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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 29

Taxes on Carriage

Taxes on Carriage.

There is one class of taxes, not collected by the Custom house officers, which imposes a particularly oppressive burden on poor people: that is, the heavy rates of railway carriage on food, fuel, building materials, and other necessaries. There are extensive districts in New Zealand suitable for the growth of grain, such as a large portion of the Canterbury plain, which are at various distances from supplies of fuel and timber. The grain or flour has to be carried long distances to mill or market. The fuel and building materials have to be carried long distances to the people who produce the grain or flour.

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The charges for haulage in New Zealand are :—
Coal, 2d. per ton per mile
Firewood, about 3½d. per ton per mile
Timber, ½d. per 100 feet per mile
Grain, 2½d. per ton per mile
Flour, 4d. per ton per mile

New Zealand abounds with coalfields, from which fuel of various qualities can be worked. Notwithstanding this fact, a total of 157,558 tons, valued by the Custom house officers at £241,168, was imported into New Zealand in 1876. A very little of this coal comes from England; by far the greater part of it from Newcastle, in New South Wales. Considering that the Customs Department valued the above quantity at only £1 10s. 7d. per ton, it costs the consumer a great deal more. In 1877 a contract was taken at Christchurch to supply Government for twelve months at 34s. per ton. In 1878 another contract was accepted at 28s. 9d.; but even in large quantities, probably no private purchaser could buy it at less than 36s. per ton at Lyttelton, direct from the importers. Even then it is strange that it should often cost, at Christchurch—only 7 miles from Lyttelton by rail—from 47s. 6d. to 50s. in large quantities; and that it is often retailed to poor people in the winter season, in both Christchurch and Wellington, at the famine price of 4s. per cwt., or at the rate of 80s. per ton!

A recent trial has been made at Christchurch of the steam-producing powers of Newcastle coal and of New Zealand coal, from the Springfield Colliery in the Malvern Hills district, respectively. The result was, that a quantity of New Zealand coal, which cost 13s., produced the same amount of steam power, as a smaller quantity of Australian coal, that cost 18s. 2d.—shewing a saving of 5s. 2d. on 18s. 2d., or upwards of 28 per cent.

The railway haulage at 2d. per ton, 7 miles from Lyttelton to Christchurch, on the Australian coal, amounted to Is. 2d. per ton. That on the Springfield coal, which came 39 miles by rail from Sheffield to Christchurch, amounted to 6s. 6d. per ton. If the railway rate were reduced to one penny per ton per mile (in England it is only one farthing), the price of the Australian coal would still be 46s. 11d.; but that of Springfield coal would be reduced to 21s. 9d.,—both in Christchurcli. The day's steam generated by Australian coal would in that case still cost 17s. 11d.; while that generated in one day by the native article would cost only 11s. 4d., and the saving would be 6s. 7d., or 36 5 per cent.

It is evident that, if the railways are to be made as useful as possible in opening up the country, and in rendering it more habitable, the railway locomotives on the Canterbury section at any rate (of which Christchurch, or Rolleston, is the centre) ought to be worked with native fuel in preference to Australian; and that, the cost of haulage being thus rendered so very much cheaper, the rate ought to be reduced to one penny per ton per mile instead of twopence.

The generation of, or "getting-up," of steam, means heat, or cooking power. Even now, 1,167 lbs. of Springfield coal costing 13s. at Christchurch, will give as much heat, or cook as much food, as 857 lbs. of New South Wales, or Newcastle coal, costing 18s. 2d. at Christchurch. Every owner of a hearth ought to buy Springfield coal instead of New South Wales coal!

If the line were extended to Springfield, and that coal were used in the locomotives instead of New South Wales coal, the cost of haulage on the 632 miles of railway now open for traffic between Amberley and Kingston might be at once reduced by much of the cost of fuel. In that case, the rate of haulage for coal and all other heavy goods might surely be reduced to one penny per ton per mile, without any loss, for the traffic of all kinds would be largely increased. Every inhabitant of the country, which the southeastern section of railways is intended to render more habitable for mankind, ought to petition for the use of New Zealand coal on the New Zealand railways, and for the reduction of the haulage rate on coal to the lowest possible rate. Not only would fuel, if these things were done, cost less than two thirds of its present cost, in proportion to heat page 16 produced; not only would every household's yearly, weekly, daily bill for fuel be reduced by more than one third; but a further benefit would result in the more reasonable rates for carriage by rail of food (including live stock), fuel, building materials, and other necessaries, all over the country served by the 632 miles of railway. The example would soon be followed in every other part of New Zealand whither native coal of quality equal to that of the Springfield could be carried so as to be cheaper than the very dear coal from New South Wales, on the artificial profits derived from the sale of which a very few monopolists fatten, while many thousands of men, women, and children pay half as much again for artificial heat as they ought, if the Government, really having their interests at heart, knew how to serve them.

It is difficult to believe that 450,000 people, constantly taught that they have the most popular institutions, have submitted so long to so bitter a tax, for the benefit of a few dealers.

The fact is, that as the importers of New South Wales coal form a very powerful "ring," which often includes members of both houses of the Legislature, Government officers of great influence in the control of public works, and personal majorities in most of the Chambers of Commerce, Harbour Boards, &c., so New Zealand coal has been long kept out of markets by oppressive haulage rates on the many miles of railway which it has to travel over, in order to compete with Australian coal in important centres of population at or close to the seaports.

The quantity of coal imported in 1876 was 241,168 tons; exported, 1,988 tons; leaving a balance of 239,180 tons, or more than half a ton per head for the whole 450.000 people. Every ton's produce in heat has cost, on an average, to the consumer, 50s. instead of 32s., as the price of the same amount of heat would have been if every facility had been afforded for the carriage by railway of New Zealand coal to market. Many of the 450,000 have consumed firewood entirely, where forests grew near their dwellings. A few, living where New Zealand coal could be got cheap, have used that. Every hearth-owner of the 450,000 that has been obliged to burn Australian coal, has probably used a ton a year for a family of five, and, thus been needlessly taxed, through mismanagement of our much boasted railways, to the extent of 18s. a year in the article of fuel alone, to say nothing of needlessly dear carriage by steam power for every other necessary of life besides.

I have now enabled each single adult—each head of a family—to reckon how much, whether rich or poor, he pays towards keeping up the government institutions under the heads of:—

1. Taxes on Food. 2. Taxes on other Necessaries. 3. Taxes on Carriage, in the shape of high railway rates, making Fuel and all other necessaries needlessly dear.

The last ought to be greatly reduced. The two first ought to be totally abolished.