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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 8


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Mr. R. Stout, M.P.C., addressed his constituents at the Forbury School-house on Friday, 6th inst. Mr. Rutherford was in the chair. There were about 80 electors present.

Mr. Stout said that he appeared before them that evening because he always considered that it was the duty and privilege of a representative to address his constituents, in order to give an account of the trust which they had reposed in him. If it should happen that he and his constituents disagreed, then it would be the duty of such representative to retire from his position. It was more particularly the duty of a politician to meet his constituents on the present occasion, in view of the impending changes which were about to be carried out. If the Provinces were abolished he intended to retire from political life, and in such case his present address might be regarded as being his farewell speech to them. He therefore thanked them now for the many kindnesses which he had received at the hands of the electors of the Cavcrsham district. He would have to ask their attention for a somewhat longer time than usual that evening, in order that they might come to a rational conclusion on the various schemes which were at present before the public of the Colony. There was no greater curse to New Zealand than apathy on the part of electorates. Many would remember the stand taken in the year 1870 against the grand scheme introduced by Mr. Vogel; many protested against it—not that the scheme was bad in itself, but that in one involving such grave changes the people should be consulted, and calmly discuss the matter. But unfortunately they did not do so, but said, "We will have no discussion; we want the scheme, and nothing but it." This impending Abolition is the fruit of the action then taken by the electorate. Had the people shown a firm front when that change was first introduced, and told their legislators in the Assembly that they would not allow it, they would not now behold a scene in the New Zealand Parliament which was not to be found elsewhere, namely, a Parliament without an Opposition. Schemes involving the expenditure of hundreds of thousands passed in a single night without criticism or discussion. This was one of the many things from which the electorate had to suffer in consequence of its not discussing these measures as they should have been. If those whom the people in Otago termed obstructionists had their way, and some scheme adopted for the purpose of securing to it its own revenue, and providing for financial separation, they would not have suffered as they had done in past years, and as they should suffer in the future. Before dealing with General Government politics he would allude to what took place in the Provincial Council during its last session. When the Council met, Mr. Reid was in office. The schemes which he brought down in reference to the proclamation of Hundreds, and also the selection of blocks of land for deferred payments, were approved of. Nothing was opposed until the Estimates came on for consideration; then a cry arose about turning out the Government. The Opposition comprised many of the members for Southland, who thought that their district was being slighted. The question at issue was not one of principle, but one of the distribution of money throughout the various districts. It was this which led to the defeat of the Reid Government. He was not going to mention names, as he always wished to avoid personalities. The Reid party, however, again returned to power, and of course they all now knew who constituted the Executive. It was unfortunate that the Reid Government should have been put out on a question in which no principle was involved beyond the mere expenditure of money, as large capital was being made out of it in the General Assembly. He need not point out to them the various bills which had been passed by the Provincial Council during its last session. There was a matter which he had opposed most strongly—that was, the introduction into the Otago Harbour Bill of the vicious principle of nomineeism. He contended that its members should be elected by the people, and not by the Government. He called for division after division, for the purpose of having the principle of nomineeism eliminated from the bill. The Provincial Council, however, was in favour of it, and it was carried. Referring to the land question, he said that he knew many who were then in the room, and who had only recently arrived page 2 in the district, were probably ignorant of its provisions and history. He would point out what had been the nature of the agitation which had taken place in reference to it. He did not intend to deal with the regulation which had been made by Sir George Grey in reference to it, but would come down to the year 1865, when the run holders' licenses having nearly expired, and the Province at that time not being in a good financial position, they offered to give an increased rent for their runs, on condition of the Government granting them an extension of their leases for 10 years, they also offering to give 3s. 6d a head for cattle, and 7d. a head for sheep, which they would depasture on the runs held by them. This was agreed to, and became the Waste Lands Act of 1866, which continued in force until 1869, when an Act termed the Otago Hundreds Regulation Act was carried. It provided that the runholder should be entitled to receive compensation at the rate of 2s. 6d. an acre, and also that the land opened should contain a certain portion of agricultural land. This was not approved of by the Council, which resolved not to open any land under these provisions. Mr. Stout then sketched the history of the land legislation down to the year 1872, and the changes he desired. He had advocated that the landed estate of the Province should not be sold at all, but that they should adopt a State leasing system, as this, he considered, was the only way of effectually preventing a monopoly in land. On the occasion of his speech at Caversham last year, he pointed out some of the benefits which would result from it if carried into effect. Land was not ordinary property, as it was limited in quantity. The earth had been well termed the mother of everything, and being limited in quantity, it must necessarily be a monopoly. Great evils had resulted from it in the Old Country, and they were beginning to make themselves felt in this Colony already. The only way to avoid the evils of landlordism was to adopt a State leasing system. When he first brought this under the notice of the, public he introduced nothing new, as it had been discussed previously by political philosophers. Though he had at first met with considerable opposition in reference to it, the feeling of the people in Otago was now more in its favour. In Victoria Messrs. Higinbotham and Grant, and others, had, in the Assembly of that Colony, supported the principle of the State leasing its lands. If the electors would only consider the matter they would see that the people had the right to the use of the land, and, if put out of it, to be paid compensation for any improvements which they might have effected upon it. This was no new system, as it was carried out by large capitalists on their private estates, and when such was the case, why could not the same thing prevail in the case of the public estate? Ten years ago the flat, there, was worth but little, but it had since risen in value. This was not due to any act of the proprietors, but rather to the whole country. Why, then, should the former get the whole of the benefit? The educational reserves of the Province were also leased. If nothing were done to check the monopoly of land the result would be that it would fall entirely into the hands of the wealthy. In coming to the Colony many of them thought that they were going out of the reach of the evils of landlordism, and of lords and dukes who dictated to people how they should vote. In Canterbury, where the price of land was £2 an acre, large tracts of country extending for 10 or 15 miles, were converted into sheepwalks. He brought this land question prominently before them, because it was one of the main political questions of the day, and one which should not be lost sight of. He pointed out that they should be warned by what had taken place in Victoria on the attempt, in the time of Wilson Gray, to introduce a liberal law. The cry of Free-Trade and Protection was raised, and the land question avoided. Many squatters joined the Protectionists in order to do this He had touched on this question because it led up to something he intended to say in respect to the