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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 8

Income and Expenditure

Income and Expenditure.

Sir,—To make income tally with expenditure is surely one of the golden rules of life. And if so, how does it so frequently come to pass that while the precept is held to be incumbent on the individual, its potency is well-nigh set at naught by almost every State and public body? That it is thus ignored, will, we think, be conceded by all who will give themselves the trouble to examine a State budget, a Municipal Corporation or a Parochial Trust. In all three cases, nine times out of ten, responsibility is shifted from the present to the future, and that with a glibness and insouciance that might well excite a smile if the impulse were not superseded by sheer astonishment. So the thing goes on; and but for the now and then faint expostulation of some uninitiated and simple Corydon, either in the Legislative body, the Municipal council or the Parish meeting, we might almost be led to infer that debt was rather honourable than otherwise, and gradual increasing embarrassment a subject for jest.

Year after year this country has been going more deeply into debt, and no real effort made to extricate it. On the contrary, the ordinary tone of what has been frequently styled the "fourth estate" of the realm is and has been only of that feeble, apathetic and lazy kind, whose very rebuke is but encouragement in disguise. Is it not so? Of what conceivable benefit is it to adopt periodically a spasmodic tone, now and then diversified with querulous warning, or with an ominous Lord Burleigh-like shake of the head? All this and much more of the same kind may be ineffably respectable, but it does no good. An ulcer is eating deep into the flesh, and it needs a ready lance to probe it. The danger is imminent and calls for a champion of undoubted patriotism and of unsullied integrity. These are not times when we should be asked, "Where does the money go?" but; rather when we should compel ourselves to demand, "Whence does it come?" The obvious page 152 reply should teach economy to a money-voting Senate, and prompt them to advocate that healthy parsimony in the public purse which common sense and reflection (not to say honesty) prompt the private individual to exercise at home. It is a mistake to suppose that the rules that hold good in private circles in no way apply to public bodies. We maintain that the principle involved is the same throughout—with this additional gravamen in the latter case, that as those likely to be injuriously affected will be, not a particular, but a great public family, so is the necessity of remedial measures proportionably urgent,—and so some legislative determination to ensure a more healthy state of the body corporate widely called for and imperative.

At any rate, a fast accumulating debt must eventually become ungrateful; because, however plausible may be the policy that perpetuates it, the plea of necessity that urges it, or even the speech that would make its items rotund and palatable, the public mind will after all recur to some first principles of integrity, and come seriously to decide that the debt which is a disgrace to the individual can do the State small credit. We may group our items of expenditure together, and deliver ourselves, ex cathedra, of a running fiscal commentary, or we may attempt to touch the vanity of people, hinting at rival jealousies and colonial aggrandisement, and tempt to the repudiating colonial integrity by the indirect lure of grander surroundings. But proceedings of this kind are neither sound nor politic, and must sooner or later recoil on those who, with all their ability to direct, and the accident of position to control, have been hitherto so lacking in moral courage. It may be natural to emulate a sister colony, and imitate if we will, and can do it honestly, some of the expensive features of the old country. But we should not let the former so notoriously go-ahead and beat us in well-nigh every manufacture, from intricate machinery to toilet soap, while the latter of course leaves us so immeasurably behind as to render the very attempt ridiculous travesty.

Scilicet ut plausus quos fert Agrippa feras tu,
Astuta ingenium vulpes imitata leonem.

If being prepared for war is a guaranty of peace, so is a colony's solvency one of its surest, aye, and securest titles to consideration and neighbourly respect. The great human family extends far beyond the limits of New South Wales, and it behoves us, accordingly, to take care that our word be unimpeachable, and our credit as clear as the climate that commonly brightens around us.