915, it is altogether possible that our defence forces may not be able to prepare for what New Zealand First has perceived as a possible new threat to our national security. It has come to our attention that a nation with whom we have until recently enjoyed a good—if, in some ways, inconsequential—relationship may now be emerging as a potential enemy. Thanks—or perhaps it should be no thanks—to recent comments made by the Leader of the House, it is possible that Finland may now harbour hostile intentions towards this country. The Finn, may I remind honourable members, is a capable and noteworthy adversary, with a long and proud military tradition, and a history of victories over far larger and more powerful opponents.

Finland is, as we have heard in recent days, a nation similar to ours in many regards. In terms of population, Finland is not very much larger than New Zealand: there are a little fewer than 5.5 million Finns. Unlike us, however, Finland is well prepared for the eventualities of war. Finland’s defence forces are incomparably larger and more powerful than New Zealand’s. Finland’s professional military numbers in excess of 35,000 personnel. It is three times greater than our own. In addition to this, Finland employs universal military training, giving it an active reserve of more than 350,000 trained soldiers. In comparison, our own already meagre Territorial Force, numbering just 2,500, is currently faced with a reduction from three battalions down to two, and the loss of some 600 uniformed positions. It would appear that this Government’s continual cost-cutting and downsizing of New Zealand’s military may be a very unwise oversight indeed, particularly if we are going to start picking fights with such powerfully armed nations as Finland.

Finnish forces, it has to be remembered, defeated Napoleon’s troops, and five times between 1918 and 1944 they beat the Soviets, before ejecting a superior force of Nazi Germans from the Lapland territory at the end of the Second World War. In the winter war of 1944 the Finns proved themselves to be resourceful and cunning, using simple technology and advanced tactics to overcome the Soviet armoured divisions. Finnish soldiers would hide behind the trees as Russian tanks approached, leaping out at the last minute to halt the advance of the armour by jamming logs into the tracks, and then dashing back into cover. Russian soldiers who ventured from the safety of their tanks to remove the logs would be shot, and the ones who stayed inside would freeze to death. Either way, the Finns claimed the victory and, at the same time, availed themselves of much captured Soviet armour with which to continue their fight.

It would seem that even before they invented the Nokia cellphone, the Finns had proved themselves a force to be reckoned with. I do hope that we do not all come to regret Mr Brownlee’s declaration of cultural war against this potentially awesome opponent. The Finnish navy, travelling through the Baltic Sea and around the Horn of Africa, could reach our shores within a matter of weeks, and, without recourse to the Military Manoeuvres Act 1915, our own pitifully underfunded and under-resourced defence forces may find themselves woefully short of the preparation needed to meet the threat. Finland’s air force, the pronunciation of the name of which I am afraid, with my native tongue of English, is a feat that I find beyond me, includes more than 120 jet combat and trainer aircraft, including some 65 F/A-18s of the type flown also by the Royal Australian Air Force, which caused such a show at the Ōhākea air show in the weekend just gone. They are also used by the Canadians, the Swiss, and the United States Navy and Marine Corps.

It is noteworthy that with a population only 15 percent larger than our own, the Finns find this level of preparedness not only essential but also completely affordable. Perhaps they are doing something other than manufacturing cellphones that we are not, in order to pay for it all.

In the light of these recent developments, and the threat that Finland may now pose to our safety and security, New Zealand First is unable to continue with support for this bill. We would urge the House to reconsider its passage and, at the same time, give serious regard to the level of funding and preparedness we provide to our defence forces. New Zealand First is aware of the proud military tradition also provided by the Sikhs and the contribution they have made to the British Empire in two world wars. We would be terrified at the prospect of a Finnish secret agent being numbered among them. New Zealand First is gravely concerned about this evolving situation, and we must oppose this bill. Thank you.

  • A party vote was called for on the question that the Military Manoeuvres Act Repeal Bill be now read a third time.

The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (H V Ross Robertson): Can I just remind members that when votes are taken, they are taken in silence. If they are not and it is otherwise, that can be seen as intimidation and can lead to a breach of privilege in the House.

A party vote was called for on the question, That the Military Manoeuvres Act Repeal Bill be now read a third time.

Ayes 111 New Zealand National 59; New Zealand Labour 34; Green Party 13; Māori Party 3; ACT New Zealand 1; United Future 1.
Noes 8 New Zealand First 8.
Bill read a third time.
  • The result corrected after originally being announced as Ayes 101, Noes 8.