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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 29

Part III. — Taxation Reform, and how to get it?

page 40

Part III.

Taxation Reform, and how to get it?

Summary of Proposed Reforms.

Loss of Revenue.

1. Entirely abolish the duties on all articles of food [Table F., p. 9]. Loss to revenue £235,347
2. Entirely abolish the duties on all other necessaries [Table N., p. 10]. Further loss £295,907
Total loss to revenue through abolition £531,254

Increase of Revenue.

3. Tax all income above £200 a year, directly arising from land, a 6d. in the £ on yearly value—minimum tax on unimproved land, 1½d. an acre £250,000
4. Tax all other incomes above £200 a year.
Tax every adult male not receiving £200 a year £1 yearly as voter's right fee (holders of miner's right exempt) 250,000
5. Transfer from Land Fund to Ordinary Revenue 2s. 6d. per acre on all sales of public land throughout the Colony (say) 100,000
6. Levy a tax of 2s 6d. an acre on all purchases of land by private persons from Natives, and a proportionate rate on leases thereof 50,000
Total gain to Ordinary Revenue £650,000
Deduct loss as above 531,254
Balance, as margin for deficiencies in either of the new heads of revenue, or as surplus £148,746

Decrease Railway Expenditure.

7. Use New Zealand coal for all Railway locomotives, and in all other Government establishments, wherever consistent with economy in consequence of the nearness of a good coalfield, by railway or by sea, to centres of population. Extend rails ways to such coalfields where the distance is short, engineering difficulties few, quality of coal sufficiently good, and price low at the pit's mouth.

And cost to Public.

8. Reduce the rates of railway haulage on necessaries,—especially food, fuel, and building materials,—to the lowest rate covering working expenses, repairs, and renewal: leaving the interest on the cost of construction to be paid out of the taxes on the augmented value of the property benefited by each particular section of railway. Where the fuel is cheaper, and the gradient less, let the rate be less in proportion. Lower passenger fares also as much as possible, so as to fill trains all the week round.

Advantages of Direct over Indirect Taxation.

Under Customs' Duties, or indirect taxation, the tax-payer does not know how much of the unjust burden he bears: the Government does not receive the whole sum composing that burden: importers, retailers, and protected producers become instruments for collecting the whole sum—paying a portion only to the Government, and keeping the rest as their recompense; so that they are virtually farmers of the page 41 revenue, charging their own commission by agreement and combination among themselves, as Chambers of Commerce regulate charges by mercantile men on private transactions. The fact of an exorbitant and unjust contribution being levied on him is not a transaction clearly manifest to the consumer; and he is unable to insist on getting "peace, order, and good government" in quantity and of good quality enough for the money. The opponents of taxation reform in the direction of taxing property and income, when they make light of the burden inflicted by indirect taxation, only adduce the actual duty, and leave out of account the percentage added to the burden by private agents for its collection, who are exempt from control, either by Government or by the tax-payers through their own representatives.

Under income and property tax, whether paid directly into a Government office, or collected directly by official tax-payers, the person who pays knows exactly how much he pays to the State; and the whole of his payment goes into the public Treasury, excepting the cost of collection; which is under Government control, and therefore, through their representatives, under that of the tax-payers themselves. Every person can thus more accurately calculate how much improvements to his property will cost him, in proportion to the benefits derived from his increased contribution to the ways and means of the Government, and its consequently greater ability to distribute those benefits amongst all in proportion to their payments. Every person, consequently, will be more interested in watching Government expenditure, and more on the alert to secure representatives willing and able to direct the expenditure on the principle of "the greatest good of the greatest number," and contribution to cost of Government in proportion to benefit derived.

All those who arefavourable to the above programme, or to the chief part of the eight proposals contained in it, must earnestly combine, to agitate for the attainment of these objects: because the opponents of such reforms, although not very many in number, are very powerful in wealth, and in the present possession of the majority of political and literary power. Rich people, with a very few honourable exceptions, will use every effort to oppose the Reform in its main features. Not only large landowners, but those who derive large incomes from the collection of rent, interest, and cost of land, and other mercantile transactions large in individual quantity or in number, will array themselves against it. Bankers and money-lenders in the Colony, will thus generally oppose it. The newspapers now published in the Colony, which are chiefly maintained by advertisements of the wealthy folks' dealings, and therefore carried on so as to favour the wealthy, will, with very few if any exceptions, defend the present system of indirect taxation against the direct taxation of property and income.

The majority of the members of both Houses of our Parliament, and of the influential and high-salaried officers of our Civil Service, will also, I fear, oppose the desired change. I shall indeed rejoice, if those fears should prove ill-founded. But my own impression is, that most of the elections are still won by the influence of the monied interest. The last ones, in 1875, were evidently carried for the most part in that direction. It is a fallacy to suppose that, because the people of New Zealand nominally possess almost universal suffrage and the ballot, the wishes of the majority of the people are really represented as against the minority of large land monopolists, dealers in money, and persons largely benefited by political public works and ample supply of labour.

Defects of Electoral Machinery.

The complicated and limited method of making up the electoral roll year by year shuts out a large number of the really qualified electors from the suffrage. There are only three months of the year during which claims to be enrolled can be made. The process of revising is too favourable to objectors, whether official or private; and does not afford sufficient facilities to electors or claimants for becoming aware of, or defending their rights against objections. And yet too long a period elapses between the claim for enrolment, and the qualification to vote. Claims must be made in January, February, or March. The successful applicant is not entitled to vote until September or October.

Several years ago I proposed a system, under which every roll should be always open to fresh applicants (excepting during the vacancy of any seat in the particular page 42 District); and no elector could be struck off or applicant refused, without personal notice of the objection. I am ready to renew that proposal in detail.

Unequal Representation of Numbers.

The distribution of representation is not, as the Constitution of 1852 enjoined it should be, in proportion to the number of electors. In many districts, a very small number of electors returns a member: in others, members are elected in the proportion of only one to many hundreds of electors and many thousands of people. The forty-first clause of the original Constitution Act should be faithfully brought into force, and strictly adhered to. It is as follows:—

"It shall bo lawful for the Governor, by proclamation, to constitute within New Zealand convenient electoral districts for the election of Members of the said House of Representatives, and to appoint and declare the number of such members to be elected for each such district. * * * * * And in determining the number and extent of such electoral districts, and the number of members to be elected within each district, regard shall be had to the number of electors within the same, so that the number of members to be assigned to any one district may bear to the whole number of the Members of the House of Representatives, as nearly as may be, the same proportion as the number of electors within such district shall bear to the whole number of electors in New Zealand."

Neither by Sir George Grey as Governor, when in 1853 he inaugurated the Constitution, nor by Parliament itself in dealing with the question during the whole of the subsequent 23 years, has the above principle of justice ever been observed. The total number of electors on the Rolls of all the electoral districts in New Zealand, for the year 1876-77, was 61,755. But a large number of electors are each on the Rolls of two or more districts. So that, in order to comply with the strict letter of the clause, a considerable reduction would have to be made from the above total. But, besides the advantage which some many-propertied electors may gain by having a vote in each of several districts, the proportion between members and electors in many districts is enormously at variance with the above rule for the allotment of number of members to each in proportion to the whole.

There are 69 electoral districts, and 84 Members allotted to them, besides the four Members allotted to the Natives,—for the election of which four the North Island is divided into three districts, and the South Island forms the fourth. 61,755 electors, divided by 84 seats, gives 735 electors as the just proportion for each Member. The following 27 districts, on each of whose rolls are less than 735 electors, nevertheless return one Member each :—
Onehunga 443 Brought over 5,087 Brought over 8,603
Waikato 383 Nelson (suburbs) 312 Geraldine 498
N. Plymouth (town) 468 Waimea 366 Gladstone 539
Grey and Bell 586 Motueka 571 Mount Ida 443
Egmont 595 Collingwood 344 Waikouaiti 619
Rangitikei 423 Totara 411 Taieri 616
Hutt 488 Cheviot 238 Clutha 583
Wellington (country) 603 Lyttelton 312 Wakaia 539
Wairau 500 Avon 445 Wallace 199
Picton 598 Akaroa 517
Total, 12,639
Carried over, 5,087 Carried over, 8,603

12,639 electors return 27 Members, whereas they are only entitled to 17!

The following 5 districts, on each of whose rolls are less than 1470 electors, never-theless return two Members each:—
Wanganui 883 Brought over 2,975
Wairarapa 912 Nelson (city) 805
Napier 1,180 Waitaki 1,155
Carried over, 2,975 Total, 4,935

4,935 electors return 10 Members, although only entitled to 7.

The above 32 districts, with an agregate of 17,574 electors, return 37 Members, although only entitled to 24!

page 43
On the other hand, these 23 districts each have more than 735 electors to 1 Member:
District. Electors. Mem.
Bay of Islands 858 1
Marsden 1,276 1
Rodney 805 1
Waitemata 881 1
Auckland East 828 1
Auckland West 1,872 2
Newton 1,467 1
Waipa 844 1
Thames 4,019 2
East Coast 1,488 1
Wellington (city) 1,731 2
Buller 1,064 1
Carried over, 17,133 15
District. Electors. Mem.
Brought over 17,133 15
Grey Valley 2,173 2
Hokitika 1,752 2
Kaiapoi 822 1
Christchurch 2,403 3
Heathcote 858 1
Dunedin 3,495 3
Roslyn 908 1
Caversham 847 1
Tuapeka 832 1
Wakatipu 871 1
Mataura 1,062 1
Total, 33,156 32

33,156 electors return only 32 Members, although entitled to 45.

These 14 districts have Members allotted to them in correct proportion:—
District. Electors. Mem.
Parnell 773 1
Eden 761 1
Franklin 1,486 2
Manawatu 779 1
Clive 697 1
Ashley 682 1
Selwyn 778 1
Coleridge 663 1
Carried over, 6,619 9
District. Electors. Mem.
Brought over 6,619 9
Timaru 696 1
Dunstan 754 1
Port Chalmers 685 1
Bruce 762 1
Riverton 723 1
Invercargill 786 1
Total, 11,025 15
11,025 electors, exactly 15 times 735, return 15 Members. To sum up:—
District. Electors. Members.
32 unjustly favoured, with 17,574 return 37 instead of 24
23 unjustly deprived, with 33,156 return 32 instead of 45
14 justly treated, with 11,025 return 15 entitled to 15
69 61,755 84 84

If the proportion of electors in each district respectively should remain the same on the Rolls for 1877-78 13 seats ought to be taken from the districts in the first two lists, and given to those in the third list. The new Rolls will, no doubt, show in some respects different proportions; but the new allotment must, in justice, be very different from the old one. Besides the aggregate injustice described above, there are atrocious cases of injustice, as between individual districts and between different groups of districts. For instance:—Wallace with 199 electors, and Cheviot with 238, return one member each; while East Coast with 1488, Newtown with 1167, Marsden with 1276, and Mataura with 1062, return only one each; Waikato, Cheviot, Lyttelton, Nelson Surburbs, Nelson City (2), Collingwood, Waimea, and Wallace, with an aggregate of only 2959 electors, returning 9 members, although little more than entitled to 4; while Thames, Dunedin, Grey Valley, East Coast, and Newtown, with an aggregate of 12,642 electors, also return 9 members, although more than entitled to 17. The three districts comprising the defunct Province of Taranaki, returning 3 members, with an aggregate of 1649 electors, entitling them to less than 2½; while Thames, with 4019, entitling it to 5½ returns only 2—no more than Cheviot or Wallace, with their aggregate total of only 438 electors, entitling them to little more than half a member between them.

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Ballot no Protection.

Vote by Ballot exists in Form.

But it does not act so as to prevent bribery or intimidation. The proceeding of inscribing the voter's electoral roll number on his voting paper (however necessary it may be for identification in case of a disputed election, and the alleged illegality of the vote on account of personation or other fault), leads the majority of electors to believe that the manner in which they shall vote will not be an absolute secret. They are therefore still accessible to that "inquisitorial" process, by which the wealthy man can attach a condition of extended credit or money pressure to the manner in which the elector, who has anything to hope or fear, shall exercise his vote, and exert himself to influence others. An interview in the bank parlour, or in the wealthy private individual's office or business room, with a timely reference to books, balances, overdrafts, outstanding accounts, and possible credits, still has the power to assure the voter, who is dependent on any personal money question, that his credit will be extended, his draft honoured, or "the screw put on" him, according as the interviewed "free and independent." shall vote. Everyone who carefully observed the features of the last general election, must have been made fully aware how active apart the managers of certain Banks, especially the Bank of New Zealand which has almost a monopoly of Government business, took in promoting the return of candidates favourable to the late Government, and how effectual was their interested interference. "While such things can go on as they do, it is impossible to believe that the form of voting by ballot, existing under the present law, affords a reliable protection against the bribery and intimidation of the poorer or more dishonest, by their superior in wealth or dishonesty. Moreover, while the voting is supposed to be secret, public nominations, canvassing, committees, and shows of hands are still kept up, although the honest use of devices by any candidate or voter takes away the protection of secrecy, which the ballot ought to afford thoroughly, if it is to serve its alleged purpose at all.

My own belief is, that under open voting the elector was really more independent than he is under the so-called ballot as now administered. Many an elector believes that it is the officials and people in power only, who have a possible knowledge of the way in which his vote has been given. Therefore he is subject to the influence of the wealthy and powerful: but he is no longer liable to the dread of disgrace among the men of his own class, or to the recrimination of a defeated candidate, in case he should vote in a manner diametrically opposed to his public and private declarations of opinion, and to the best interests of his fellow-men. Under the ballot, too, that personal confidence, which used to exist between honest member and honest constituents, is virtually at an end. If the ballot be really secret, the professed supporter of a candidate or member may be a person whom it is desirable for him to consult and confide in, or he may be an opponent in disguise, seeking to suck his brains and to beguile him into some unpopular public proceeding or private interference with the independence of other electors. For the honest, conscientious, and unwary candidate or member, it is like entering under your own signature into a newspaper controversy with anonymous antagonists. If the candidate or member wear his political heart on his sleeve, he is at a disadvantage with political antagonists and electioneering agents who use language for concealing their thoughts. Ballot, at its best, frees the elector from all public responsibility to his fellow-citizens for any bad use which he may make of his secret influence over the choice of legislators; while it does away with the benefit of good example and respect for integrity in politics. It gives an undue advantage to the dissembler, over the upright man who is not ashamed of his political actions; and under the pretence of independence for the elector, creates members who, being callous to any personal blame by anonymous voters, may act with unscrupulous and irresponsible servility and corruption. But if, in compliance with the wishes of the majority, we must keep to the Ballot, let us at any rate have it in its integrity! Let every candidate propose himself. Let Election Committees and canvassing be forbidden by law. Let there be no show of hands. Take every precaution against false page 45 votes before voting; but leave no mark whatever on the token of a vote, by which a returning offiicer, scrutineer, or even himself shall be able to identify the voter after he has once dropped the token into the box. Blackballing at a Club or in any other institution, would cease to be anonymous, if every ball had on it a number corresponing with that of the voter on a published list of members.

Class Poll Hours.

The hours during which a vote can be given, are confined to those during which the working-man is exclusively occupied. The poll opens when he begins to work; the poll closes before he leaves off. He cannot poll before or after the usual working hours. He has only the dinner-hour: and, besides losing his meal he may be too far from a polling-booth to get there and back to his work within the hour. This gives an undeniable advantage to the voters who are not dependent on wages, or to employers who can oiler the bribe of not stopping them for a short day's work. The Parliamentary Elections (Metropolis) Bill, extending the hours of polling in the City and Metropolitan Boroughs of London to 8 o'clock in the evening, was read a third time in the House of Lords on the 21st February, and is no doubt by this time law: the Committee of the House of Commons which recommended it, reporting that they made no recommendation as to rural districts, only because they were not instructed to inquire into the application to them of the proposed alteration. Why should not a reform, adopted without opposition as so desirable at home, be adopted here, where there is a larger proportion of electors employed at daily working-hours than in the old country?

Agitation for Reforms.

It is necessary to consider attentively these electoral defects, giving political pre-ponderance to wealth and power over the humble daily workers; because without equality in these e'ectoral powers, all conflicts for political reforms of a more equitable character to the humbler classes must be fought at a disadvantage.

Advocates of reform in taxation, should therefore also advocate extension of the franchise, allotment of representation according to numbers, and reform in the manner of obtaining and using the electoral franchise.

Agitation for political reform of any kind is to be carried on by discussion in private as well as in public. By giving or supporting lectures in public, or taking part in private conversation on the subject; by forming Working Men's Clubs, and Reform Societies; by sufforting the diffusion of popular knowledge on the subject through the purchase and distribution of pamphlets and tracts, and especially by supporting newspapers that contain information and arguments favourable to the reforms: by all these means, the way can be prepared.

At meetings preparatory to elections, those who wish for the reforms should unite to support candidates favourable to them, irrespective of their opinions on questions of less public importance, of local or distant residence, or of personal gratitude or attachment to the member or candidate, or his busy friends.

Attention should not be diverted from the main subject by listening to any attempt at raising up other questions, as grounds for party differences. Whether the Land Fund be spent where it is raised or not; whether the price of public land shall continue to be different in different parts of the Colony, or established at an uniform rate throughout it; whether local self-government should be administered by Counties or Road Boards, or by a mixture of both; whether education shall be free, secular, compulsory, high or low class. All such and many other questions, however important in themselves, are of little importance comparatively, and can afford to wait, until Justice shall have been obtained in the practical establishment of a System of Taxation under which every inhabitant of New Zealand shall contribute to the cost of its Government, not in proportion to his personal expenditure, but in proportion to the personal revenue which good Government enables him to receive.

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Let us by all means have free trade in land tenure as well as in commerce; also in taxation. Let no class be protected against paying its just share. If our Democratic Constitution was granted to us in order that a Monied and Landed Aristocracy should be founded, and endowed with all political power, and if that un-natural appendage prove persistently unwilling to yield any of its exclusive advantages, let it be compelled at least to contribute to the public revenue fairly in proportion to those advantages, and not continue to make the mass of the people, under the delusive pretence of a liberal suffrage and equal laws, pay the largest proportion of the cost of Government wielded by the few, and of the yearly interest of borrowed money so lavishly spent for the improvement and increased value of all landed and other property, and for the multiplication of incomes far above the necessary wants of those who so cheerfully receive them, but who so churlishly grudge their fair contribution in return to the common purse.

I conclude by asking every reader of this pamphlet, who may approve of its object, to recommend others not only to read it, but to buy other copies for themseives and their friends. Thus I shall be aided as well as encouraged in further active efforts to help Sir George Grey and others in achieving a most necessary, just, and therefore popular measure of

Radical Reform!

Printed at the "Times" Office, Gloucester Street, Christchurch.