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The Life and Work of Richard John Seddon

Chapter IX. — The New Liberal Ministry

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Chapter IX.
The New Liberal Ministry.

With a tottering Conservative Government in power, and a strong Liberal Opposition pressing it hard at every step, the colony prepared for the general election of 1890. The people realised that the contest would be an important one, although few looked for the revolutions it brought forth. The Liberal Party was a thoroughly united body. It had taken over ten years to recover from the effects of the rout into which Sir George had led it at the very point when a permanent victory seemed to be assured. It had practically been in opposition all that time. There were members of the Liberal Party in the Stout-Vogel Government, which received a large share of the party's support; but that Government cannot be described as a Liberal Government in the same sense as the Liberal Government which had gone before and the Liberal Government whieh was to come after. The Stout-Vogel Ministry introduced liberal measures; but so did the Continuous Ministry all along its career. The former honestly tried to help the colony out of the depression, according to its lights; but its distinctive feature, at most, was its semi-Liberalism. It was the best the advanced Liberals could get at the time. Had it lived longer, it might have gone much further and done much better.

The party's organisation was hurried on. The cry of “North versus South” was sunk. Sir George Grey was no longer a stormy petrel, and there was nothing to divide the forces. The Liberal Party was confident that the people would stand by it. On looking back at the work of the past session, it congratulated itself on what it had done. It had not ousted the Conservative Government, which had the advantage of going to the country as the representative of the party in power; but it had never been more vigorous in its criticisms, and it felt that the colony had reaped some benefit from its operations.

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While parties were preparing for the struggle, and while Parliament was officially drawing the session to a close, there happened on entirely unforeseen event. It upset all preparations, but it had a great influence on the future of the Liberal Party and the history of New Zealand.

The colony woke up one morning late in August, 1890, to find, to its astonishment, that it had been dragged into a maritime strike, which had been declared in Australia some weeks previously. Without its consent, and without even its knowledge, the colony was led into the bitterest industrial struggle the Australasian colonies have experienced. All the bad feeling between employers and workers in New Zealand, which had been accumulating for years, and had found only occasional means of escape, now came to the surface. It was an industrial war pure and simple. Very few colonists had the slightest idea how the colony came to be involved in it. Even many of those who took an active part in the strike did not know exactly why they were “called out;” and if the people were asked to-day how it was that they entered the strife they would be unable to give a satisfactory reply. Several different causes were in operation. The Union Steamship Company at that time almost monopolised the intercolonial trade of the colony, and had the lion's share of the coastal trade. Although the company was mainly owned in Europe, it had always been in close touch with the colony's affairs. It had never taken advantage of its monopoly to exploit those whom it employed; and it gave the public as good a service as could be expected—quite as good as it would have been forced into by the severest competition. All the seamen, firemen, cooks, and stewards employed by it were Unionists. None of the officers, however, had joined the Union up to the year of the strike.

About five years previously, the company joined an Australian Association of Shipowners. It was really forced into this action, as it feared that if it did not join the association, its monopoly would be interfered with by the Australian shipping companies. Up to the time of its joining that association, there was no Officers' Association, but afterwards an Officers' Association was formed, and it affliated with the Maritime Council.

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A dispute arose between the shipowners of Australia and the officers employed by them. These officers had formed an association, but had not been affiliated with the Trades and Labour Councils of Victoria and Sydney. The shipowners declined to treat with the officers and asked for delay. Some weeks elapsed; and during that time the Officers' Association had become affiliated to the two Trades Councils named. Then the shipowners said that they declined to treat with the officers until the Officers' Association was disaffiliated. The officers declined to do that. Their demands—“many of them, if not all, were just and fair,” according to Sir Robert Stout—were not agreed to, and they threatened to strike. The shipowners, saying that there was nothing to arbitrate about, declined to fall in with attempts to conciliate.

The officers' strike in Australia was then declared. Some of the affiliated trades also struck, and the seamen of New South Wales, out of loyalty to their fellow-workers, joined the movement.

The Maritime Council of New Zealand consisted of branches of the Australian Union. It was the earnest desire of that Council to avoid a strike in New Zealand. The first trouble arose over the Waihora, when the wharf labourers in Sydney declined to work that vessel, as she was one of those owned by a company affiliated to the Shipowners' Association. The Union Company appealed to the Maritime Council, and it promptly offered that the seamen should work the vessel. That was done.

But two other vessels belonging to the Union Company arrived in Sydney and the wharf labourers declined to work them also. This time, without waiting for the interference of the Maritime Council, the agent of the company employed non-union labourers. It was known that if that step was taken a general strike would result, and it did. The Maritime Council in New Zealand called out its men, and those affiliated with it joined, and New Zealand was the scene of a big strike.*

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Deputations of workers waited upon Sir Harry Atkinson at his home and asked that the Government should interfere and try to stop the strike and adjust matters. It was officially announced that Sir Harry was not able to see his way to intervene in such a manner as to bring the trouble to an end.

When, however, the Liberal members, led by Sir Westby Perceval, moved a direct motion in Parliament that the Government should call a conference together in Wellington, at which the representatives of employers' and workers' associations should be represented, it was carried by a large majority. Some of the leading members of the Conservative Party opposed it. They argued that the Government should have adhered to its determination not to interfere in the dispute, and one at least thought that their leader had shown weakness in falling in with the proposal.

Mr. Seddon was amongst the prominent members of Parliament who came out before the public to discuss the position. In the House he was one of the outspoken supporters of the unionists. He denied a statement that they were banded together against law and order. He admitted that in the unions, as well as in other organisations, there were a few men who had made mistakes, as their sufferings had goaded them on to commit indiscretions; but in his opinion it was the duty of the Government and of Parliament to interfere and endeavour to bring about a settlement of the dispute, in the interests of the colony, if not in the interests of those actually engaged in the conflict. He denounced as a base calumny the statement that it was a war of the unionists against the people of the colony. He called upon every lover of fair-play in New Zealand to see that the dispute was considered on its merits. He asked farmers to page 130 co-operate with artizans in order to prevent the working classes being crushed. He spoke long and earnestly in favour of State interference in all these matters, basing his reasons on the fact that industrial disputes militated against the colony's progress and against the well-being of the people generally.

It was during the strike of 1890 that he became thoroughly convinced that State interference was not only justifiable but absolutely necessary for the colony's future. The strike was to him a terrible object lesson. He came out in advance, probably, of any other leading politician of the day and showed so much determination that he was left alone, none caring to follow him in his schemes. He saw that the State Life Insurance Department and the State-owned postal service had been successful beyond reasonable expectations, and he believed it was the duty of Parliament to go a great deal further in the same direction.

He wanted the State to buy the Union Steamship Company's fleet, and by that means place it beyond anyone's power to cause the suffering and loss that were taking place in the colony at that time. Although this scheme did not receive much serious consideration then, it had been carefully thought out; it was not the inspiration of a moment or the chance idea of a heated mind. The company's fleet consisted of 48 steamers. Its capital was £500,000, debentures for £250,000 being afloat bearing interest at the rate of 5 per cent. Three steamers recently constructed had not been paid for, and the sum that they cost was bearing interest. The total sum involved, he estimated, would be about a quarter of a million sterling. That money, taking it all round, was bearing interest at the rate of 6 per cent. The State was able to borrow at 4 per cent, and the difference in the rate of interest would be about equal to a third of the capital, so that the property ought to have been available for about half a million. The State paid the company £6000 a year for the carriage of mails and from 7s. to 10s. a ton for the carriage of coals to be used on the Government railways. In some parts of the colony, the company's steamers were competing with the railways, and that competition entailed considerable loss on the colony. He saw that if the two interests were worked together, page 131 both would gain an advantage, and a large saving would be made.

His proposal, he maintained, would also increase the market for New Zealand coals. The average yearly consumption of coal by the company was estimated at 150,000 tons. Half of that was obtained from Newcastle, in New South Wales. The Australian supply could be decreased by one-half, and there would be an increase of consumption of the New Zealand article by about 40,000 tons.

Besides that, the agricultural products of the colony would be carried at a much lower rate, and a market would be found for them and for the colony's coals in the South Sea Islands. With State-owned steamers, he argued, New Zealand would not need to pay £20,000 a year to the Imperial Government for the presence of men-of-war in these seas, as the New Zealand Government would then have a fleet of its own available for use, and would be able to defend itself. All the men employed on the steamers would be under naval discipline. Wages would be paid at a fixed rate, and the danger of strikes would be gone. The company's profit on its capital had been 8 per cent. for some years, and he estimated that if the State allowed 4 per cent. for sinking fund, insurance, and other charges, there would be 4 per cent. left to go towards extending trade operations, especially in regard to a direct service for mails, for which £20,000 a year was paid.

He went into the cost of the strike to the colony. There were 4,000 men out of work, and he set that loss down at £12,000 a week, while the increased cost of living to consumers was about £8,000, so that the strike caused a loss of £20,000 a week, besides paralysing trade and stopping industries.

In his scheme he saw a means of becoming independent of the other colonies and of breaking a monopoly which, apparently, could not be broken by any private enterprise. He suggested that the company should be asked to place a valuation on its property, and that the Government should say what it was prepared to give, the difference to be settled by arbitration.

Having been seized with the idea that it was the right time for the State to establish a steam service without delay, he page 132 asked the Government: “Will it, with a view of removing a monopoly and putting an end to the present strike between labour and capital, and the disaster, losses, misery, and suffering contingent thereon, take into consideration the purchasing by the colony of the Union Steamship Company's fleet of steamers?.”

The reply he received from the Government was that “no doubt a great deal might be said upon the subject; the Government, however, are not at present prepared to take any such action as suggested in the question.”

The steamship monopoly led him on to the coal mines. He asked where, if the coal supply continued to be monopolised, the colony was to obtain its motive power, and what was to become of its manufactures. “It is quite evident to me,” he said with emphasis, which probably was not noticed at the time, but which is clear enough in the light of after events, “that the State should step in and do something.” That “something” is now represented by State coal mines, which he established on the coalfields of the South Island, and which are supplying coal to consumers in several centres of population.

The Government endeavoured to arrange a conference, as directed by Parliament on the motion of Liberal members, but the employers' associations refused to be represented unless the unions admitted the right of employers to retain the “free” labour engaged during the strike, and the right to employ “free” labour or union labour indiscriminately, and also agreed that unionists should work with free men. The unions could not concede this, and the conference, when it was held, was between twenty union delegates and the Hon. G. McLean, representative of the Union Steamship Company, who would listen to nothing but unconditional surrender, which the unionists had to accept.

The public had concentrated its attention on the strike. For a few weeks the general elections, now quite close, had been forgotten, but no sooner had the strike died out than the public mind rebounded back to the political contest. Defeated in the strike, the unionists rushed to the electoral offices to enrol themselves on the parliamentary rolls. Political associations were formed in all parts of the colony, and politics filled the air.

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The Liberal Party adopted a policy which included:—

The stoppage of “dummyism” in land sales.
No more borrowing.
Thorough retrenchment.
The prevention of the acquisition of land in large holdings.
The resumption by the State of land urgently required for settlement, and vigorous settlement of the land.
The discouragement of absentee landlordism and of speculative land purchasers.
Better treatment of workers in factories.
The use of railways to develop the agricultural and pastoral industries rather than as a means of imposing taxation.
The establishment of scholarships from the primary schools to secondary schools and to the mining and agricultural schools.
The establishment of technical schools.
Reform of the Legislative Council.
Measures to improve the condition of the workers.
The repeal of the property tax and the introduction of a land and income tax.

The Conservative Party's manifesto included:—
  • Strict, but not parsimonious, economy, combined with cheerfulness and a firm belief in the unbounded resources of the colony.

  • Further borrowing within the colony.

  • The purchase of Maori lands.

  • Retention of the property tax.

  • Non-interference by the Government or Parliament with industrial disputes.

Trades and Labour Councils rallied round the Liberal leaders, echoed their war-cries, and issued manifestoes broadcast. For the first time, they selected labour candidates and gave them block votes.

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The result of the polling was a brilliant victory for the Liberal Party, especially in the large centres of population, Auckland and Wellington returning two Liberal candidates each and Christchurch and Dunedin three each. No prominent Liberal candidates were defeated, but the Conservative Party lost several leaders, including a Minister of the Crown. In the large towns the Conservatives had hoped to isolate the labour vote and then split it up among the labour candidates. Except in Wellington, where the labour vote was divided, this scheme was not successful. In Canterbury, the section of the old Stout-Vogel combination that had followed Vogel through all his fortunes and misfortunes since he returned to the colony from England five years previously, broke away from the Liberals to a large extent, but this did not transfer the balance of power in the province to the Conservatives.

A very striking effect of the exercise of the one-man-one-vote principle is found in the fact that had it not been in operation, Mr. Ballance would almost certainly have been rejected at the polls. He stood for his old constituency at Wanganui, and he won by a majority of only twenty-seven over his opponent. Had plural voting been allowed, as in former elections, it would have been very easy for his opponents to send contingents of voters to Wanganui from the adjoining districts on the day of the election. There is no doubt that that would have been done, as Mr. Ballance was the head and front of the Liberal Opposition, and with him out of the way the Conservatives would have felt some kind of security. The worth of that security, after events have shown, would not have been very great, as Mr. Seddon would probably have taken the leadership at once; but the House had no knowledge of Mr. Seddon as a chief in those days.

Another close Liberal victory was that of Mr. A. Hogg, who won Masterton by twenty-one votes. In former times, landowners from Wellington went up to Masterton by train to vote for Mr. Beetham, Mr. Hogg's opponent. As many as forty have been known to do so and the same tactics would have been adopted in 1890 if they had been possible. Quite a large number of Liberal seats were won by narrow majorities. page 135 which could easily have been turned into minorities had not Sir George Grey, by restricting the freehold vote, given the Liberal Party one of its greatest boons. He had often talked empty words, and there were many Liberals who felt that it would have been better if he had talked less and done more. In his last parliamentary days, however, he gave them something that they have every reason to be deeply grateful for. It is hard to say how far the effect of the one-man-one-vote principle has extended, but it is certain that it has been a very important factor in the marvellous success of the Liberal Party, which has passed triumphantly from victory to victory ever since the principle was recognised by Parliament.

The most unexpected result of the election was the return of a contingent of genuine workers, taken straight from the factory or the bench, and sent to Parliament with the sole purpose of attending to the needs of labour. The workingclasses were not dissatisfied with the splendid service given during the previous two years by a small band of men, several of whom were cultured students of social subjects; but they felt that they would like to be represented by men of their own class, who would be labour members first and anything else afterwards.

Working-men had sat in the House for years. Mr. S. P. Andrews, a resident of Christchurch, has been given the honour of being the first man who was elected to the House while actually engaged in a working-man's vocation. He was coupled with Sir George Grey when Christchurch City elected two Liberal representatives in 1879, the year in which Mr. Seddon began his parliamentary career. Mr. Andrews, however, saw only one Parliament, and soon dropped out of politics. Mr. H. A. Leviston, a working engineer, represented Nelson City from 1881 to 1889, and he ranks as another early genuine workingman's representative.

In 1890, however, the maritime strike called men from the workers' ranks, and the experiment of labour being represented by labouring men was tried. The successful labour candidates at that election were:—

Mr. W. W. Tanner, a boot operator, elected for Heathcote, adjoining Christchurch City.

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Mr. D. Pinkerton, a bootmaker, elected for Dunedin City with the largest number of votes ever recorded for one candidate in the colony at that time.

Mr. W. Earnshaw, a brass finisher, for the Peninsula or Dunedin Suburbs electorate.

  • Mr. T. L. Buick, a working carpenter, for Wairau.

  • Mr. J. W. Kelly, a tailor, for Invercargill.

In the following year, Sir Westby Perceval, who was elected for Christchurch City in 1890, was appointed Agent-General in London, and the vacancy in Christchurch was filled by Mr. E. Sandford, a compositor employed in the “Lyttelton Times” office. These six men, Messrs. Tanner, Pinkerton, Earnshaw, Buick, Kelly, and Sandford, formed the first contingent of purely labour members sent to Parliament.

Messrs. Pinkerton, Earnshaw, and Buick served in two Parliaments, and then lost their seats, but Mr. Pinkerton was called to the Legislative Council, and remained in it until he died, in 1906. Mr. Kelly, after being in three Parliaments, lost his seat in 1899, and has not entered politics again. Mr. Sandford was defeated in 1893, and did not offer himself again. Mr. Tanner is the only one of the original six who has sat continuously. He is still, in 1906, in his old seat in the House.

All the successful labour candidates were thoroughly practical men, sober in their views, but determined to do their best for the special interests they represented. They were not Utopian, and they neither hoped nor demanded that the Liberal Party would go too far in giving concessions to the working people. They were in complete accord with Mr. Ballance, Mr. Seddon, Mr. Reeves, Sir Westby Perceval, and other prominent members of the party who had given their attention to labour questions.

So far from the labour contingent having to force the party on, both Mr. Seddon and Mr. Reeves held views a good way in advance of those of the labour members. It was rather the function of the latter to follow the Progressive Liberals and to help them with advice that was practical and weighty on account of the experience upon which it was based. Most members of the old Parliament, including Mr. Seddon, agreed page 137 that, as labour legislation was in the air, the new men would be able to give valuable assistance in preparing measures dealing with a technical subject, which called for extremely delicate handling, and this has often proved to be the case.

The general opinion formed of the labour members was expressed by Sir Robert Stout, a few days after the election, in the following words:—

“So far as I know of them, they are moderate men, whose sole desire is to see the rights of labour represented; and they should be represented. And my own opinion is that, considering the number of people interested in labour questions, they have too small a number of men in our Legislature, and the time is coming when there will have to be more returned. I believe that those elected now are moderate men, who will be found a credit to labour and to the New Zealand Parliament. Judging from their election addresses, they are people who recognise that the well-being of the colony is to be looked at as a whole, and not as that of simply one class. I have no fear that any policy proposed by them will not be a fair policy, and one which will forward the interests of the colony. I have not any fear that anything absurd will be listened to, either by them or any other class of members. Possibly some of them may imagine that things can be done by legislation which cannot, but after they have had experience of Parliament, and what laws can do, I have no doubt it will be found here, just as it is in England, that labour representatives are most useful members, none more so.”

On their arrival in Wellington to attend their first session, they were welcomed at a monster meeting held in the Opera House, where they were presented with an address and were complimented by Sir George Grey, who, taking advantage of a vacancy in an Auckland constituency, had returned to the House.

They knew that the public were watching them to see how they would behave. They were supposed to be men who would be trapped by the first designer in the House. But though more than one or two men, who would willingly have enhanced their political influence with the labour members' support, made overtures, their efforts were fruitless. From the first the labour members recognised that their constituents had not sent them to play with politics. They told the people that they had not entered Parliament to fill the columns of “Hansard” with unnecessary talk or to become silent members, and they believed that they would not prove incapable of adapting themselves to politics. Each of them felt a deep sense of responsibility in the position in which the electors had placed them. page 138 They felt that they were co-trustees, and that a large section of the people had experimentally and provisionally committed to them their destinies, “for on us and on our conduct,” they said, “depends in a great measure the permanency or otherwise of the movement started in 1890.”

There was no doubt in most people's minds that the great Continuous Ministry had been beaten at last, and that the Liberal Party, which bitter experience had taught the folly of allowing discord and jealousy to divide its ranks, would take its place at the head of the colony.

It was expected that the Ministers would resign at once, but Sir Harry Atkinson was not so ready to relinquish power. He said he doubted if Mr. Ballance could form a strong Government, and he deplored the fact that the country was likely to have the spectacle of another weak Government in office, with a strong party in opposition. He pointed to the lack of experienced Ministers in the Liberal Party, and clearly showed that he did not believe Mr. Ballance had men whom he could place in ministerial positions with any degree of confidence.

A suggestion, to which Sir Harry did not show much repugnance, was that a Coalition Ministry might be formed from the strong men on both sides. “Reconstruction,” however, had come to be synonymous among the members of the Liberal Party with “Continuous Ministry,” and when the suggestion was brought under the notice of the Liberal leaders they discarded it.

Mr. Ballance demanded the instant resignation of the Government, without calling Parliament together again. The object of the agreement arrived at in the previous session between Mr. Bryce, on behalf of the Government, and Mr. Ballance, on behalf of the Opposition, was to avoid the cost of two sessions in one year. In view of the roar for retrenchment throughout the colony, and the treatment Parliament seemed determined to give to the Civil Service, the Liberals thought that it would be unreasonable, even unjust, to go to the heavy expense of holding a session when it might be avoided by means of an agreement between the leaders of parties. Mr. Ballance therefore suggested that the next session should be held page 139 as early as possible about the ordinary time, not later than April, 1891. That was agreed to at the conference, and the three months' supplies allowed after the end of the financial year were cut off. Mr. Ballance, while the conference was being held, raised the question of the possibility of the Ministry being defeated at the polls, and Mr. Bryce and he drew up a clause, couched in plain words, providing that if the Ministry was defeated it should resign at once, without calling Parliament together.

When a Cabinet meeting was held to consider the proposal, Mr. E. C. J. Stevens, a member of the Government, objected to the wording of the clause, as he thought that it indicated a foregone conclusion that the Conservative Party would be defeated. Other phraseology was suggested, and it was embodied in a memorandum. This memorandum, which bears the initials of the Conservative Premier, “H. A. A.,” is as follows:—

“It is fully recognised that the constitutional practice requires that the result of the general election should, if clearly apparent, regulate the conduct of Ministers in retaining office or tendering their resignations.”

It was discussed by Mr. Ballance and his friends, who understood that if Ministers were defeated at the polls, they would resign at once, and that the next session would be the ordinary one towards the middle of the year. The Liberals did not place any great importance on the document, which they regarded as merely the embodiment of the recognised constitutional practice in cases where a Government has forfeited the confidence of the people. They held that if the Government was defeated either in Parliament or at the polls, it no longer had a right to administer the country's affairs, and, in accordance with constitutional practice, should resign.

When the time came, Sir Harry denied that he had given any pledge to resign. He said that he had only promised that if the elections went against him he would “act in the constitutional way.” “A perfectly constitutional way,” he added, “was to call Parliament together as soon as possible.” In this attitude, which was taken up unexpectedly, the Liberal leaders saw a possible attempt by the Government to gain to its side some of the votes that constituted the Liberal majority.

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The Government's supporters admitted that to all appearances Sir Harry had not succeeded in obtaining a majority in the new House, but they professed to believe that Mr. Ballance was no better off, and said openly and positively that nobody could point out a set of possible Ministers in the Liberal Party who would, without doubt, secure a majority in Parliament. It was freely asserted that when Parliament met it would probably be found that the Liberal Government, if it was formed, would be ignominiously rejected from office. Several Prominent members of the Conservative Party were anxious that the Liberal Party should be given an opportunity of forming a Ministry, believing that, if it took office, it would cover itself with ridicule and bring upon itself a crushing defeat that would preclude it from taking office for another decade at least. If that was done, it was proposed that Sir Harry, whose health was still very bad, should resign, and that the Continuous Ministry should resort to its old method of reconstructing itself and securing another term of power, until it was defeated again and was ready for another reconstruction.

Several members of the Conservative Party, however, disapproved of this course, on the ground that it would endanger the interests of the public for the sake of party tactics. The general opinion amongst the Conservatives was that they should challenge the Liberals to an immediate trial of strength, which would define the position, set all doubts at rest, and enable one party or the other to attend to the colony's affairs, which, in face of the excitement and turmoil, were being neglected.

While the Liberals were waiting for the announcement of the Government's resignation, and were preparing their plans for a progressive programme, they were surprised to learn that at a meeting of the Cabinet it had been decided to recommend the Governor to appoint six more members of the Legislative Council. At first it was thought that the announcement was due more to the enterprise of several newspapers than to any serious intention on the part of the Government, but it was soon seen that the Conservatives were thoroughly in earnest, and that Sir Harry had made the recommendation and sent to the Governor a list of the dying Ministry's nominees.

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The Liberals were very indignant at this action. Several of them communicated with Mr. Ballance, and he instructed the party's Whip, Sir Westby Perceval, to prepare a petition to the Governor. This was done, and it was sent to members of the party for signature. The text is as follows:—

We, Her Majesty's dutiful and loyal subjects, electors of the colony of New Zealand, having good reason to believe that it is the intention of your Excellency's Ministers to recommend that certain fresh appointments should be made by your Excellency to the Legislative Council, most respectfully urge:—


That any recommendation made by your Excellency's Ministers to increase the Legislative Council, as at present constituted, is contrary to the wish of the people of New Zealand as expressed at the recent general election.


That your Excellency's Ministers are in a decided minority in the new Parliament, their avowed supporters being little more than one-third of the present House, and they, therefore, cannot be said to represent the people of New Zealand, or to possess the right to advise your Excellency on a matter of such importance.


That the people of New Zealand have, at the recent election, demanded a reform in the constitution of the Legislative Council, and that until the new House has had an opportunity of considering the question, no new life appointments should be made.


That the present Premier of the colony, Sir Harry Albert Atkinson, in his Financial Statement, given in November, 1887, stated, in referring to the intention of his Government with regard to the Legislative Council, as follows:— “They (the Government) will also during the present session invite the Legislative Council to devise a plan by which their number may be reduced to 35, one half of the number of members proposed for this House, and thereafter limited to that number.” The members of the Legislative Council are still more than 35 in number, and fresh appointments cannot therefore be justified.


That your Excellency's Ministers have not been justified in claiming what has been stated, on very doubtful authority, to be the privilege of defeated Governments—viz., the nomination of members of the Upper Chamber because they decline to admit defeat.

Your petitioners therefore respectfully urge upon your Excellency to defer acting upon any recommendation made by your Excellency's present advisers to make fresh appointments to the Legislative Council until they have met the newly-elected House and given the representatives of the people an opportunity of considering the constitution of the Upper Chamber.

When the petition setting forth the party's objection to the appointments was presented to the Governor by Mr. Seddon and other members of the party, they were informed that the appointments had already been made. Lord Onslow also told them that he was responsible to the Secretary of State for the Colonies and to no one else, and he bowed them out of the room.

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Whatever happened in the new Parliament, it was beyond doubt that Sir Harry, who had had a longer term of office in the colony's Ministries than any other politician of his day, would have to throw the burden of political work off his back at last. His health became so bad that he could not appear in public. He experienced great difficulty in attending meetings of the Cabinet, and found that it was quite impossible for him to give his attention to even the routine business of the departments of which he was the head.

In these circumstances, the Conservatives, still refusing to admit defeat, seriously considered the reconstruction proposals of some of the party's members. It became a question whether Sir William Russell or Mr. Bryce would take the position Sir Harry was preparing to vacate. Sir William had had a good deal of parliamentary experience. He was not a strong party man—his views were too broad to allow him to be swayed by party considerations alone—but he was a man who had gained the thorough respect of all the members of the House; and it was to him that the party looked for guidance.

After many consultations, the Ministry decided that, in spite of the agreement come to with the Opposition before the elections, it would not resign, and, on its recommendation, the Governor called Parliament together on January 23rd, in the new year, 1891.

Two days before the session was opened, the Conservatives met in caucus, and Sir Harry, who showed all the marks of the physical suffering through which he was passing, announced that the Speakership of the Legislative Council had become vacant. Members of his party urged that he should be appointed to the position. His doctor told him that he must not lead the House again, and he therefore reluctantly decided to fall in with the wishes of the party and, accepting the position, retired from the Chamber which had been the scene of many of his political battles.

At this caucus the Conservative party decided to nominate Mr. Rolleston for the Speakership of the House, which had been vacated by the defeat of Sir Maurice O'Rorke.

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The Liberal Party's caucus was held the following day. Mr. Ballance, who was immediately voted to the chair as a mark of recognition of his leadership, briefly congratulated the party on its unity, saying that it was now a party of Liberals all through, and it was almost the first occasion on which the party had been constituted on clearly defined party lines. The vacant Speakership of the House was discussed, and it was agreed to nominate Sir William Steward, one of the staunchest members of the party, as the Liberal candidate.

It was over this election of Speaker that the first division after the notable election of 1890 took place. As the question involved no consideration of principle outside of party politics, it was a clear case of the Conservative Government against the Liberal Government.

Mr. Seddon was asked to propose Sir William Steward, and he did so in a few words, briefly recounting Sir William's services to his party and the country since he entered Parliament in 1871.

The division gave the following figures:—

Sir William Steward 37
Mr. Rolleston 30
Liberal majority 7

A few minutes later, Mr. Mitchelson announced to the House that the Government had resigned, and Mr. Ballance stated that he had already been asked by the Governor to form a new Ministry. Four days later, Mr. Ballance was able to inform the House that he had been successful in his task, and that the following members would be the Governor's advisers:—

Mr. Ballance, Premier, Colonial Treasurer, Minister for Native Affairs, and Commissioner for Trade and Customs.

Mr. W. P. Reeves, Minister for Education and Justice.

Mr. Seddon, Minister for Public Works, Mines, and Defence.

Sir Patrick Buckley, Attorney-General, Colonial Secretary, and Postmaster-General.

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Sir John McKenzie, Minister for Lands, Immigration, and Agriculture.

Sir Joseph Ward, member of the Executive without portfolio.

On the following day, Sir A. J. Cadman joined the Ministry as Commissioner of Stamp Duties, and a few weeks later Sir Joseph Ward took charge of the Postal and Telegraph Department; and a Liberal Government, in office for the second time in the colony's history, started upon the remarkable career with which the name of Mr. Seddon is closely associated.

As Conservative critics pointed out, it was almost an entirely new team. Mr. Ballance and Sir P. Buckley were the only members of it who had held ministerial office before. It had a bare working majority of six, and arrayed against it there were the talent and experience of the party that had held power almost continuously since the beginning of responsible government. Against it, also, it had the leading newspapers of the colony, with two exceptions, and the unreasoning prejudice of a large section of the community, which did not realise the change and the revolution of thought that had been brought about.

A short Governor's Speech, composed of a few sentences, left no doubt as to the kind of policy that would be placed before Parliament. It was distinctly stated that measures would be submitted to improve the relations between labour and capital, and to promote the cause of industrial progress, while one clause, which plainly bears signs of the work of the new Minister of Mines, stated that “earnest attention will be given to the development of the vast mineral resources of the colony, and much can be done to further the mining interests at a moderate cost.”

The Liberal Party's opponents had frequently stated that the Liberals in power would be entirely different from the Liberals in opposition, and that when they reached the ministerial benches their advanced labour programme would be thrown to the winds, and they would drop into the old practice of doing as little as possible, as long as they kept things going and saw that sufficient revenue was received from the people to meet the expenses of government. Even after the Speech had page 145 been submitted to Parliament, it was stated that its words were hollow. The party's opponents probably believed what they said. They certainly were not prepared for the extraordinary vigour with which the new Government set its great policy in motion and brought in many reforms, which have attracted world-wide attention.

A week's work was placed before the House, and the session closed. The Continuous Ministry finally disappeared from the colony's politics, and the Liberal Ministers were left to prepare the programme and policies they believed the country demanded.

* This summary of the causes that dragged New Zealand into the only great strike it has experienced is abridged from a very clear account of the trouble given by Sir Robert Stout in a letter to the “Otago Daily Times” on September 20th, 1890, when the strike was in progress. In regard to the justification of the action of the New Zealand Maritime Council, Sir Robert says: “If the New Zealanders had not supported the unionists by striking, and had worked with nonunionists, the whole principle of unionism would have been jeopardised. It might have shown a want of loyalty to their co-workers and thus have inflicted a grievous blow to the principle of co-operation amongst labourers. To fairly criticise, therefore, the executive of the unions one must try to put himself in their place, and if that be done it will be seen that a good defence may be made for their action.”