The Life and Work of Richard John Seddon
Chapter XVII. — Other Reforms
Other labour laws and general reforms passed by Mr. Seddon's Administration cover so much ground that it is not possible to do more than refer to them briefly in this work. He personally introduced over 550 Bills into the House of Representatives; 200 of them passed that branch of the Legislature, and over 180 stand to his credit on the Statute Book. It will be seen, therefore, that even a list of his enactments would take up much space. In many cases the measures he took in hand were not his original schemes, and attempts had been made to pass them before; but he watched the advance of public opinion, and when he realised that the time was ripe he lost no time in giving the people what he believed they desired. He made measures his own, remodelled them, and successfully piloted them through their stages, so that they now stand as his. In the same way he dealt with schemes that had already been in operation in the colony, consolidating the laws relating to them, bringing them up to date, and making them applicable to the colony's changed conditions. New Zealand's labour laws, as they are now in use, are so numerous that they occupy a thick octavo volume of 500 pages, with small print.*
In the first place, the Act puts a stop to the absurdity of shops remaining open to all hours of the night, keeping assistants tied to their work when they ought to be resting or taking recreation; but compulsory closing of shops at any hour is not insisted on unless under certain conditions, each trade being allowed to settle its closing hour by a vote of the majority of those engaged in the trade. Shop-assistants are not allowed to work more than fifty-two hours a week or more than nine hours a day, with some exceptions. All shops must be kept clean and must be well ventilated. A weekly half-holiday is compulsory, but each town may choose the day of the week to be set aside. Sitting accommodation must be provided for women, and there is a special clause in the Act stating that they must be allowed to avail themselves of the accommodation at reasonable intervals during the day. They are not to be dismissed, and their wages are not to be reduced, because they sit down, unless it is proved that they have done so to an unreasonable extent.
The employment of young people at very low rates of wages is guarded against by a provision that no one can work in a shop for less than 5s. a week for the first year, with an annual increase of 3s. a week until twenty years of age is reached. Overtime must be paid in all cases. The occupier of a shop is not allowed to receive a premium for the employment of an assistant.
Offices must be closed at 1 p.m. on Saturdays, and at 5 p.m. on other days. An office-assistant is not allowed to be employed in an office after half-an-hour after closing time, but page 271 there are several exemptions under this clause. A set of clauses is provided to deal with the sanitation of shops and offices. The inspectors appointed under the Act have far-reaching powers, and there are severe penalties for breaches of the provisions or even attempts to evade the restrictions placed upon unfair shop-keepers who are likely to take advantage of their employés.
It has been found impracticable to make the Act apply to shops and offices without reservation, and there are “exempted trades,” such as fishmongers, fruiterers, and confectioners. One of the latest additions to the Act's provisions states that no shop-assistant can be employed in the business of any shop before 4 a.m. in the case of bakers, butchers, and milkmen, or before 7 a.m. in any other case. By a special provision, made in 1905, Parliament agreed that workers might be employed till 11 o'clock on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve, and chemists' assistants residing on the premises are allowed to supply medicine or surgical appliances outside of the hours of business defined by the Act.
Nearly every town in the colony, apart from the discussion on the principle of the Act, has been torn by a difference of opinion as to the day selected for the half-holiday. The choice rests between Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Wednesday and Thursday seem to be the favourite days, mainly on account of Saturday being the market-day for small farmers who reside near all the large towns in the colony. At 1 o'clock sharp, shops in the town put up their shutters and lock their doors on the statutory half-holiday, and the town, to all outward appearances, gives itself up to rest. The half-holiday proposal was opposed at first as an unwarrantable interference with the liberty of the subject. There is no opposition to it now, and there are very few people who do not commend it as a satisfactory provision for the health and convenience of a large section of the public. The assistants are given relief from their daily work, and the shop-keepers lose nothing, as the business which would have been done on the half-holiday waits and comes again on following days.page 272
There is an Act which provides that workers shall be compensated for accidents. Formerly, a worker who suffered from an accident had not only to bear the risk and pain of an accident, but also the loss of wages, and he had to meet the medical expenses. It was argued that he had to do this in order that other men might make profits. The cost of an accident is now borne by the business itself as one of the legitimate expenses of carrying it on. But it is recognised that too heavy an expense might fall suddenly on an employer owing to his having to pay a great deal of money in compensation for accidents, and provision has therefore been made by the Government Accident Insurance Act for insuring employers against the risk of paying compensation. Several private companies in the colonies also undertake these risks.
Another Act prevents workers from being victimised by fraudulent or unfortunate contractors. Under this Act a person who has worked on any land or building has a lien on it. The lien can be exercised only under restrictions and for a limited sum of money; but it gives priority of claim for wages against other claims, and allows the worker to take legal proceedings to recover his wages before the property is disposed of or alienated. Mr. Seddon, in his Mining Act, gave the miners special powers in this respect. Women and boys are not allowed to be engaged in or about coal-mines of any description, and many regulations have been made to protect men against the dangers of blasting operations and working in foul air.
In a case of bankruptcy, wages or salaries have a claim before other debts. It is the same in regard to the winding up of a company's affairs. No judge or magistrate is allowed to make an order attaching any workman's wages, and wages below £2 a week cannot be hypothecated for debt. A workman can be sued for debt in the ordinary way, but a particular creditor cannot step in before others and seize wages in advance before they are earned. Mr. Seddon specially safeguarded the wages of coal-miners.
To prevent an abuse that was once very prevalent, an Act passed as early as 1881 declares that no wages or payments of any kind for services can be made to workers in an hotel. There page 273 is an Act to regulate the conditions under which work on the gum-fields is carried on. Shearing sheds on farms, runs, and stations all over the colony are inspected by factory inspectors. The shearers must be supplied with proper sleeping and other accommodation. If no provision is made, or if the accommodation is not sufficient, an inspector serves the owner with a notice setting forth what is required, and if the notice is not complied with the owner is brought before a magistrate and fined. Servants' registry offices are strictly supervised, and steps are taken to prevent unscrupulous agents from exploiting those who deal with them. Every registry office must be licensed, and books and records must be kept and be thrown open to inspection. The proprietor of a registry office is not allowed to take in servants as lodgers; neither he nor any member of his family may have any interest in servants' lodging houses; and each application for a license must be accompanied by a certificate of good character.*
* This short account of the scope of labour legislation is condensed from Mr. Tregear's introduction to the “Labour Laws.” The enactments deal with labour legislation as it stands on the Statute Book at present. Most of the Acts were brought in by the Liberal Party, but labour provisions were in operation before 1891, as explained above.
As time passed, the scope of operations was largely extended. The department is one of the busiest in the public service. It has agents in every town, police constables representing it in the small country centres where there are no regular agencies. Its principal object is to send the unemployed out of the cities to the places where work is available. In a way, the bureaux are public servants' registry offices, at which no fee is charged. A labourer, or worker at any trade, can seek employment through the nearest bureau, and an employer who requires assistance can use the bureaux in the same way. In the large centres, the agencies are sometimes kept busy for days at a time receiving applications and bringing together men who want masters and masters who want men. For several years employers held aloof from the department, as they held that it was established not for them, but for the workers. Now, however, it is gaining their confidence, and they are making good use of it. The department also collects vast quantities of information in regard to the industrial occupations of the people, with a view to improving the relations between employers and workers; and it publishes a monthly periodical, popularly known as the “Labour Journal,” which contains much useful information.
In 1895, a new branch of the department was established for the purpose of providing employment for women out of work. The results of this experiment have not been encouraging. At first the branch was largely used by women and girls in search of employment, but the response on the part of employers was discouraging. In later years, page 275 when it became difficult to obtain domestic helps, more situations were offering than there were applicants to fill. In 1901–2, for instance, 631 employers applied for servants, and the branch only placed 219 women and girls. It was decided at the end of 1904 to close this branch, as the small number of servants who applied did not justify its further existence.
Mr. W. P. Reeves was the first Minister for Labour, and he remained in office from 1891 to 1896. When he went Home, in the latter year, Mr. Seddon took the portfolio, and held it until his death. From the date the department was established until Mr. Seddon's death, it helped 45,084 men to obtain employment. These men had 84,631 dependants, and the department claims that it has given timely and practical help to 129,715 persons. The following table gives particulars of the department's operations in this direction:—
|Year||Total||Married.||Single.||Dependants.||Private work.||Government Work.|
The State in New Zealand has more power, is more inquisitive and interfering, and more insistent on its rights and privileges, in agricultural pursuits than in any other department of the colony's industries. The first Dairy Act, passed in the second year of the Ballance Administration, established a standing army of experts and inspectors, who carry out a thorough system of inspection and investigation. They possess page 276 enormous powers. Their objects are to protect the public against impure food, help the farmers by advice, and raise the standard of the colony's produce on foreign markets, chiefly by a system of grading, which affords to the buyer a Government guarantee of quality. Dairy schools are held, experimental farms and stations are conducted, and means are taken in all directions to place the dairy industry on the best possible footing. The Department of Agriculture is one of the most important in the public service and its sphere of operations is extended almost every year.
State control is a prominent feature of the policy inaugurated by Mr. Ballance and carried out by Mr. Seddon. It has been applied in many directions, some of which are entirely new and rather novel. State-ownership of the railways and of telegraph and telephone systems excites no comment in the colony, as it is looked upon as the proper kind of ownership, and a suggestion that these public services could be better managed by private enterprise would be received with ridicule. In 1901 Sir Joseph Ward, as Postmaster-General, took a bold step by adopting the universal penny postage system. It was the first universal penny post introduced by any country in the world. It was estimated at the time that the colony would suffer a loss of £80,000 a year, but the business increased so rapidly that the loss was found to be only £34,000. In 1895 the number of letters posted in New Zealand was about 40 per head per annum; by 1900 the average was 49. The introduction of the universal penny postage sent the average up to 64½; and now it is between 70 and 80. Sixpenny telegrams, introduced by Sir Joseph Ward in 1896, represent another reform that is highly appreciated by the public.
It was Mr. Seddon's endeavour to extend State control in many other directions. This policy gave rise to much criticism when he started on that part of his career which is marked by his Premiership, and he had to fight hard for the principle. Latterly, the right of the State to step in and take part in the affairs of individuals, competing with them and taking a share of their businesses, has been generally admitted by the people.page 277
One of Mr. Seddon's most notable actions in this respect in recent years was the establishment of State coal mines. In 1901, feeling that the time had come when the State should supply cheaper coal to the people, he induced Parliament to pass his State Coal Mines Act. It allows the Government to mine coal-bearing country, first to meet its own demands for coal, and then to supply coal to the public in the ordinary way of business. The Act was in operation for several years before the Government took full advantage of its provisions by placing coal on the market. State coal is now being sold to the public in both Wellington and Christchurch from depôts established by the Mines Department. There are two mines worked by the State. They are both in the West Coast district, one being at Seddonville and the other at Point Elizabeth. Mr. Seddon's principal argument when he was urging Parliament to allow him to establish these mines was that private enterprise was not meeting the colony's demands for coal. By that means he disarmed those of his opponents who said of this proposal, as they had said of all others which went in the same direction, that it interfered unnecessarily with private enterprise. There had been several coal famines, in which prices rose to a high figure, and he said that this, clearly, was a case in which the Government could interfere without being blamed for going too far in the paths of advanced Socialists. Large quantities of coal were imported from Australia, the value sometimes amounting to £90,000 in one year, and he thought that that, also, should be checked.
The proposal was not a new one to Parliament, and he had little difficulty in having it passed into law. The Act gives the Government power to set up a complete coal-mining concern, with managers, engineers, agents, and other officers; to acquire buildings and plant; and, in fact, to carry on mining operations in exactly the same way as a private company would do. The Government is allowed to acquire other coal mines, taking over private businesses and fulfilling private contracts. If the profits from the State-owned mines are more than 5 per cent. the price can be reduced to the consumer. The results of the page 278 State's operations have been a considerable reduction in the price of coal.
Mr. Seddon set up a State Fire Insurance Department, which goes hand-in-hand with the State Life Insurance Department established by Sir Julius Vogel in 1869. The department has entered into keen competition with private life insurance companies that do business in the colony, and it has been the means of greatly reducing the rates of premium. The department, in 1906, has been in operation for only a year, but it is firmly established, and, being carefully managed, is likely to become one of the most popular and flourishing departments in the Government's charge.
The Public Trust Office was established as far back as 1872, nearly a decade before Mr. Seddon entered politics, but during his Premiership its field of operations was considerably enlarged. The office is designed mainly to afford, at low rates of commission, a secure and convenient resource for persons who reside in New Zealand or another country, and who desire to form a trust or appoint an agent or attorney in the colony, and who may be in doubt as to the choice of a representative. Another of its objects is to relieve those who may be appointed trustees of property in the colony, or who, after having accepted trusts, may be unwilling or unable to continue the administration. The Public Trustee may be appointed a trustee, an executor, an agent, an attorney, or an administrator of an estate, and he is entitled to act as administrator on his own initiation in cases where persons have died intestate. The good faith of the administration of the department is guaranteed by statute, and the colony is pledged to maintain the integrity of funds obtained from estates and invested by the office. The State, in fact, gives its guarantee against loss from investments in bad or insufficient securities, and against loss from delay in the investment, and it guarantees that the interest, the rate of which is fixed by the Government, shall be paid regularly and punctually, free from all charges by the office.
The Public Trustee of New Zealand never dies, never leaves the country, never becomes involved in private difficulties, and is never distrusted. He is probably the best trustee in the page 279 world. His powers are much larger than those of private trustees, and he is allowed to do many things that no other trustee could do without an order from a Court.
A notable departure in the system of municipal rating was made in 1896, when Mr. Seddon's Government had a measure passed to give local bodies the option of levying their rates on the unimproved value of the land. The proposal originated in New Zealand in 1894, when the Invercargill Borough Council, on the motion of Mr. J. A. Hanan, decided to ask the Government to frame a Bill to bring the system into operation in the colony. Sir Joseph Ward introduced the subject into Parliament several times, but, although the proposal was repeatedly adopted by the House, it was rejected by the Legislative Council until 1896, when it passed both branches of the Legislature, and became law. It is left to the local bodies themselves to adopt the system, and there is provision in the Act to enable them to return to the old system of rating if the new one is not considered satisfactory after three years' experience. A proportion of ratepayers in any district may demand that a poll shall be taken on the proposal to rate on the unimproved value, and if a bare majority of those who vote is in favour of the proposal, it has to be put into force. Seventy-eight polls have been held in the colony, and the system is now in operation in a large number of districts, including the cities of Christchurch and Wellington, where, apparently, it has given satisfaction. Only four attempts have been made to go back to the old system of rating, and each attempt has failed. Mr. Seddon brought about other municipal reforms, notably by establishing a residential qualification under the municipal franchise, and by increasing the rating-powers of county councils and road boards.
When he first went into the Ministry and took charge of the railways, they were controlled by three commissioners, appointed by the Government. This was a scheme put into operation by Sir Harry Atkinson's Government. The idea was to remove the railways from the region of political control. Mr. Seddon found that that did not suit him at all. His views clashed with those of the commissioners at every turn, and the quarrels that took place were the talk of the whole country. In page 280 1895, he had the offices of the commissioners abolished, and the Government resumed control. During the ten or eleven years that have elapsed, the business of the Railway Department, which has been mostly in charge of Sir Joseph Ward, has increased enormously. Mr. Seddon and Sir Joseph, from the commencement of their administration, laid down the policy that the railways must first be treated as adjuncts to settlement. They did not wish them to earn large profits so much as to secure benefits for the people by giving settlers a cheap and convenient means of transporting the produce of the farms to the markets. Any surpluses gained after paying 3 per cent. on the capital cost of the lines have been returned to those who use the railways in cheapened freights and increased facilities. The wisdom of this policy is proved every year. About £680,000 has been returned to the users of the lines by means of reduced freights. Ordinary and suburban passengers, holders of season tickets, delegates to conferences of religious bodies and friendly societies, pupils of technical schools, judges attending agricultural shows, and competitors at gatherings of rifle associations and other bodies are amongst those who have benefited by reduced fares. Lime used by farmers for manuring farm land is carried absolutely free. To relieve the congestion of the cities and enable workers to live under more healthful conditions, workers' cheap tickets are issued on the suburban lines near the four large centres of population. These tickets are available for one outward and one homeward trip a day and for use by trains that arrive at their destinations before 8 a.m. The prices of the tickets are based on a uniform rate of 2s. a week for distances up to ten miles. Large numbers of these tickets are used, and the concession is highly appreciated by the workers.
To Mr. Seddon, railways were always the principal means of settling the country. He had an undying faith in the saying of an English writer that “next to a prolific soil and the possession of other great natural resources, no adjunct of material progress is so generally important, and exercises so vital an influence on national characteristics, as the growth of the railway system,” and he would have added to those remarks that no railways are page 281 worth much to a country unless they are built, owned, and managed by the State. In spite of many disadvantages, attributable largely to the roughness of the country through which some of them have to run, the State-owned New Zealand railways have realised profits nearly sufficient to cover the total interest payable on the money borrowed to construct the lines. There is now a net revenue of about £720,000 a year, equal to a return of over 3 per cent. on the capital invested. The passenger traffic has an extraordinary elasticity, increasing by several hundreds of thousands a year.
When the railways were given into Mr. Seddon's charge in 1891, the Midland Railway Company was dawdling along with its work of uniting the east and west coasts of the South Island. Construction by a private company clashed with his idea of State-ownership. He was also impatient at the delay. The company's capital was insufficient for the work it undertook, and it was obvious that the contract would never be completed by the company. The colony had assisted it largely by giving it several concessions. When the time for completing the contract expired in January, 1895, only about one-fifth of the moneys required for the construction of the line had been spent. Besides the delay, 5,000,000 acres of Crown lands were locked up. In opposition to popular feeling, Mr. Seddon stepped in and took possession of both the completed and incomplete portions of the line, and Government workmen have been engaged on the work ever since. The company made a claim of £1,800,000 against the Government. The hearing of the case spread over five years. It was taken from an Arbitration Court to the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal, and the Privy Council, but each tribunal found that the company had no claim and that its inexcusable delay and wilful breach of contract justified Mr. Seddon's action in assuming Government control.
In 1905 Mr. Seddon added another item to the list of benefits he had conferred upon the working classes by bringing into operation a scheme for erecting workers' dwellings in the suburbs of cities. He had given municipalities the power to do this. Several of them had made half-hearted attempts, but nothing resulted from their efforts, and he decided that it was page 282 the duty of the Government to undertake the responsibility. Municipalities in New Zealand are not in a position to do what is desired. Large sums have to be expended in purchasing land and erecting the houses, and the municipalities have other ways of spending their money. The fact remained, however, that the Legislature intended that suitable houses, which could be obtained at a reasonable rental, should be erected for the workers, and the law had been allowed to remain a dead letter.
On making systematic inquiries into the conditions of the workers in recent years, Mr. Seddon found that although wages had risen, and the conditions under which the people lived were much better than formerly, the workers' position on the whole had not improved as much as he expected it would and as much as he thought it ought to. His inquiries led him to conclude that in some parts of the colony the cost of living had increased as much as 33 per cent., and he met with many cases in which quite one-third of the workers' earnings was paid for rent. He could never be led to see how the colony would recede from the progress it had made, and he said that with the increase of population, which, he argued, meant increase in land values and increase in rents, it was necessary to check the tendency to make living for the worker harder as the colony went into more prosperous times.
State-owned workmen's dwellings have now been erected near some of the principal centres. It remains to be seen what effect the scheme will have on rents generally. Mr. Seddon had great faith that it would stop the upward movement of rents in cities, and he confidently asserted that those who occupied the dwellings would sometimes save as much as 7s., 8s., or 10s. a week. When it was stated that he was doing too much for the working classes, he replied that with the rise in rents there would be a demand for a rise in wages, and if he was able to bring down rents he would be helping the employer and the capitalist as well as the worker. It was consideration for the worker's health, however, that had most weight with him. “The more ventilation there is in a dwelling, and the more comfort a man has in his home,” he said, “the better work he is able to do, and the more content he becomes. In comfortable page 283 circumstances, a man has an inducement to stay at home; and in some of the slums and wretched tenements in which men are now forced to exist with their wives and families, on account of the high rents, things are anything but comfortable.” Every worker's home has a bathroom, and proper means of ventilation. These dwellings are disposed of by the Government on a weekly tenancy or by lease for 50 years, with the right of renewal. Every applicant for the right to occupy a dwelling has to satisfy the Land Board that he or she is a worker—that is, “a person, male or female, who is employed in work of any kind or in manual labour, and who, at the time of application, is not in receipt of more than £156 a year, and is landless.” For weekly tenants the rent is fixed at the rate of 5 per cent, on the capital value of the dwelling, in addition to the insurance and rates. The payments on account of the leases are on the same basis, but they are made in monthly instalments. The lessee may acquire the freehold, but this is hedged round with several conditions. He can pay the capital value in cash any time after 25 years from the date of the lease; he can make monthly payments extending over 32 years, at the rate of 8 per cent. on the capital value, or monthly payments extending over 41 years at the rate of 61 ½ per cent.; or he can proceed by insuring his life in the Government Life Insurance Office for the amount of the value of the dwelling and for either 25 or 32 years, the property passing to him when the insurance falls due.
In 1895 Sir John McKenzie had an Act passed to secure homes for the people, and to prevent these homes from being mortgaged or sold for debt or other reasons. It preserves homes for men and their families who might otherwise find that through adverse circumstances they had lost the property they once possessed. A home up to £1500 in value may be registered under the Act. As soon as that is done the property becomes the home of the family during the life-time of the man or woman who registers it, and it can be neither mortgaged nor leased. The idea was not a new one even twelve years ago. It has been successfully applied in the United States, Australia, and other countries, and its success has also been very marked in New Zealand.page 284
Another notable enactment was brought before Parliament by the Hon. R. McNab.* Its title is the “Testator's Family Maintenance Act,” and it makes provision for setting aside wills in cases where property has been disposed of in such a way as to leave a wife, a husband, or children destitute. Several cases of this nature had occurred in New Zealand, as in other countries. In one case, property valued at £20,000 had been willed away from a widow, who was left destitute, and had to depend upon the bounty of her sons and daughters, to whom the whole of the property was left. Mr. McNab did not seek to follow the system adopted in Scotland, where a man is not allowed to dispose of certain portions of his estate, but he said: “Before a man disposes of his property, he must first carry out his obligations; we must see that he does not leave anyone who has a claim upon him destitute and dependent on the State for maintenance.” Although the Act is very far-reaching, it contains only five short clauses. A wife, husband, or child left destitute can apply under it to the Supreme Court for an order to be made granting the applicant a portion of the estate, and if the Court is satisfied that the applicant has a just claim, it is empowered to issue the order at once.
* Mr. McNab took the portfolio of Minister for Lands and Agriculture in Sir Joseph Ward's Ministry, formed after Mr. Seddon's death.
In 1905, twelve months before he died, he was able to give practical expression to his sympathy with the colony's school teachers. In that year, when he was Minister for Education, he submitted to Parliament a teachers' superannuation scheme, which is embodied in an Act of Parliament.* He looked upon school teachers as something more than Civil Servants, working day after day for a salary, and apart from his sympathetic efforts to improve the condition of a class of public servants, he felt that it was necessary in the interests of the colony to maintain a high standard amongst all teachers of the young.
“Those who have studied the position, and have gone into it,” he said, “will come to the conclusion that the children of a country will be to a great extent what the teachers are. If the teachers are of good moral character, with high ideals, and realise the great responsibility that is cast upon them, then in morals and in bearing you will almost see the reflection of that fact in the children, and, therefore, I say that we have devolving upon us the great responsibility of seeing that our teachers receive an adequate remuneration. They should not be kept at the miserable remuneration that they have received in years gone by; and, contrasting the altered conditions and the increased cost of living, although we have made, during late years, a large increase in teachers' salaries, I do not hesitate to say that to-day the salaries of our teachers are not commensurate with their responsibilities, and are not enough to maintain them in that position which all well-wishers of our country would like to see them in.”
* The Teachers' Superannuation Act, 1905. Details of the measure are given in a speech delivered by Mr. Seddon in the House of Representatives on July 21st, 1905.
“A greeting! A welcome! A greeting! Welcome hither the Premier, the head of the Government and the Parliament of New Zealand. Come hither with your colleague and companions. We offer them and you, and your wife and children, O Premier, a hearty welcome to Waikato. We bid you come and see the remnant of the Maori people, who are here assembled in response to Mahuta's invitation that we should meet you and our friends at this place. Come and see us face to face, even as you have met other gatherings of the Maori race on your way hither. Our hearts are exceedingly rejoiced and filled with gladness at your coming to see us personally in your capacity of Premier of our islands, Aotea-roa and Te Waipounamu. Come hither, Premier Seddon, that we may greet and make you all welcome while tarrying with us, coming back as you do from England after taking part in the Jubilee of our gracious Queen. We are very grateful at your coming amongst us, and how much greater will our rejoicing be if you can satisfy the longings of our hearts by granting the earnest desires of the few remaining members of the native race, who are living here in sorrow and suffering under the laws enacted by previous Governments! We, therefore, pray you to consider favourably the grievances which afflict the Maori people, and to save our bodies from these evils.
“The hearts of the women and children, the young and the old, are full of gladness at your coming here among us this day, so that you may see the two races assembled side by side in honour of your visit, and to accord you a united welcome in the name and under the protecting shadow of our gracious Queen. Let this gathering be a token of the love the two races living in New Zealand bear to one another.”
He explained to them the provisions of a measure that had been prepared, and told them that he would not allow them to become landless:
“After giving this question years of attention, I say that it is necessary now that we should stop the sale of the remaining lands, for if we do not do this, the native race will continue to decrease in numbers rapidly, and before very long most of those remaining will become a burden on the community.
“Nothing has caused my heart to bleed more than to find so many natives in the South Island practically landless. The Europeans have disagreed upon some of the questions of the policy of the present Government, but in respect to our native policy, I hold that no Government has done so much for the Native race as the present Administration. And here I must not forget to do justice to a great man who has passed away. I refer to my former chief, the late John Ballance. He was ever a firm friend of the natives, and the great success that has attended our efforts is owing to this. We have always consulted you, we have reasoned with you, we have asked you to advise the Government, and we have not applied force. In this way confidence is begotten, and the greatest sympathy exists between the races. You have as much right to be consulted as the Europeans have; that is the reason for my being here to-day. While I am now leaving you, my heart will continue with you. I hope that every page 287 happiness will attend you, that your numbers may increase, and that you may live in amity, contented and happy, side by side with the Europeans of this colony.”
In 1900, he passed the Maori Lands Administration Act, which prevents the Maoris from pauperising themselves by selling any more of their lands, and allows the Government to advance moneys to the Maoris to make roads and improve their lands in other ways for their own use and occupation.
Mr. Seddon has been the centre around which the fighters in the great temperance agitation have moved during the past thirteen years. He passed three licensing Acts, the first in 1893, the second in 1895, and the third in 1903 and each called forth all his skill and determination.
The temperance movement has never entered into party disputes. It has taken its leaders from both sides of the House. Its vote goes to itself, and in general politics it divides its favours, but leans more to the Liberals than to the Conservatives. Mr. Seddon used his influence to keep it in that position. To many New Zealanders it is the end-all of reform. To him it was only one great movement among many; and he did not like to see it, at the general elections, over-shadowing other questions, which he considered more important. He was a kind of buffer between the fierce contending leaders. He took a middle course, which pleased the extremists at neither end of the question, but which, he believed, was what the colony as a whole desired. “The Seddon Government,” he told the temperance leaders and the representatives of the liquor trade, “is independent of both of you, and we are here to do what is right and just.” Behind the clamorous extremists he saw the “moderates,” and he legislated for them. It is a “give-and-take” policy, as he himself described it. He did not feel that he was called upon to join the temperance crusade, but he believed that it was his duty to give effect to the desires and aspirations of the people as far as he could ascertain the direction in which they went.
“I know that I have no friends in connection with this Bill,” he said in 1903, “and that I shall have no thanks, but perhaps the curses of both sides; but I am prepared to stand page 288 that, as long as we pass a measure which will be for the good of the community as a whole.” From the first, he took the responsibility of dealing with the question, which seemed to him to be too far-reaching to be successfully dealt with by private members. Moderation, regulation, and direct and complete control of the trade by the people at the polls were his guiding principles. He often stated in public that New Zealand was temperate, even sober, and that it must be kept so; and that the trade must, therefore, be subjected to strict supervision. He had no leaning towards State control of the liquor traffic, but he frequently expressed his willingness to submit that proposal to the vote of the people.