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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 8

Theoretical Aspect

Theoretical Aspect,

he would say this, that as far as Governments were concerned, there was no such thing as an absolutely perfect system. They should look page 7 at the various surroundings, such as the number of people and the requirements of the country. No one had yet discovered a constitution suitable to ail circumstances. He did not mean to assert that Provincial Governments were the best that could be had, nor the General Assembly either. Governments must grow, not be formed in accordance with theory. The Provincial Governments were more democratic than that of the General Assembly. They heard it continuously urged in favour of the General Government that it tended to unite the Colony, and create a national feeling, whereas Provincialism did not. If such were so, why preserve the Provincial boundaries, as was done in the Abolition Bill? If they desired to keep up this national feeling, why not abolish Provincial boundaries altogether? Indeed, there was nothing to prevent it being kept up under the Provincial system. An inhabitant of Vermont, Ohio, or Maine, was none the less a citizen of the United States. The States, and State Governments, were far more independent and separate than those of the Provinces. They established their own courts, and managed the whole of their civil administration, and possessed far greater powers than the Provinces. It was nonsense to say that Provincial institutions had the tendency to destroy national feeling. To do an injustice to any portion of the inhabitants of this Colony, was far more likely to do so. He then referred to Ireland as being in point, and said its government was taken away by bribery, the same as was now being done with the Provinces. Did the Irish people become national in consequence of its Parliament being abolished? He believed more ill-feeling was engendered by the destruction of it than by any act which the English Government had done in regard to Ireland. (Applause.) When the people of the Southern Island would see their revenues being taken from them, a feeling would arise in it which would do far more to destroy the national feeling and unity than the existence of Provincialism ever would. If they were to sacrifice everything to centralisation, why not carry the principle to its full extent and have one Parliament in Melbourne for the whole of the Australasian Colonies? Then, should they want a sludge-channel at the Hogburn, or a water-race at Tuapeka, they would have to apply there for it. This would simply be carrying the matter to its logical conclusion. He would ask them to look at the question from an ideal point of view. If Sir George Grey's idea was carried out, namely, that of federalism, such would lead to the highest form of government. There was a maxim in biology that if efficiency was required, it would be necessary to have specialisation of function. If they wished to make a man a good bootmaker, they did not seek to do so by teaching him other trades. If they desired to have able lawyers, they would not expect them to be doctors and clergymen as well. So, if they wanted good government, it would also require to have special functions to perform. Mr. Godley, the founder of the Canterbury Province, had even insisted upon the powers of the Legislature being properly defined. He said: "It is essential, therefore, that when the Central Legislature shall have formally abandoned certain powers to the Provinces, from thenceforward all questions of jurisdiction be referred to the Supreme Court of the Colony, and that this Court, moreover, shall be so constituted as not to be, nor even appear, dependent or partial." He regretted that the Canterbury people had not paid more attention to Godley's speeches in this discussion. Speaking on the question of the probable abolition of Provincialism, he said: "As communications become more frequent and easy, and as, in the progress of wealth and civilisation, a leisured class comes into existence, able and willing to make politics a profession, and devote their whole time to such pursuits, it becomes possible and desirable to abolish Provincial distinctions, and to centralise governmental power. The extent, therefore, to which political subdivision should be carried in any political case is quite arbitrary." That federal government was the best form, they need only look to America and Switzerland. In the former country, on the occasion of the secession of the Southern States, they adopted a system of government similar to that under which they had previously lived. It was a great mistake to suppose that one large central government was the best. The larger the central government, the greater the amount of corruption which prevailed. In proof of this they need only refer to the resolutions passed by the Provincial Councils of New Zealand. These were always marked by a much greater degree of liberality than those of the General Assembly. In theory he altogether denied that a central form of government was the best, but asserted the contrary. The mischief attending the administration of distant governments was well pointed out by Godley in the following passage:—"If I were asked what is the main lesson I have learned from my Colonial experience, I would say it was the blighting and ruinous effect of distant government. I stand here myself, the agent of a distant and irresponsible governing body, to say that I think no amount of abilities, no amount of theoretical knowledge, no amount of zeal and disinterestedness, can over approach to compensating for the enor- page 8 mous disadvantage of being without personal interest in its local affairs. It appears to me to be as indisputable as an axiom in Euclid, that 'a country governed from a distance will either be jobbed and tyrranised over, or altogether neglected.'" What was true then was also true at the present time. He would also tell them that with a central government possessing more power they would get more despotism as well. There were many other things to which he might refer, but he would now cut short, his remarks by making a few further observations upon this question. He thought, so far as revenue was concerned, the abolition of the Provinces would not result in any gain to the Middle Island, and had also pointed out some of the evils which would result from the measure being carried out. Notwithstanding what the Star and Guardian had said in regard to the abolition of the Middle Island Provinces, his warning had proved true. They could take his statements against those of the Press, with Mr. Vogel's sincerity thrown in, that if they supported the bill, they would, in return for the bribe offered them, be allowing the whole of their land revenue to be taken away from them, and power removed from their hands. The Christchurch people had supported it, so had Timaru; but the people of the latter district wanted all their own money. This idea of mixing up money matters with constitutional changes was a most vicious one. What would have been thought of it had such been done when the people of England asked for the lowering of the franchise? If they made politics merely a scramble for money, they would do more injury than all the good which national unity could confer upon them. It was degrading politics to do so. What led to political degradation in America? Simply that the Government of a State was looked upon as being a fit. object of plunder. If, instead of desiring to see New Zealand progress, they simply wished to get money from the Government, then they were relegating polities to an ignoble position. If they placed confidence in what he had said, then he would ask them to use their influence among their friends, and demand, before any constitutional changes took place, that they should be calmly and. rationally discussed. They should also demand from the Press that in discussing these questions it should defend its position upon substantial grounds, and not delude the people with the cry of "bonuses for road boards!" while at the same time their money was being filched from them. He besought them that, if they thought what he had stated was fair and reasonable, and not stretched in any way, they should think well before they consented to this inroad upon their Constitution, and which, once sanctioned, they would be utterly powerless to redress. (Applause.) He spoke for about two hours, and after answering a few unimportant questions,

Mr. Barrowman said he looked upon the abolition of Provinces as an agitation having its origin not with the people, but with the Press. Such a proposal should have emanated from the people. This was being forced on them. He then alluded to Mr. Reynolds' speech and to his declaration that the Middle Island Provinces should not be abolished, and moved, "That this meeting disapproves of the Abolition of Provinces Bill, as being a measure not in the interests of the people, nor called for by them." (Applause.)

Mr. M'Indoe seconded, and the resolution was carried without one dissentient.

Mr. Halligan moved, and Mr. Maloney seeonded, "That the Chairman be requested to transmit the resolution to his Honor the Superintendent in Wellington," which was carried unanimously.

Mr. Thomson moved, and Mr. Easton seconded, "a vote of thanks to, and confidence in, Mr. Stout, as the representative of the district," which was carried unanimously.

Mr. Stout returned thanks to the audience for the vote, and for the patient hearing that had been accorded him, and moved a vote of thanks to the chair, which was carried with acclamation. The meeting then dispersed.

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