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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 3, Issue 11 (March 1, 1929)

Prime Minister's Speech

Prime Minister's Speech.

The Prime Minister was accorded an ovation on rising to propose the toast of “Port and Centre.” He said he wished to take the opportunity of saying that he had accepted the invitation to come to this important centre because he felt that the occasion was one of supreme importance to the country as a whole, although more particularly to the people of Christchurch, Lyttelton, and the great and growing district of Canterbury. The development of the centres in which the people lived was most important. When the Lyttelton-Christchurch railway was opened the total length of the railways in Canterbury was seven miles only, and to-day it was 520 miles, and in that period the population had increased from a few thousands to over 220,000. To-day, although some of them might not realise it, Canterbury was recognised as one of the most important districts in the whole of New Zealand. (Applause.)

The Moorhouse Tunnel. Heathcote portal of the tunnel, shewing electrical equipment.

The Moorhouse Tunnel.
Heathcote portal of the tunnel, shewing electrical equipment.

Another reason why he had come down from Wellington to attend the function, said Sir Joseph, was that he was impressed with the fact that it was a unique occasion in the history of railway development in New Zealand. There had been an expenditure of £50,000,000 on the railways of the Dominion and this was the first time that a section of the working railways had been converted from steam to electric traction. He did not want to be misunderstood in saying that. It was not the only electrified line in New Zealand. Canterbury had a share of the only other electric railway line, the Otira tunnel section, but it was not a part of the working railways at the time it was electrified. The section of railway over which they had travelled that day was the first section of the working railways to be electrified.

War Delayed Work.

Referring to the history of the electrification, the Prime Minister said that after Parliament had granted its authority for the work, New Zealand, as part of the British Empire, went through the terrible war. The war brought a financial cyclone, which swept the British Empire and did not leave New Zealand out of its course. Consequently it was not possible to proceed with the electrification for some years, and the consummation of their hopes had taken fourteen years.

It would be supremely ridiculous on his part or on the part of anyone present to think that the electrification of the railways of New Zealand would stop with the completion of seven miles of line between Christchurch and Lyttelton. The hydro-electric schemes had been introduced to utilise the waste waters of the great lakes, and even with the development that had taken place New Zealand still had more water running to waste than any other country.

The electrification of the line was the initiation of something that was certain to be extended. He believed that a cheap process for the application of electricity to the railways page 15 throughout the world would be evolved, and when they saw what was being done in England they must realise that there were wonderful possibilities ahead.

Could not be Hurried.

The Prime Minister said that they must know that no Government and no Parliament could hurry a matter like that. The development of the country was limited to a large extent by the necessities of the people and the amount of money the Government could get and spend in each year. While the completion of the Christchurch-Lyttelton section would act as a great stimulus to the electrification of the lines between other ports and cities, and suburban lines, such as Auckland to Onehunga, Wellington to Upper Hutt, etc., he had very little hesitation in saying: “Leave it alone and stand off for a period of seven years before asking the country to take the added burden that would result.” There was no reason, he considered, why they should not take note of the object lesson of the completion of this seven miles of railway. New Zealand was a wonderful country and last year the value of its exports had reached the huge total of £56,000,000. There were increases in all the staple products, wool, butter, cheese, and frozen meat. That very often carried the unthinking off their feet, but no Government would be justified in taking any credit for the value of the exports of this or any other country except those created by its own industry. It was a good thing for the country to see the magnificent increase in prices, but it was a bad thing for the unthinking to rely upon that and expect the Government to do what prudent men would not do in their own businesses. Whoever was ruling the country could not afford to assume that high prices were going to continue always.

An Historic Event. Landing one of the new electric locomotives at Lyttelton.

An Historic Event.
Landing one of the new electric locomotives at Lyttelton.

“Not a Pessimist.”

Sir Joseph added that he was not a pessimist and did not want to be mistaken for one. Some people put him down as a terrible optimist, and he always tried to take an optimistic view.

With regard to the railways he said that he cherished the very fond hope that in the future they would be in a much better position than they were to-day. He did not wish to disguise the fact that very great difficulties faced this important service. He believed, however, that the men in the service would leave nothing undone to promote the best interests of the railways, but anyone who ran away with the idea that it was an easy task was very much mistaken.

Railway Construction.

Additions to the open lines of railways could not go on at the rate at which they were going on now. Mr. Taverner and Mr. Sterling recognised, as all others in the service recognised, that a very big task was set before the Department and the Government and handling the greatest service in New Zealand, and they needed all the co-operation the public could give them.

After referring briefly to certain historical facts in connection with New Zealand, the Prime Minister went on to say that only the foundations had been laid of this wonderful country. He did not know of any other country which was blessed as was this Dominion. Climatically there was nothing to beat New Zealand. He had never understood the reasoning of people who thought New Zealand had reached the limit of its development. In years to come the Dominion should have a population of between three and four millions of people. Of course, the population should not increase too rapidly—circumstances would not allow it—but, if they made up their minds to put people on small areas of land, they would lay the foundations of important development. In fifty years he believed New Zealand would be looked upon as a powerful young nation. (Applause.)