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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 29

By Members of Parliament

By Members of Parliament.

Let us briefly examine them. I have not a copy of Hansard within my reach where I am now writing; but I take from the Christchurch papers reports of speeches made during this session, when the expediency of "a change in the incidence of taxation" was superficially talked about.

The resolution, rather hurriedly passed by the House of Representatives during the present session, is as follows:—" That in the opinion of the House the general incidence of taxation should be so adjusted as to impose on property and income a fair share of the burden entailed on the colony, and thereby afford means for a reduction of taxes on necessaries, and that the financial proposals of the Government next session should embody this principle."

Mr. E. C. J. Stevens was the one of the three Members for the City and Suburbs of Christchurch, who stood at the head of the poll in December, 1875; 1000 odd votes having been recorded for him, out of 2400 on the roll of the district. He is one of two partners in a firm which holds large powers of attorney from absentee landowners and trustees of landed estates, and which also advances money at a high rate of interest and commission to purchasers of public land, who buy before they have enough capital of their own. He said:—

"He had always approved of the imposition of direct taxation when necessary, either to raise more revenue or to re-arrange the Customs. He had expressed this view in 1866. He thought the acceptance of Mr. Fyke's amendment by the Government made a great difference in the question, as it proposed to tax professional earnings by income tax. He implored the House to consider what it was doing. He most strongly objected to inquisitorial investigations of professional earnings, trade profits, and industrial returns. He hoped the Government did not feel themselves pledged to such a tax. He could not vote for such a thing. He objected to an acreage tax. He did not believe such a tax would burst up large estates. To reduce the Customs revenue would injure the credit of the page 22 Colony and its borrowing powers, and so injuriously affect the labouring classes by interfering with public works. This would also injure small farmers by preventing the improvement of moans of communication. He was opposed to a tax on mortgages, as it would fall not on the lenders but on the borrowers. Regarding the laud fund, a speedy determination of the question would be required, but a definite permanent settlement of a substantial portion must be made to districts in which it arose. He regretted the Government had not promised simply next session to revise the whole question of taxation, imposing such an amount of direct taxation on property as was desirable, and re-arranging the tariff so as to render it more equitable, but without increasing the total amount from Customs."

Mr. Leonard Harper, then member for Cheviot,* a large district with very few electors, many of whom are large landowners or runholders, with the majority of the rest dependent on them for trade and employment—himself a runholder, declared that the taxes on necessaries really only amounted to 15s. or 16s. per head; and that a property tax would prevent the introduction of capital and reduce the demand for labour, so that the labouring class would feel it most severely.

Mr. George Hunter, one of the two members for the City of Wellington, is a merchant, who deals largely in imported goods, but still more largely in advancing funds to runholders on the security of their wool, and of the cheap land with which they have spotted so as to monopolise large tracts of country at a nominal cost for rent or interest of purchase-money. He said that, if a property tax were imposed, it would be fair for those who would pay it to say: "We must either employ less labour, or you must submit to a reduction of wages." Mr. Hunter is himself a large proprietor of land, bought at 10s. or 5s. an acre, during the last twenty-four years. Almost all his family and business connections are similarly situated with regard to property. He has hardly ever been out of the immediate neighbourhood of Wellington during nearly thirty-eight years, at the beginning of which he arrived at Wellington as an inexperienced youth. From 1840 until quite recently, Wellington has almost stagnated, in consequence of the land in its neighbourhood being locked up by the difficulty of extinguishing Native title, and the monopoly created and fostered by the delusive "cheap land" system. Mr. Hunter learned his political economy entirely in a small school, where all the big boys got hold of nearly all the land for an old song, and then, not content with locking others out from profitable occupation of land, decreed that those others should pay the principal share of the cost of government, and of borrowing money to add value to the monopolised land by means of public works and immigration. Of course Mr. Hunter declared that "A land tax would be most oppressive and unfair."

Major Atkinson, Colonial Treasurer and nominal Premier at the time, is reported to have said that a tax of Is. In the £ would only yield £130,000. It is not clear from the report whether he meant only a tax on land, or a tax on land and other property, and on all incomes above a certain amount derived from those or any other sources.

I believe the above are all the arguments publicly brought forward against taxes on property and income. I will endeavour to reply so far as I have not yet done so, to those comprised in the declarations of the four members above quoted.

* He has lately resigned his seat.