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Temperance and Prohibition in New Zealand



A splendid spirit of optimism pervaded the Annual Meeting which was held in Christchurch in 1909. Cheered by the success of the recent campaign, the leaders reaffirmed their demand (1) that the three-fifths handicap be removed and the No-License question be settled on the bare majority. In speaking on the matter, Mr. Wesley Spragg said he ‘could not see why Bishop Julius, Mr. L. M. Isitt, and himself should be equal in voting on No- page 101 License only to two ragamuffins out in the street.’ (2) Dominion Option. The suggestion was made that the Local Option votes in each electorate should be added together and so form a Dominion vote. In this manner the Local Option vote would have been retained and also used to count as a Dominion vote. This would have been a helpful arrangement. (3) A resolution was passed, calling upon the Government to abolish liquor canteens in volunteer camps and instances were given of their growing menace to young men. (4) Because of the loose and unsatisfactory manner in which polls had been conducted the Government was requested to appoint only men of character and trustworthiness to the position of returning officer and that scrutineers should be more fully recognized. (5) It was decided to commence a pledge-signing campaign and electorates were urged to build up local funds in preparation for the next fight.

The Alliance Constitution was amended so that the two bodies known as the Dominion Convention and the New Zealand Alliance Annual Conference should become one. For a number of years they had worked and met separately. According to the new constitution the Annual Meeting should be composed of a number of ex-officio members, two delegates from each Provincial Council, and two for each Licensing District. This meant that future Annual Meetings were largely attended.

In this Convention there was a most impressive scene when the Rev. F. W. Isitt, who had been general secretary for about twelve years, felt compelled to resign owing to failing health. He had been abundant in labours. In the year 1899, before the motor-car was scarcely in use, and the North Island Main Trunk line was not completed, he page 102 travelled 7,000 miles, traversing the colony between Auckland and Invercargill, spoke in 125 townships, interviewed many opponents, and, while travelling, edited the Prohibitionist, and arranged for the preparation and circulation of literature. By his tact, judgement, gentleness and Christian courtesy, he had done much to unite the party and make it effective. There was a wonderful outburst of regard and sympathy for him, and he was made general organizer. The Rev. John Dawson was appointed general secretary.

During the campaign, each League had conducted the fight within its own borders and this had given the Alliance comparatively little financial responsibility. Its income had been £1,461, and there was a balance in hand of £63 for the year.

During the session of Parliament following this Convention, the Government introduced a Defence Bill which contained provision for compulsory military training and for canteens for the sale of alcoholic liquors in the encampments. Believing that many young men would suffer physical, mental, and moral deterioration if such canteens were allowed in the camps, the prohibitionists and thousands of other persons raised the cry that there must either be no alcoholic liquors sold in the canteens or no Defence Act. The opposition was successful and so for twenty years it has been illegal to sell liquor in the camps and officers and men are prohibited from taking liquor therein. No one can tell how much harm has been hindered by such a decision, especially during the period of the Great War.

Great meetings were held throughout the Dominion and demands were made for the Bare Majority. As an outcome of this enthusiasm Mr. page 103 George Laurenson introduced a Bill into the House covering the demands of the No-License party. The Government was impressed and requested the prohibitionists to state what modifications they would agree to. The leaders were consulted and the Executive sat frequently to consider the various points of agreement. The Trade, through the Attorney General, agreed to the compact as expressed in a Parliamentary Bill.

The Compact

The Bill embodying the Compact provided that the poll should continue to be taken in each electorate and No-License should be carried if fifty-five per cent. of the valid votes were for that issue, and that the votes throughout the Dominion should be added and Prohibition carried for the Dominion on the same majority. Local No-License was to be given effect to in about eighteen months from the time of the poll. Should Prohibition for the Dominion be carried, any electorate which did not vote the required fifty-five per cent. majority should enjoy Prohibition about four and a half years from the date of the poll. Dominion Prohibition was to be in operation not less than three years before another poll would be taken and then for another four years before licenses could again operate. The sale, manufacture, or importation of liquor, except for medical, industrial and sacramental purposes, was to be prohibited. The Reduction issue was to be eliminated, beer depots, the locker system, and bottle licenses were to be abolished. A special Dominion Convention was called and it asked that there be two ballot papers instead of one. To this the Trade objected.

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