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Temperance and Prohibition in New Zealand

1910 — Historic Debate


Historic Debate

The Dominion No-License Convention of 1910 was held in St. John's Schoolroom, Wellington, on June 22 to 25, and is remembered because of the great historic debate which was continued for almost three days. The Dunedin Council had sent a motion ‘That the Bill as drafted embodying the arrangement made be placed upon the Statute Book.’ Mr. A. R. Atkinson moved an amendment which stated, ‘That in the opinion of the Convention a method of voting under which electors would have to vote for two widely different things at the same time would compel a large number to vote for something which they did not approve or to abstain from voting. That the result of this coercion, confusion and disfranchisement would be to introduce a speculative element into the process which might work irreparable harm to the cause. That in any event the method in question would be inconsistent with a free and intelligent expression of the popular will, and is therefore unworthy of the support of a party which has insisted from the first upon a clear issue and a straight vote.’

Representative leaders of great intellectual ability and debating skill were found on each side. There was eloquence, wit, satire, sarcasm, self-control, sincerity, forbearance, Christian charity, laughter, applause and protest. Often there was tense feeling and many prayed to God for guidance. The result was awaited with great anxiety. When the vote was taken there were sixty for the amendment and seventy-six against. As opinion was closely divided, a Committee was set up which in its report demanded a special vote on Dominion page 105 Prohibition on the day of the general election, and that the question be submitted to the electors on a separate paper of distinctive colour, to be kept and counted separately. At the close of the debate one side saw its bright hopes buried and deep regrets remained at what might have been, and later events increased their regrets. On the other side there was the satisfaction of having successfully opposed the principle of ‘an elector being called upon to vote in favour of the thing he did not want in order to get what he did want.’ It was one of the great hours in the history of the movement, and there was deep thankfulness that the party remained united at the close.

During the following session of Parliament the Government introduced a Bill which reduced the three-fifths majority to fifty-five per cent. but contained the cumulative proposals of the compact to which the prohibitionists objected. The Members of the House refused to reduce the majority. When the Bill was passed it contained the three-fifths majority and provided for two ballot papers, one for Local Option and the other for Dominion Prohibition. There were also many excellent features included. For instance, section 46 provided for the right of Maoris to prohibit themselves from having liquor sold to them. A simple majority of Maori votes made the sale of liquor to Maoris illegal in the area over which the Maori Council presided, taking the vote. Using this power in 1911 the Maoris of Horotua voted by a substantial majority against liquor. For a number of years the No-License party had been advocating the right of the Maoris to thus protect themselves. The No-License party had strongly opposed women being employed as barmaids, and page 106 the new Act stated that no woman in future could become a barmaid, and only those could continue who had been in actual employ for three months in the previous twelve months on November 21, 1910, and who registered themselves before June 1, 1911. It was also made illegal to sell or supply liquor on licensed premises to persons under twenty-one years of age. The Act also put an end to bottle licenses.

A conference was held during the year between the Hon. Mahuta and representative chiefs of the Waikato and Rohe Potae, and several representatives of the No-License party. The representatives of the Maoris expressed strong opposition to liquor being allowed to enter the King Country.

Temperance reformers throughout the Dominion had long been clamouring for definite and regular instruction in the public schools on the effects of alcohol upon the human system. Largely as the result of the courageous action of the Hon. Geo. Fowlds, Minister of Education, the Education Department gave the subject a definite place upon the school syllabus, and sent copies of Temperance Wall Sheets for use to all State Schools in the Dominion.