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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 55

Otago Daily Times, Friday, September 4, 1885. — Chamber of Commerce

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Otago Daily Times, Friday, September 4, 1885.

Chamber of Commerce

The annual meeting of the Dunedin Chamber of Commerce was held yesterday afternoon, when, in the absence of the president (Mr E. B. Cargill), Mr J. T. Mackerras (vice-president) occupied the chair. There were also present-Rear-Admiral Scott, Captains Fox and Boyd, Messrs A. Maxwell, A. Scoullar (mayor), J. Roberts, J. L. Gillies, A. C. Begg, H. Driver, J. M. Jones, A. Bartleman, R. L. Stanford, R. Glendining, G. Bell, G. L. Denniston, D. Reid, T. Brown, R. Wilson, J. W. Brindley, J. Hack-worth, J. Sinclair, J. M. Ritchie, J. Davie, T. W. Kempthorne, K. Ramsay, C. S. Reeves, J. Wilson, W. C. Smith, W. Henderson, E. Melland, D. Baxter, Jas. Smith, T. M. Wilkinson, A. S. Paterson.

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.

Election of Office-Bearers.

The Chairman said that on former occasions it had been customary for the incoming committee to be nominated by the outgoing one, but some objection had been raised to this from time to time, and he had to intimate that now the election would be left entirely in the hands of the chamber. Members had been requested to send in nominations, but none had been received, still the election would be left to the chamber to nominate members now.

Mr Brown believed it was customary for one of the retiring committee to propose the new president, and he had therefore much pleasure in proposing that Mr Mackerras be president for the ensuing year. The manner in which he had fulfilled the duties of vice-president was the best guarantee that good work might be hoped for under his presidency.

Mr G. L. Denniston seconded the motion, which was carried unanimously.

On the motion of Mr Glendining, Mr G. L. Denniston was then elected vice-president.

After some discussion the following gentle-men were elected the committee for the ensuing year:—Messrs R. Glendining, R. H. Leary, E. B. Cargill, Andrew Maxwell, W. B. Boyd, George Bell, W. Dymock, Grant P. Farquhar, Robert Wilson, and J. M. Jones.

Public Works Expenditure.

Mr J. M. Ritchie moved the following resolution :—"That in order to strengthen the hands of Otago members of Parliament in resisting the beginning of new public works, especially the East and West Coast railway, and generally those involving an increase of borrowing on the part of the Colony, this chamber are of opinion that it is desirable to forego the proposed expenditure for this year on the Otago Central railway, if by so doing the objects indicated above are gained." He had not time, and did not know that it would be desirable to occupy the chamber with any lengthy remarks. It was a matter of notoriety, and had been frequently commented upon, that the increasing inclination, on the part of the Government and members of Parliament to claim the full share of what they deemed necessary expenditure for public works, and to increase borrowing for that purpose was becoming a serious matter for all who had the interest of the Colony at heart. He did not know that he need say much to emphasise this fact. It was patent before our eyes, and the present Government—about whom he was not going to say anything good or bad, because after all they were representatives of the people, and were merely pressing what was in the main the mind of the people—were assisting by all means in their power to have these strong inclinations given effect to. He need only refer to one or two points in proof. The first was the extraordinary action in reference to the Port Chalmers dock, which had after all simply put facilities in the way of increased borrowing. Then there was the large expenditure authorised for the North Island railway, and, worst of all, the expenditure which the Government were determined to commence, if they could, on the East and West Coast railway. He might take it as proved that there was no appearance on the part of the Government of any inclination to curb the borrowing inclinations of the people. It was true the House seemed to have a strong leaning towards economy, and had attempted by various means to give effect to this; but there was no evidence yet that they had brought themselves to the point of allowing their efforts to have any direct effect upon the districts which each section of the House represented. That was to to say, members were very willing to talk about the necessity for decreasing the expenditure, but it must be in every case somewhere else than in the particular district represented by each member. In short, every member seemed perfectly willing to sacrifice the last drop of his brother's blood, but none of his own. It seemed to the speaker that if this went on the present evils were likely to be indefinitely perpetuated. The £150,000 proposed to be spent on the East and West Coast railway, small as it seemed, was merely the thin end of the wedge, and was the beginning of an expenditure of something like three millions. The only means by which a cure for this state of things might be looked for was by someone having the courage and self-denial to make a beginning in the direction of the principle which they all believed to be so important. For this reason he had brought forward his motion, and would only say that we in Otago seemed to be in a position to make the sacrifice with a better grace, or at any rate with less actual harm to the works in our own district than any page break other section of the Colony. We had got the Otago Central railway begun, and a good deal of money had been spent upon it, and it was so far advanced that it must be finished. Of course a large sum was lying idle in connection with the line, but on the other hand the year's expenditure at the outside would have but an imperceptible effect in bringing the line into a revenue-producing state, and we could fairly allow such a period to elapse without suffering much thereby. He had been told by one or two to whom he had spoken that this motion was too specific, meaning that they should pass some resolution more general in tone, and should not be so specific in reference to any particular work. He did not, however, agree with this, and he was intentionally thus specific in the wording of the resolution. The fact was that anything short of a specific act of self-denial would simply be relegating the motion into the region of generalities, and would have very small effect indeed with those they were seeking to influence. Beside*, they felt that specific works in the North should be postponed, and of course the arguments of the supporters of these works would be that the Otago people should be the last to complain, having already got what they wanted—that Otago had its line and had no right to say a word about other places. There was, of course, a broader view from which the matter might be looked at; but they all knew what human nature was; it was impossible to give their arguments any weight by merely advocating general principles. He had purposely abstained from any reference to the specific question affecting the Otago Central railway. It would be very likely pointed out in answer that hundreds of thousands of pounds were lying idle, and that a large section of the line only wanted a certain further sum spent to make it in a measure productive. To tell the honest truth, he had no idea of the position of the Otago Central railway as regarded these sections, but he felt that unless there was some extraordinary objection upon specific grounds there would be no serious disadvantage to the country or district in carrying such a motion. He was sure the effect of it on the Government and the House would be very strong indeed. It would be the first exhibition of a desire on the part of the country to bring matters within proper bounds, regardless of how hard the consequences might press on special districts. He might say that he had been an opponent of the Otago Central from the first, and never had been able to see that the expenditure had done much good to Dunedin or to the district. The hopes of gain from such expenditure had been very much over-estimated, and he thought this hope of benefit to towns by expenditure was one of the main reasons for Parliament pressing its various schemes. He could repeat the argument used by Mr Donald Reid in speaking of the Port Chalmers dock, and say that he firmly believed if the East and West Coast railway could be laid down to-morrow—in one day,—there would not be a man in Christchurch grateful for it. There was merely an idea that expenditure would be good in these depressed times. If that were so, it was a very dangerous principle to go on, and was merely putting off the day when we should have to act very differently in setting our house in order. They all knew the extent to which the prices of our products had fallen, and that very morning there came a message telling of a fall in the value of our wool which would, he believed, make hundreds of thousands of pounds difference. The whole tendency was downwards, and this was the time, by whatever means, to bring matters to a point and speak out with a voice no Government could refuse to listen to, saying that we have had enough borrowing, and that it must be suspended until we see how far we can get along with the burdens we already have.

Mr A. C. Begg said he had much pleasure in seconding the motion. If this East and West Coast railway were commenced the Colony would be committed to an expenditure of between two and three millions. Then the reports about the line showed that it would be no use until the whole of it was made, for the whole of the estimates were based on through traffic. Everything that could be done should be done in the way of discouraging a liability of this kind. With regard to the Otago Central he never had great hopes of it, and if it were carried through to Wanaka now he had no hesitation in saying that there would not be enough traffic on it to run a train three times a week. Even when the line did pay working expenses it would pay very little more for a long time. If the West Coast line were gone on with the Colony would have to pay £150,000 a year for interest without the line paying anything towards it. Even those who were most favourable to the line would have to admit, after reading the reports, that it would be many years before it could be expected to pay more than working expenses. He did not believe that even the Canterbury members who were agitating for it thought it would pay. The pressure was only brought to bear at the instance of those who wished now to make a profit out of what would eventually be an immense loss to the Colony at large.

The Chairman said Mr Ritchie was evidently not aware of the amount already expended on the Otago Central. He might just mention that according to the Public Works Statement the amount, including liabilities, was £203,000. This sum would nearly complete the line to Strath-Taieri, and it would then be of some value in opening up the country.

Mr D. Reid thought the motion placed the chamber in a dilemma, and that the Otago Central line should not be singled out so that they might make martyrs of themselves to obviate what they considered another wrong. He thought the latter part of the motion was a mistake. It would be much better to alter the motion to read that any vote proposed for the initiation of the East and West Coast railway should be opposed irrespective of the effect of such opposition on other works in the Public I Works Estimates. His opinion about the Otago Central railway was that it was a very desirable work commenced about 10 years too soon. It had now been six years in progress, so that the 10 years were nearly up.

Mr Ritchie said he had no objection to the proposed alteration. With reference to what had been said about singling out one work, that had been forced upon him because the Otago Central was the only large work in Otago. If there had been a number of large votes on the Estimates for Otago he should not have singled out that particular railway. Again, he singled out that railway because the people of Dunedin had been all along the most consistent supporters of that line. They had done three page break times as much as any up-country community towards pushing on this railway.

The Chairman asked Mr Begg if he agreed to the amendment.

Mr Begg : Certainly. It makes it quite definite—just as definite as if the Otago Central had been mentioned.

The motion, as amended, was then put and carried unanimously.

Our Defences.

Admiral Scott said, as those present were aware, he had recently been Home, and since his return he had been asked to give an address or read a paper on defence to Volunteers and others. He would do so on Wednesday night, when the Mayor would preside. Preparations for defence in this Colony were far beyond the necessities of the case, and he hoped to be able to bring that out clearly before them. The works already carried out were merely a commencement, and they might go on with any number of forts. The expenditure for their maintenance would be very great indeed, apart from the great curse of a standing army, which was eating most of the nations away.