Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 9, No. 12. September 25, 1946
Debating Society Supports Government on Eve of Election
Debating Society Supports Government on Eve of Election
Each year before the first fresh flush of spring blights the genius of its members, that society for certified intellectuals, the VUC Debating Club, convenes a battle between the Great Men who rule our Fair Land and the Not So Great Men who don't. In the resulting melee few holds are barred and the only practical referee is the audience. For a reason divulged by one of the speakers last Friday night, such a contest could not be held this year, but as an excellent alternative four husky myrmidons—McCreary, O'Connor, O'Flynn and Benton wrangled over a confidence motion in the Government.
Some two hundred persons were present; speeches were vivacious—at times hilarious. There was little constraint and no judge.
From the outset the audience set the pace. A few orations were pacific, but for the most part the whole was a running battle between the speaker and the crowd. And it would be inaccurate to say that Gurth Higgin interjected: rather, was he a competitive speaker throughout the entire evening.
John McCreary is not quite typical of the VUC Debating School in that he entertains rather than instructs his audience. On Friday night however he was convinced that "hard cold facts" were necessary to prove his argument to "so intelligent an audience." Nevertheless he began with an anecdote: "In 1929 while the police fought unemployed in the street a small boy crouched behind a shop counter." Yells from the mob made him reword this sentence. From that day to the present, the annual wage bill of the Dominion had increased from £60 million to £170 million. Ten years of Labour rule has seen the farmers' mortgages fall £8½ million. Future policy included reduction of income tax, the building of 12,000 houses a year, and the decentralisation of industry.
With equal effect he dealt with interruptions from Gurth Higgin and the Education Programme. School building, small classes, the free distribution of text books and an increase in the number of University bursaries—all were outlined in the schedule he read. "And dental care for adolescents, Mr. Higgin!" He issued a challenge to the negative show him any such programme for the National Party.
Ben O'Connor never disappoints his listeners. "It is not my job to put forward an alternative scheme." he said, "As leader of the negative I can only refute what Mr. McCreary has said." He countered many of his opponent's whims and condemned socialism as a practical system. "The Government has entered into too many enterprises that do not concern it. Its function should be merely that of a referee."
Labour Party election platforms still rested largely on the errors of the Coalition Government during the slump. But what had been the record. In a Labour Australia, benefits had been paid at the rate of 8/9d. in Victoria and 9/6d. in New South Wales; this against 21/6d. In New Zealand.
Commodity prices were kept down by paying enormous subsidies. "This means a rise in taxation, and when taxation rises..." ("the cold air rushes in"—Higgin). "The inefficient IMD has been sold to the dairy companies. Family benefits, a good thing in themselves, were a sign of retrogression. The usual final peroration was boomed out to the rhythm of flesh on wood as he hammered a nail into the table with his fist.
Frank O'Flynn is a legal luminary and as such he preferred the monetary approach. He quoted figures to show that although the national debt had increased from £320 million to £620 million in ten years, the overseas debt decreased at a time when the overseas debt of all other countries had increased. Some people complained about Social Security fees. In 1933 everyone was paying 8d. in the pound for dole and getting; nothing for it.
New to the Varsity platform is Mr. Benton. His speech was undignified and his manner comic, but his argu-ments though illogical would have found acceptance in a less astute and critical audience.
In 1928 a slump committee with a labour representative recommended sustenance payment for unemployed—nothing more. "We want a little bit of practical evidence. What did Mr. Jordan say in '31?" ("What did Gladstone say in "85?"—Higgin). Nobody had an opportunity of owning State houses. Glancing at Mr. O'Connor he said "We might be Nationalists. Socialists, or Communists." (Cry from whole section of the mob—"You don't look like a Communist."). He continued—"The Government has not socialised the means of production, distribution, and exchange." ("That's not what Mr. O'Connor says.") "I don't give a damn what Mr. O'Connor says." Mr. Benton concluded with a short note about the productivity of State owned mines.
Speakers from the floor were fewer thin usual, and the standard set was lower. Still the audience continued to set the pace.
Toby Easterbrook-Smith: "During the depression the training colleges had been closed and teachers' salaries had been cut." A rude remark here broke up proceedings.
Kath Kelly: "Only six knighthoods—think of it! And motoring is such an expensive habby." (Cries of "That's the spirit" and "Dinkum Oil").
"Every privilege has been fought for by the workers," said Harold Gretton. I once worked on a farm . . .er. . .lived. . ."
Kevin O'Brien is ever tantalising. "The slump was the purge to the boom cocktail party of 1929. It Was inevitable, and the Coalition Government was elected without having made a single promise to the people."
"I am a keen judge of human character," said Dick Collins, "and when the National Party refused to send speakers to this meeting I knew that they realised this is the most critical audience they might meet. I know what people mean when they say yes..." (Roars from the pit.) "Now Mr. Holland's secretary . . . (More roars) During this week of frustration..." (Complete relapse.) "Ours is the best Social Democrat Government—we must support it!"
Visitors were then admitted onto the platform.
"The only thing apparent about the negative was that they were speaking against the motion." said Mr. Griffin. "Labour policy is to the disadvantage of vested interests."
Said Mr. Pointon: "I have not yet had a chance to vote Labour..." (Whispers) "hut I've read some of their pamphlets" (Louder whispers). "Planning seems to appeal to them." ("Oh! You prefer a little bit of chaos!" "The original Archie!" etc.)
Mr. Arlow: "Now boys, will you all look at the girls' legs? Right? Now, are they wearing stockings?" (Higgin: "Yes! And all the way up, too!") "Girls, are the boys wearing shirts?" (Rude remark from Mr. Wachsner.) The idea of this sartorial investigation was to convince the audience that they were stark naked. If they were to become clothed before 1950 they would have to vote National. "Who owns the mines? Paddy Webb! Who owns the Canterbury racecourse? Paddy Webb! And who owns the Empire Pub? (Audience: "Paddy Webb!").
"The Government is feathering its own nest. We boys and girls..." (Screams from the back.) Mr. Taylor (chairman): "I must remind that lady that this is not a beer garden."
In summing up both leading speakers contradicted everything that each other and everyone else had previously said. A show of hands indicated that the audience was overwhelmingly in favour of the motion.
It was announced that the Union Prize for the year had been awarded to Mr. Collins and the New Speaker's Prize to Mr. Samuj.
This is the last issue of our fortnigthly "Salient." Next year a weekly will appear, bigger, better and brighter than ever. We wish to thank all those who have made this year's "Salient" possible and cordially invite your contributions in the future.
—Editor and Staff