The Life and Times of Sir George Grey, K.C.B.
Chapter LII. — Sir Julius Vogel's Public Works Policy
Sir Julius Vogel's Public Works Policy.
"An ill-favoured. thing, sir, but mine own,"
The New Zealand colonists were a bold and adventurous race The blood of the Norse Vikings, the spirit of daring ancestors, filled them, and it must be confessed that the same lust of strife and gain which distinguished the fathers was plainly developed in the children. Saxon, Dane, and Norman, all had similar tendencies. The men who made our name famous in the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries were men of the same character. Drake, Hawkins, Raleigh, and Frobisber, Clive and Hastings, were all alike hard-handed, hard-beaded adventurers, always ready for conflict and for plunder. Eager for excitement, they were ready to adopt any plan which promised to increase wealth and to set the streams of Pactolns flowing.
After the stirring scenes of the Maori war were over, it was but natural that some other opportunity should arise for the indulgence of the dominant craving.
In 1870, Mr. Vogel presented to the colony of New Zealand a scheme of borrowing and expenditure called "The Public Works and Immigration Policy." No sooner had the proposals been publicly accepted than it became evident that great constitutional changes were certain to be effected. Doubtful as to the result, people in Auckland turned naturally to Sir George Grey as the only person likely to afford advice and assistance when necessary. Meetings were held, and a deputation waited upon him at Kawau page 414requesting him to accept the position of Superintendent of the Province of Auckland.
It was, of course, a matter of doubt as to whether a man who had held such high offices would condescend to fill a post so greatly inferior in rank.
The deputation had not long to wait. They found the ex-Governor willing to occupy any position in which he could be useful to the colony and its people. Elected to the Superintendency of the Province, he was next requested to take a seat in the House of Representatives.
A special reason existed for this new step. The advocates of the borrowing system found that the existence of the Provincial institutions and Legislatures stood in the way of a complete centralised system of public borrowing, and it was determined to abolish the provinces.
This struck at the root of local self-government in the colony, and the adherents of that principle prepared to gird up their loins for the coming struggle. They called upon, the framer of the Constitution to come forward in defence of his own creation. Xor did they call in vain. Grey, alwaj's ready at the call of duty, cheerfully responded. If he could not wield the baton of a field-marshal, he could carry a musket in the ranks. To him the position he occupied was not equal in importance to the merits of the quarrel in which he fought.
The year 1874 beheld the unparalleled sight of one who had been a Governor for nearly thirty years taking his place as a private member in a colonial House of Representatives.
His efforts were for the time in vain. The tide of the money-borrowing spirit had set in, and nothing could withstand its flood. The constituencies were like tigers which had tasted blood—they would have more.
Every safeguard was swept away—local self-government and local responsibility; the devotion of specific loans to specific objects; the certainty of reproductive expenditure of the borrowed millions. All were overthrown and disregarded. The prudent, were called pessimists; the cautious, fools. Sound judgment was at a discount, and economy became hateful, The destruction of the Provincial Government in New Zealand threw all power into the hands of the page 415central authority. The borrowing and squandering mania spread. Instead of the ten millions which originally dazzled and startled the minds of colonists, over thirty millions were borrowed and spent by the Colonial Government. Harbour Boards, County Councils, Municipal Bodies, and Road Boards were invited and empowered to borrow. Millions were wasted by the General Government in useless works, or expended in purchasing political influence. Hundreds of thousands were, in the same spirit, thrown into the sea by Harbour Boards. The country became demoralised, and it was fairly represented by the majority in Parliament.
The legislation of the period in question—from 1870 to 1890— was generally bad. On some important points it was incessantly changing, and incessantly changing for the worse.
It would be useless, as well as uninteresting to the general reader, to wade through the history of twenty years of mostly corrupt legislation by which New Zealand was disgraced during this period. Communities and Parliaments without traditions, and without clearly defined political principles and parties, must be always liable to abuse of power and the prostitution of political influence for the accomplishment of private ends. And the liability to travel in erratic courses and in the tortuous paths of intrigue was increased by the unexampled profusion of the borrowed money which was scrambled for in the New Zealand Parliament during that time. An average population of 400,000 people, in addition to the collection and expenditure of the largest revenue in the world per head of the community, borrowed and spent £40,000,000 of public money in less than twenty years.
Great Britain, with an average population of 36,000,000, had she kept equal pace with her young child in the Pacific, would have added to her national debt during these two decades £3,600,000,000.
Against the influence exerted by the disbursement of such great treasures, wisdom, foresight, and prudence were unavailing. The auri sacra fames—the accursed thirst for gold—which has been the ruin of men and nations, and which is declared in Holy Writ to be "the root of all evil," seized upon New Zealand and held its sway during this whole period. Were it not that the colony is full of the wealth of Nature, that its resources are practically boundless, such a burden would be intolerable, and would ensure national bankruptcy.page 416
Although the elasticity of a young country and the rapid increase of a wealth-producing population will doubtless enable New Zealand to bear this burden lightly—at any rate when a few years have passed—the immediate concomitant of such a financial debauch was that political reform was paralysed, and the onward progress of the community in social matters absolutely stayed.
The efforts continuously made by Sir George Grey in all things great and noble were in vain. In 1877 he became Premier of the colony which he had twice governed. Even with the power and influence which this position gave, he was unable to carry his measures or accomplish his desires. A few alterations and reforms which he effected were swept from the Statute Book, when, after a short period of office, he was betrayed by his professed supporters and defeated-
On his defeat he still continued to act as a private member until the year 1890, when he retired, owing to illness, being then nearly eighty years of age.