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William Rolleston : a New Zealand statesman



The rapid progress of events which led to the abolition of the Provinces has been fully recorded in various New Zealand histories. But it is often not recognised at what an early date the seeds of their future destruction were sown and how inevitably linked up were all the successive changes in policy which led to their abolition. For it did not become a simple contest between those who believed in centralism and those who believed in provincialism until the final denouement. The root cause of abolition can be traced back to a date far anterior to the period when it became a dominating issue in politics.

When a demand arose in the early 'sixties for the taking over from the Imperial authorities (as represented by the Governor) of the control of Native Affairs this raised a question of national and not merely provincial importance. Colonial self-respect was urgent that this great question of native policy should be controlled by its own politicians. It was not perhaps realised at the time that all the Provinces were concerned and that this was in fact the first step to-wards unifying the nation.

Again, when the Provincialists demanded in 1865 that the seat of Government should be removed to Wellington for greater convenience and accessibility they perhaps did page 112not realise that this in turn helped to defeat provincialism by making it easier to develop the powers of the Central Government.

Finally, the various Provinces entered on a borrowing policy and some of them became embarrassed financially. In due course the Central Government had to take over or guarantee their liabilities. At the same time it laid down the rule that in future Provinces must not borrow without the consent of the Central Government. This restriction of Provincial borrowing naturally called for some substitute in carrying out public works and immigration. Thus by an inevitable process we reach the introduction of the Vogel public works and immigration policy of 1870, not as a matter of choice but of necessity. Once this stage had been reached it was easy to argue that the reason for the existence of the Provinces had ceased to operate. In short their abolition was the natural culmination of all the preceding steps.1