The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 55
The Waimea Plains Railway
The Waimea Plains Railway.
I will now pass to one other subject, because this is important too. I have told you that really we have no power at present. Just consider the state that your parliament is in. For example, we had the question upon which I wish to concentrate your attention—the Waimea Plains railway—before us last session. We had that before us, and you know the Government proposes to buy all the district railways. Let me just explain to you how these things occur and take place. What occurred when I went to Wellington was this : At the beginning of last page break session I went down there knowing that the Atkinson party, when in office, introduced a Bill for the purchase of these railways, which Bill was only defeated by the greatest possible exertions that were made. But the Bill was defeated, and my fear was that another attempt would be made to introduce a similar Bill again. I believed that the company were so powerful that they would accomplish their object, and we should have to buy the railway, whether the majority of the people or the majority of the House really liked it or not. And I went down to Wellington, knowing a new Parliament had met, with a very large number of new members in it, and these new members knew nothing of one another. They had never been brought together. And the Atkinson Government were still in office. It appeared to me a matter of the utmost necessity that before any decision was come to, the House should have been opened, and the House should have sat, and there should have been some discussion, and the members should have found out what the calibre of the different leaders of the House was and decide who they would follow, what Government they would put in, and that the thing should be deliberately done and with fair knowledge. But, arriving there just before the session took place, I went down in the evening to the House, to the library, to read. And presently a gentleman came in, and told me that Sir. Scout and Mr. Montgomery bad gone up to my house to try to see me, I said very well, I am very sorry, but, probably, they will return. They soon came back again, and then a message was sent to me that they wished to see me in the whip's room. So I went, and going into the whip's room I found them seated there, and then Mr. Stout made to me proposals as to assisting a Government—no Government being named—on certain terms. I need not mention these proposals, because I prefer he should do so for himself, so that there might be no misunderstanding as to what he said. That is not material to the point. However, he made certain proposals, and I imagined from the proposals that there was something that I did not like, and I thought to myself, who knows but there is this Waimea Railway underneath this. And the proposals were such that I could not have stopped it if it had been. So I said from the way he was speaking, it had been decided what the Government was to be—he said, "Oh yes, certainly, I am to be Prime Minister, and Sir Julius Vogel is to be Treasurer." Then I thought to myself, well it appears to me that this is very wrong, because any audacious man might at any time seize upon the Government. It seemed to me something like what Cromwell did, because none of us bad been consulted, and then I thought of the railway, and I simply said I should have nothing to do with the thing, and I left them, and so that ended. There was another proposal to me afterwards by four gentleman who came to me—of whom Mr. Stout and Mr. Montgomery were two. What actually took place, however, was that at last the Stout-Vogel Government came into office, and six days after they came into office they brought down a Bill to secure the Waimea Railway and the purchase of the district railways, as that the thing must have been to a certain extent prepared. But I am going to leave that part of the subject and proceed to the question I want to draw your attention to. What took place in the House, or in both Houses, is very remarkable, and to me it is a matter of the highest interest. But at first I may tell you that the Bill was brought in in another form by the Atkinson Government, and at first they got on very well together, and there was nothing said of any misconduct on the part of the Atkinson Government—nothing at all; and that being the case, I supposed there was nothing to be said, but unfortunately the Government found that the Legislative Council were likely to throw the Bill out, and a gentleman who took a part in that was Mr. Oliver, who had been the Minister for Public Works when the Atkinson Government brought this Bill in. Mr. Oliver said in the Council that he was convinced the Government were not acting fairly to the Council; in fact they were threatening or bribing, as he termed it. He said : "But I would say that my feelings have been rather aroused against this proposal to a greater extent than would have been otherwise the case by the means which have been taken to cajole and threatens members of this Council—those members of the Council who were supposed to be interested in other measures which are now proposed to Parliamens. Hints have been conveyed to the supposed shareholders in other matters affected by other measures which the Government have proposed, and which are now being dealt with in another place, that unless they voted for this measure, unless this particular measure was passed by the Council, the Government would abandon the other Bills; and this was held out as a threat, or possibly I might say as a bribe, I do not know which to call it. But that threat I will pass by." Very well; then some Government members took this up in the Council, and Mr. Miller got up and said, "I will save the honorable gentleman the trouble of replying further, by entirely corroborating what the Hon. Mr. Oliver has said." So there are two members who agree that the Government were, in point of fact, threatening the Council; trying to bring influence upon them, by threatening to withdraw other measures. (Cheers.) Mr. Stout was very angry at this, and what he does is this. He makes a speech, and this Is what I wish you to consider. He said :—"I do not wish, upon a motion of this kind, to reflect upon the other Chamber, or upon individual members of it, though I would observe, if the Reports of what is said in the other Chamber are correct, one of the members of the late Government seems to be page break unable to rise in his place, on any occasion, without making a personal attack upon myself—even upon this very question of the district railways—though he was the last person who I should have made a debate on that measure the occasion for making personal reflections. If he had any proper feeling with regard to his past action, he should not have made any such references, he being a gentleman who, in order to appear pure before Parliament and the country, forced the Waimea Plains Railway Company to buy back his shares at par, although they were not selling at par. His action is certainly rather peculiar." (Laughter.) Now to that I say this, that here are two gentlemen acting in the most friendly way possible, and because one opposes this thing, then suddenly he is accused of this dishonest conduct in his public capacity when Minister for Public Works. When the Premier had ascertained that, in my belief, he ought to have moved for a committee of enquiry into it—(cheers)—and ought not to have brought it up in this kind of way in the House, after a quarrel had taken place between them. You will see there are accusations of dishonesty on the two sides, one against the other. The country should, in my opinion, take care that the Waimea Railway Bill should not pass, while those in office were interested in it. (Cheers.) The next thing that took place is this, and this is also remarkable. Mr. Rolleston then attacks the Government upon the same subject, and Mr. Stout then says this : "Then I go further, and ask who was jobbing behind the House about the Waimea Plains Railway, and why was the jobbery committed? I should like to know what right the Government had to guarantee interest on the Waimea Plains Railway Bonds, without a special Act of this House, who did it, and for whose vote was this done? Does the honorable member think that the older members of the House do not know all about it, and why this guarantee was given to the Insurance Department for this interest paid? Yes; and the Government was afterwards called upon to pay the interest, and look to the Company to be recouped. I cannot stand the virtuous indignation which is put on about this Bill." I remark again that if that interest was guaranteed for the purpose of buying votes it was the duty of the Treasurer when he came into office to move for a committee, and had an enquiry into the circumstances. Then we should have known the whole facts, and he and the Premier ought not to have brought it out in the House in this way only after a quarrel had taken place between them. Let me show you what Mr. Seddon says in reference to that, corroborating what Mr. Stout said. He is supporting him:—"I have known a time when a majority of members in this House were determined a change of Government should take place. Certain members, who shall be nameless, were, I know, largely interested in these district railways, and when it came to the point, and when the division bell ran?, we found those members were not present at the division. They were actually lolling on the sofas in their lobby. But we found shortly after that the Government, of which the member for Geraldine was a member, had advanced large sums of money to those companies. And that hon. member stands up here to-day, and puts on an air of virtuous indignation after being member of a Government that for three years owed its existence to lending this money for those votes that were bought." I think the Government should be compelled to refrain from going on in this matter, and all those interested in the companies—some foreign companies some companies in the country—until all those interested in them have ceased to be members of the Government which can force a Bill through the House. (Cheers.) Sir Julius Vogel says the same thing. He says : " My colleague stated in no disguised language the other day that he considered the transaction of letting those contracts an unmitigated piece of folly. The hon. gentleman did not take up that question." That is his statement It is all to the same purpose, but I really do feel that when we have those statements made that we should be compelled to pay £750,000 or a million, taking Mr. Montgomery's computation, for railways regarding which these discussions have taken place. It is wrong thing, I say it is a very sad thing, that in the Parliament of New Zealand, Ministers in office should get up and make these direct charges against one another, and no enquiry whatever should take place, and that this railway Bill should be carried by a triumphant cheering majority in spite of the efforts of other members of the house. I ought, to his honour; to say that the man who made the strongest and most able resistance against it was Mr. Moss, member for Parnell. (Cheers.)