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William Rolleston : a New Zealand statesman



During the absence of Russell in England in 1898, Rolleston again found himself called on to lead the Opposition. The chief legislation of this Parliament was the Old Age Pension Act, in which Seddon took a special pride. It met with prolonged opposition, and Rolleston based his criticism on the grounds urged by Mr Joseph Chamberlain against a similar proposal in England. He considered that a non-contributory scheme based on poverty alone would not sufficiently dis-page 197criminate between the deserving and the thriftless. He preferred the scheme advocated by Sir Henry Atkinson many years before under which a universal pension scheme would be established, to which everyone would contribute during their active years of work.

Again, Rolleston's view seems to find justification after many years in the fact that a contributory scheme has been enacted in 1938 by a Labour Government.

In the same year (1898) Rolleston met with an accident by a fall from his horse. This seriously affected his health and disabled him for some time from carrying on his parliamentary work.

Rolleston to Scobie McKenzie, January 1898:

What are you doing? Dreaming much? Write and tell me what you think of things. I don't think of anything but the harvest and low prices, and nurse my woes physical and financial to my heart's content…. Russell will soon make a nice "gentlemanly" speech. 1 shall address my constituents with ponderous solemnity later on—you will dance lightly and fantastically in front of the footlights in Dunedin—but we shall none of us evoke the slightest enthusiasm. The country is generally prosperous and does not care for politics. Who is going to put their hands into their own pockets? For myself "Cantabo vacuus coram latrone" [The traveller whose pockets are empty will sing in the presence of the highway robber]. Put yourself and your bicycle into the express some morning, and come up and talk over the situation. "Si foret in terris rideret Democritus" [If Democritus were alive he would laugh].

It is pleasant to put on record a letter from Sir John McKenzie showing that, in spite of their political duels, McKenzie and Rolleston held each other in high personal esteem. The letter is dated 10 April 1899.

My dear Rolleston,

I can assure you it was with very great satisfaction indeed I received your kind, honest, and manly letter of 30th ultimo. I have received a great many kind letters since my proposed visit to the Old Country, but none has come to hand that has given me page 198more satisfaction than has yours, as it goes to show however we may differ in small things politically we can throw aside all small personal feeling and petty differences and unite together for the welfare of the country of our adoption. It will give me considerable pleasure to hear of your continued health and success, and I sincerely hope that you may be able to follow my example in paying a visit to your native country once more.

With very kind wishes and regards,

Yours very truly,

John McKenzie.