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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 55

Annual Report

Annual Report.

The report (already published) having been taken as read,

The Chairman said: Gentlemen, in moving the adoption of the report, I have to express my regret that Mr E. B. Cargill, our chairman, has been unexpectedly called to Melbourne, thereby throwing on me at the last moment the duty of presiding at this annual meeting. Consequently I have not had time to prepare such an address as is usually delivered from the chair on these occasions, and I must therefore throw myself on the indulgence of the chamber as regards the few remarks I intend to make. At this time last year the chief matter of concern to us all was the depression which prevailed all over the Colony; and now we have to deplore that that depression is in no degree lessened. Everyone is trying to trace the cause with a view to finding a remedy. It seems strange that, with all the advantages we possess in the shape of productive soil, splendid climate, and other great natural resources, we in New Zealand should find the whole of our varied interests in their present state of suffering. On looking around we find that our two main interests—the agricultural and pastoral industries—show no signs of amelioration; on the contrary, both are more depressed now than last year. And to what is this due? Not merely to the unprecedentedly low prices which prevail for grain and wool, but also, in my opinion, to the action of our financial companies, with large sums of money at their disposal, who have induced farmers and wool-growers to invest in land at exorbitant prices, the high interest and charges on which are far beyond what even judicious husbandry and grazing of the lands can possibly return. Until this state of things is altered, and the lands of the Colony are in the hands of the settler at prices which will enable him, not only to pay fair interest on what he is obliged to borrow, but in addition return a reasonable profit on his labour, we cannot hope for permanent improvement. Another factor in the present depression is extravagance. There is no concealing the fact that an important characteristic of our colonial life in the past has been extravagance. We have been all living too fast; and the consequence is that we are now brought face to face with the necessity for the strictest economy, not only commercially and socially, but also, and especially, on the part of the Government, who, since the public works scheme was inaugurated in 1871, have set us the example of unbounded extravagance. The Colony has had to pay enormous sums yearly by way of interest on heavy expenditure on public works which have been begun and not prosecuted to a reproductive point. From the returns attached to the Public Works Statement, and which has just been submitted by the Minister of Public Works, I find that on railways alone a sum of about one million sterling has been expended on lines not yet open for traffic; and on some of these lines the expenditure has been going on for eight or ten years, while had the works been prosecuted with vigour they might have long since been opened and yielding some return on the capital expended. While a certain large outlay is unavoidable in the construction of our railways before they can become reproductive, I believe I am within the mark in estimating that the country is burdened unnecessarily from the cause I have stated to the extent of £50,000 a year; and this extravagant course will continue so long as we are liable to the formation of what are known as political railways and other purely political public works. The only remedy for this state of things is for Parliament to lay it down as a rule, in so far as railways are concerned, that for the future, in the case of every new railway to the construction of which they give their assent, and which can be shown is worked at a loss, that loss shall be made good by a rate levied on the district through which the railway passes. I now pass from the less pleasing features of our commercial position, and deal in a few sentences with one or two subjects of a more local character, which I think ought to present to us a more hopeful prospect, if not at present, certainly in the future. From the statistics of New Zealand for 1884-5, we find the value of the exports for the Colony amount to £7,009,667, of which Otago exported £2,214,800, or nearly one-third of the whole. The total imports for the same period amount to £7,663,888, and to Otago £2,373,796. Our industries and manufactures, notwithstanding the dull times, have steadily gone forward, and are now attaining a magnitude and position of excellence of which we may be justly proud. If Dunedin is to hold her own in onward progress, our manufactures must continue to bear an important part in that progress. In the prosecution of this department of commercial enterprise nature has supplied us with all the elements necessary to success. We have coal in abundance at our very door, and supplied at a minimum of cost; we have water power, which is not sufficiently appreciated, but is sure to be more utilised as our manufactures develop. While on the subject of motive power, I may say that the output of coal from our local coal mines for the year amounts to 110.000 tons, the value of page break which at the pit mouth is £62,000. This industry employs 265 men. As regards two of our local industries, I have had forcibly brought under my notice the enormous loss to the Colony that arises from the present defective manufacture of butter and cheese—especially the former. Owing to this cause I am within the mark when I say that half our production goes bad, and in my opinion the only remedy for this is the encouragement of butter and cheese factories where a uniform standard of quality can be secured. Our export of butter for the year under review amounted to £66,593, and cheese to £25,095. Before leaving the subject of local industries, I would venture the remark that the Colony must sooner or later face the question how far new and struggling industries are to rely on receiving some fostering aid from the State, or whether their development is to be left to the intelligence and enterprise of the promoters themselves. In other words, we have to fight the battle of Freetrade v. Protection, and, without venturing an opinion on either side, I trust to the question being speedily settled one way or the other. Our harbour operations are progressing satisfacfactorily, both at the Heads and in the Upper Harbour. Already the mode which is being constructed at the Heads is producing the effect on the beach current which was looked for, and it is confidently expected that the works, when completed, will realise the expectations of the engineer. The minimum depth on the bar is now 19ft at low water. In the Victoria Channel a minimum depth of 14ft low water, equal to 20ft 6in at high tide, has been attained. This depth will be increased to 16ft at low water within the next three months, and a small additional amount of work at three or four points would give us a navigating depth of 18ft low water. The arrivals at Dunedin wharves for the six months ending—
  • June 30, 1884—333 vessels, equal to 57,6.33 tons
  • June 30, 1885—330 vessels, equal to 86,625 tons

While the number of vessels coming up to Dunedin in 1885 was less than in 1884, the tonnage was about 50 per cent. more. In 1875 the revenue of the Harbour Board was £13,000; this year it will exceed £40,000. The present revenue from endowments is about £7000 a year; and as the whole revenue now more than meets the interest on loans, it may be reasonably expected that the rents to be derived from the large additional area of land available for leasing will shortly enable a material reduction to be made in the port charges. Of the many subjects dealt with by the chamber during the past year, I may mention the difficulties attending the discharge of Home ships at Dunedin Wharf. The committee of the chamber have given their assistance to the Harbour Board in removing some of them. The action of the chamber, in conjunction with the other chambers in the Colony, in memorialising the Government to reduce the price charged for the telephone has been amply justified by results. I observe from the recently-issued report of the Telegraph Department that the income from the telephonic services has been the large sum of £9584 for the year, while the capital expended up to December 31 last was only £26,178. Now, as the annual cost of the services (including maintenance, repairs, and working expenses) is set down at £5590, the department is actually netting a profit at the rate of 16 per cent, per annum. I am inclined to think that the chamber will be disposed to agree with me that no department of the State should be carried on with the object of extracting a large profit out of the already heavily-burdened taxpayer. The public, on the one hand, have a right to expect that a service should be efficiently and economically performed; the Government, on the other hand, should be content with a reasonable margin of profit after meeting all proper charges for maintenance, salaries, &c. I do not think that I need ask business men whether a profit of 16 per cent, is reasonable in the circumstances? That the exchanges are popular is evidenced by the fact that on June 30 last there were over 1100 subscribers in the Colony. Of this number Dunedin has 343, Auckland 320, Wellington 204, and Christchurch 184. The report from which I quote states the Dunedin number as 343, but it is really 384, as there are a number of telephones in Dunedin for which no charge is made. Though the department complacently points to the fact that in some of our cities the telephone is more largely used than in the United States, I think that this chamber will act wisely in continuing to bring pressure to bear on the department to further reduce the charge till this useful invention is brought within the reach of every class of the community. I feel persuaded that a uniform charge of £5 per subscriber would not only greatly popularise the exchanges, but would result in an appreciable increase of revenue. The committee had an interview with Dr Von Haast, the commissioner appointed by the Government to furnish information on the subject of the proposed Indian and Colonial Exhibition, to be held in London in 1866. The committee sympathised most cordially with the movement, and resolved to afford all the assistance in their power to forward the objects of the Exhibition. They also appointed a sub-committee to give their special attention to this subject, During the past year death has remove a three of our members—one of whom, Mr G. Lewis, took a great interest in the business of the Chamber, and made a most efficient member of committee. Appended to page break the report will be found a valuable mass of statistics, compiled by the secretary, which I commend to the careful study of the members.

Mr Brown seconded the adoption of the report. They were going to elect a committee that day, and probably the remarks made by the chairman about the necessity for economy, particularly on the part of the Government, might well be taken into consideration. It was understood as a rule that politics should not be introduced into discussions in that chamber, but there were subjects in this connection which he thought might fairly come within the province of the committee to discuss. One of these was the question of Government expenditure—fairly called extravagant by the chairman. For instance, we had in our railway tariff some hundreds of lines requiring a considerable amount of clerical labour, and among the customs duties there were hundreds of items which yielded very little revenue and involved a great amount of labour. All this meant a waste of power. He found, on looking over the Government reports, that over £90,000 was spent in the Post Office and Telegraph Department by the Government, or, rather, that much value was monopolised by the Government. It was perfectly true that we wanted some reform. The present depression might be due in some measure to the causes the chairman had stated, but one complication of the disease from which we were suffering was over-government—(hear)—and he did not know a more useful or practical subject that could engage the attention of the committee. So long as private extravagance only went on it might not affect the whole community, because private extravagance must soon find its end, but over-government was one of the causes of the most severe troubles we were labouring under at present.—(Applause).

The report was then unanimously adopted.