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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 8

The Conservation of Our Land Revenue

The Conservation of Our Land Revenue

was made a great deal of; the Provinces were to be split up into shires or road districts, and the road boards were to do very much what the Otago road boards did—although he thought it would be found it meant the maintenance of main roads, too, because shire councils got no additional revenue—had to maintain the main roads. The whole revenue arising from Crown land sales was made a separate account, and out of this account the first thing taken was the interest and sinking fund on loans. That was the first charge made on the land revenue. The interest on our loans was taken out of it; the capitation allowance was formerly sufficient to pay that. The next thing that came out of the land revenue was the pound for pound on rates that were raised in the various districts. At present, 258. was paid to road boards—part was paid by the Provincial Council and part by the General Government. The £1 for £1 for municipalities came out of the Consolidated Fund. Well, that was how the land fund was conserved to them; and this would entail an endless cost on the Colony, because there would have to be separate accounts for each Province. It was the same as if the Caversham people had a large sum of money to spend on public works in the district, after the ordinary maintaining of the roads had been accomplished, and they went to all the road districts and asked where they should spend the money on various parts of the Flat. Now, the land revenue was Otago revenue, and made so by the Colonial Treasurer in his Statement. He stated that the Parliament of New Zealand was to decide where public works in Otago were to be executed, and where Otago money was to be spent. Now, that was at variance with all ideas of government, because it was allowing people not interested in the Province to decide in what portion of the Province money was to be spent. But it was said that by this arrangement our land revenue would be preserved. At the first flush they might think that the land revenue was secured, but it was the same as if they put money into two pockets and did not let one hand know what the other hand was doing. He would take Auckland, which realised from its land revenue £4,713 in 1873-4, and its interest and sinking fund amounted to £47,000. It could not pay its interest out of its loan revenue, neither would it have anything left for public works or road boards. "Oh," said the Treasurer, "that is all very well, but you must put Auckland in an independent financial position." The proposal made was something like Macawber's way of paying debts. When Micawber was in difficulty, he gave a bill; and that was what the Colonial Treasurer proposed when a Province was hard up; that Province must give a bill. The 17th section of the Act provided for the raising of Treasury bills should the land fund be insufficient to meet the land charges made on it. There were several Provinces in the Colony totally unable to pay the interest on their debts out of the loan revenue, but to enable them to do so, Treasury bills were to be raised. The Colonial Treasurer said they should be charged against the land fund, but what would be the use of that? Where was the future land fund to come from? What they were asked to do by the bill was this: That the Provinces unable to pay for their loans, &c., and give money to the municipalities to provide for education and other purposes, should obtain it from the Middle Island. He thought that, sooner than page 6 have this system of separate accounts kept up, and different expenditures, it would have been far more honest if the Government had said the Colony was to have only one purse, and that all Provinces should be dealt with alike. (Hear, hear.) It was simply nonsense to say that the Middle Island revenue was not absorbed. The land fund was just as much taken away by the bill as if the Colonial Parliament had been honest enough to say that they looked upon the Colony as a whole, and intended to put every Province in the same position. Where, then, was their gain? They only saved £4,000 at the most. But it must also be remembered that if the bill was passed they would keep the Parliament in session perhaps eight months in the year, at a very considerable additional cost. Members must be paid double, or perhaps treble, what they were paid now, because they could not expect men to go to Wellington without remuneration, unless they were men of capital. They might have two sets of men—capitalists, and political Micawbers waiting for something to turn up. (Hear, hear.) That would cost an additional sum to be voted; and in consequence of the complication of accounts, also, that would follow abolition, they would not be one whit better off—because these public works must be carried on; and there were the gaols, hospitals, and other institutions. It was simply, as he had already stated, putting the whole Colony on the same level. Those who knew anything about the history of the Colony knew that some had allowed miles and miles of the best lands to pass into the hands of a few capitalists for a few shillings. They should make those persons pay taxes if the Provinces had little revenue. He could show that so far as the bill was concerned, it conferred no boon—that it simply amounted to another way of taking their land revenue; and it would therefore have been more honest for the General Government to have said it was their intention that there should be one common purse, and that they should vote money independent of Provincial sections of the Colony. But the bill was "a sham, a delusion, and a snare." There was no boon given to the outlying districts. Did they expect the diggers were going to form road boards and tax themselves out of the rates? They had tried the county system in Westland, and had failed. The miners of Otago would have formed road boards long ago if they had so desired, and have got their subsidy at the rate of £2 to £1. Not a single digging district had formed a road board, the reason being that, they were better cared for by the Provincial Councils. Where, then was the advantage they were to get from this bill? Now, let them look at it from a financial point of view. He had the Local Government Bill there. It contained 270 clauses, but there was but little difference between it and the present Road Board Ordinance. He then commented upon the bill. There was a further view in which to look at Provincialism. It was that which had been constantly dinned into their ears, namely, that they must get the Assambly to manage their affairs because they would be better managed. He denied that such would be the case. He held that things were better managed by Governments when the eyes were continually on them. They did not expect, for example, when they got members to go to Wellington, that they would vote more in accordance with the desires of the people than if they had met in a Provincial Council. They had not that public opinion here which other Colonies possessed, and which was so necessary for the proper discharge of Government functions. The Otago journals were scarcely ever read beyond the bounds of Otago, and one only saw the other Provincial journals in the Athenæums or at hotels. They had not such a public opinion as tended to keep down those gross abuses to which all centralised Governments were liable—abuses such as had been perpetrated by the Assembly in the disposal of 200,000 or 300,000 acres of land in the North Island to a few individuals for a few shillings, and a monopoly of the finance of the Colony to one bank, that had the Colony's millions lodged in its coffers. The people seemed helpless to got rid of these monopolies. They would not get their affairs better managed alter abolition than now. It had been stated that if they had their affairs removed from local control the greatest purity would exist. The fact was, there was the greatest jobbery and corruption in the biggest Legislatures. Local Governments can manage local affairs best of all. People on the Flat did not require to call the people of Morning-ton or the Taieri to enable them to expend their road rates; but the Colonial Treasurer admitted that in the past it had been practically impossible for they General Assembly to distribute the matter equitably, and that the House had voted money in the interest of localities without any reference to the Colony's necessities. They could not abolish locality-feeling. Indeed, the Colonial Treasurer perpetuated it by keeping up the present Provincial boundaries. Referring to the other point of view in which he proposed to consider the matter, namely, in its