The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 29
To the People of Otago
To the People of Otago.
As the elected head of this Province, specially charged to watch over and protect its interests, I deem it due, both to you and to myself, to give expression to a few thoughts as regards the present political situation.
I desire to do so as briefly as possible, and as an earnest man speaking to earnest men.
I am deeply impressed with the conviction that we have reached a crisis in the political history of New Zealand, upon our right action with regard to which now, depends the future of the Colony for good or for evil.
I assume that you are all aware of the fact that a majority of your representatives in the Colonial Parliament have decided that your Provincial Legislature is to be abolished, and that but for the strenuous efforts of a minority this abolition would have been an accomplished fact, without any reference whatever to your wishes or opinions on the subject. As it is, the operation of the Act has been postponed until after the prorogation of the next Session of the new Parliament. So that the people of New Zealand may, at the approaching elections, have a voice in the matter.
"What I now earnestly desire is, that the people of Otago would calmly and deliberately consider for themselves the effect which the abolition of the Province is likely to have upon their own-interests. To my mind that effect cannot fail to be very page 4 disastrous indeed, and it may be added that this conclusion is based upon a somewhat intimate acquaintance with the past history and present position of the Colony.
It cannot, I presume, be denied that, considering the extent of its territory, the short period of its existence, and the comparatively small handful of its population, the progress of Otago hitherto has been perfectly marvellous, all the more so looking at the fact that it has contributed upwards of two millions of money to the Colonial chest, in respect of which there has not been one single sixpence of value received. Just fancy to yourselves what this sum might have accomplished had it been expended in developing the resources of the Province.
Nothing can more forcibly illustrate the progress of Otago, which a quarter of a century ago was an unpeopled wilderness, than the fact that of the thirty-two colonies of Great Britain no less than twenty-eight are inferior to this Province in respect of the amount of its public revenue and the extent of its commerce.
In my opinion the only thing which has prevented the still further progress of Otago has been the abstraction of its revenue by the Colony, and the action of the Colonial Legislature, by which the Province has been deprived of the power of carrying on immigration and public works on its own account, both of which I maintain in the nature of things could have been more satisfactorily conducted by the Provincial than by the General Executive. As a striking example of the contrast between the two systems, we need anly revert to the fact that under General administration, the cost to the Colony on immigration has been upwards of £21 10s. a head for each statute adult, while under the system so successfully carried on for years by the Provincial Government, the total cost did not exceed £15 10s. per adult, the quality of the immigration comparing favorably with that of the former. There was nothing to have prevented the whole of the recent immigration into this Province from having been conducted on the same terms, had the Province been allowed tomorrow for the purpose as the Colony did.page 5
How far our past progress is to be attributed to the action, of the local legislature is a question upon which opinions may differ; there can, I apprehend, be no difference of opinion, however, as to the fact that this progress has been in no degree attributable to the action of the Colonial Parliament; and yet it is now proposed to part with the one, and to place the administration of affairs entirely in the hand of the other.
One great argument—indeed, I may say the only argument—which has been adduced in favor of abolishing the Provincial legislature, is the alleged saving of public expenditure which would be effected thereby. This is an argument, however, which might be much more forcibly applied towards the abolition of the Colonial Legislature, as at present constituted. The Provincial Legislature and Executive of Otago (which could fulfil all the functions of the Colonial Legislature and Executive without any additional charge) costs one shilling and sixpence per head on the population of the Province, while the Colonial Parliament and Executive cost two shillings and ninepence per head.
As regards the whole Colony, the total cost of the nice Provincial Councils and Executives is under £32,000 a year, while the annual expense of the General Assembly and Colonial Executive is over £50,000. If you add to this £250,000 of annual departmental and other charges—which would disappear along with the General Assembly—you will be able to judge as to where the greatest saving might be effected. I may say that the foregoing figures represent expenditure in respect of services which might be dispensed with without detriment to the public interest; they do not include anything connected with the Immigration and Public Works Departments, in both of which there would be a material reduction were these matters left to the Provinces.
I repeat that the Abolition Bill, if carried into operation, must be disastrous to the interests of this Province in various ways. I shall only allude to one or two facts, which will serve amply to bear out this opinion. We will take first and foremost the tentorial revenue, which, although de jure Colonial revenue, page 6 has been hitherto de facto the revenue of the Province, and appropriated by the Provincial Council towards roads and bridges, the erection of schools, subsidising local Road Boards, &c.
Under the Abolition Pill the annual interest upon the Provincial debt becomes the first charge on the land revenue to the extent of £90,000. The residue, if any, goes into the Colonial Treasury, to be appropriated by the General Assembly. I say the residue if any, because it is quite possible that there may be no residue, inasmuch as in the event of our railways not paying more than working expenses, the interest on their cost is legally chargeable on the Land Fund. Assuming, however, that there will be a residue, you may be quite certain that very little, if any thereof, will find its way back to you—the Colonial horse-leech must first be satisfied. Although it is likely that the railways in this Province will yield sufficient to cover both interest and working expenses, yet there are political lines in New Zealand with regard to which it is to be feared that such will not be the case; and so surely as any portion of our Land-Fund goes into the common purse, just as surely will it be applied towards deficiencies in every part of the Colony. The probability is that railways in Otago will be a source of revenue, which, under Provincial administration, would be expended wholly within the Province, but which, under the proposed new order of things, will not be so expended.
In fact, it was broadly stated from the Ministerial bench during the late Session, that whatever surplus may be derived from remunerative railways should be devoted towards making up the deficiency of those which may not pay, in whatever part of the Colony they may be situated, and this will undoubtedly be one of the practical results if the Abolition Pill comes into operation. I regard this declaration as a gross breach of that fundamental principle which was laid down when the Public Works policy was agreed to, namely, that each Province should be charged with the cost of its railways; on no other condition would I and others have assented to the policy. As it is, it only shows the folly of relying upon the stability and good faith of Colonial Legislature page 7 where the rights and interests of particular Provinces are concerned.
Reverting to the abstraction from the Province of its Land Revenue, I look upon it, that unjust and injurious as this will be, the blotting out of the Provincial Council, as exercising a watchful eye upon the administration of the Waste Lands will be more detrimental still, and will probably result in the public estate falling into the hands of the few instead of the many, and in the indiscriminate renewal of the pastoral leases without reference to the requirements of settlement, or to their real value.
There is nothing that I deprecate more than setting class against class. I have always regarded the pastoral interest as one of the greatest and most important in the Province, and can see no necessary antagonism between it and any other. I regret, therefore, to think that the abolition of the Provincial Legislature is in a great measure supported by this interest, in the hope that it is likely to get a renewal of leases on better terms under Colonial than under Provincial administration.
In the course of the next few years, nearly the whole of the pastoral leases throughout the Province expire. Should the administration continue in the hands of the Province, the pastoral tenants will be greatly multiplied in number, and, instead of run-holders, will become thriving and wealthy sheep farmers, living on their estates and employing a large amount of labor; a consummation which will add greatly to the public revenue, and will tend to elevate the position of the Province both politically and socially:
Now, let us glance at the other reasons which are adduced in favor of the proposed constitutional change. It is said that several of the Provinces are bankrupt; that they are unable to carry on any longer; that is to say, they are unable for want of means to perform those primary functions of government which have hitherto devolved on them, viz., the protection of life and property, the education of the people, &c., &c.
If, however, the Provinces are unable to carry on these functions without funds, how is the Colonial Government to carry page 8 them on? It is clear that it must do so with money which it has derived from the so-called destitute and needy Province itself, or with money derived from other Provinces. For example, in this latter case, the Gaols, Police, Hospitals, and Schools in Auckland are to be upheld partly at the cost of Otago—a proceeding against which I shall always protest, and which the Provincial authorities of Auckland reject with scorn. They say, let us have the management of our own affairs and a fair proportion of our own revenue, and we shall provide for the peace, order, and good government of the Province without imposing on our neighbours.
I deny that there is any necessity for the Provinces being unable to perform their functions, but I will tell you why some of them are unable to do so. It is simply because the public revenue, a large proportion of which used to be devoted towards the necessary purposes of government, has been gradually more and more withheld from the Provinces, and absorbed by the Colonial Parliament, until at length all that is left is 15s. a head capitation allowance; that is to say, the people of Otago, out of the £5 contributed annually to the Colonial chest by each man, woman, and child, receives in return the magnificent sum of 15s., wherewith to pay the interest on the Provincial debt, to maintain the absolutely necessary public departments, and to carry on the greater portion of the real government of the country. It will readily be seen that but for its land fund, of which it is now to be deprived, Otago would have been in no better position than the poorest of its neighbours.
I repeat that if any of the Provinces have been left high and dry, it is in consequence of the lion's share of the revenue having been absorbed by the Colonial Parliament, and applied to what? Not towards the paramount purposes of Government—not to the settlement and occupation of the Colony—but to the maintenance of a Legislature at Wellington, and of a Colonial establishment upon a scale of extravagance, unparalleled, I believe, in any other country in the world similarly situated.
The Colonial expenditure has from the outset been assuming page 9 larger and larger dimensions, more suitable to an old and populous country than to the requirements of a young and thinly peopled colony.
Talk of Provincial extravagance—the thing pales into insignificance compared with that of the Colony. Depend upon it, unless we retrace our steps, the day of reckoning will come sooner or later, and it is not by hugging the chain which binds us, and rushing still further into the arms of Centralism that this day is to be evaded. It can only be met in one of two ways—either the taxation of the Colony must be increased, or the unnecessary and unwarrantable expenditure must be reduced. Of this latter, I feel convinced that there is not the slightest hope, so long as the two islands are mixed up, and unequally yoked together in one Legislature as at present—a Legislature which assumes to itself the conduct and control of the whole of the parish business throughout the Colony, instead of confining its attention to those few subjects which concern New Zealand as a whole.
|1.||That each Island shall have power to provide for the maintenance of its own peace, order, and good government, and for the management of its own local affairs, irrespectively and independently of the other,|
|2.||That the power and functions of the General Assembly shall be distinctly defined, and shall be limited to questions purely federal.page 10|
|3.||That the Provincial Legislature or Legislatures of each Island shall have supreme constituent powers in respect of all subjects not so defined as aforesaid.|
It seems to me that the foregoing proposals embody a general principle of action, which if determined upon by a majority of the representatives of the people will produce such a reform as must lead to the existing taxation being beneficially expended or greatly reduced, and be conducive to the happiness and prosperity of the people of both Islands. It will be observed that I have not touched the question as to the number of Provinces in each Island; as this does not materially affect the chief object to be attained—namely, financial reform and retrenchment; at the same time there are grave and important considerations which would have to be taken into account in discussing the point as to the number of Provinces. My own opinion leans strongly towards at least two Provinces in each Island; I do not think that for years to come anything less will be satisfactory, either on the ground of economy or efficiency.
Provincial Councils, even in the false position in which they have been placed hitherto, have been important schools for the nurture of political life, and for political training, and as such (apart from all other benefits) they have been worth infinitely more to New Zealand than they have cost. How much more valuable would they be in these respects if placed on a proper footing and in a position of supremacy, each in Its own sphere.
'Tis distance lends enchantment to the view.
It surely stands to reason that forty-six men, all of whom are elected by yourselves, assembled within the Province, can deal far more satisfactorily with your interests than can eighty-four page 11 men assembled in the North Island—only one-fourth of whom are elected by you.
Another great argument which is urged in favor of the proposed change is, that it will secure a greater amount of justice to outlying districts, that is to say, it will confer upon Otago what it already to a great extent possesses, and which every district which so desires it may possess to-morrow—viz., Road Boards with power to rate themselves. Hitherto these Road Boards have been subsidised by the Province out of its land fund. Under the proposed new regime they are to be subsidised out of taxes to be extracted from the pockets of the ratepayers, in other words they are to be subsidised out of moneys contributed by the people themselves. And this is the great boon for which we are invited to part with those institutions under which the Province has flourished so remarkably, just as if this boon could not be obtained if necessary under the existing system.
I know of few things which have been more beneficial to this Province than the liberal subsidies which during the past ten years have been received by the District Road Boards and Municipalities at the hands of the Provincial Government. It is true that since 1871 the Colonial Government has subsidised Road Boards throughout the Colony to the extent of £50,000 a year, and that Otago has had its proportion of this sum. This money, however, has not come out of revenue but out of loans, which have to be repaid—an easy mode of acquiring popularity from which the Provincial Governments have been carefully debarred.
Depend upon it, inadequate as it may have been towards their requirements, the outlying districts of Otago have had vastly more money expended within them by the Provincial Council than they are ever likely to have at the hands of the General Assembly. I would say more, that but for the enormous drain upon the resources of the Province which has gone to uphold the lavish expenditure of the Colonial Parliament, the outlying page 12 districts would have been far more liberally dealt with than they have been. If the General Assembly can be confined to purely federal action, and the colonial expenditure reduced by .£200,000 a year, both of which objects can be accomplished if the people are true to themselves, the outlying districts would be in an infinitely better position than they would be under the Abolition Bill. The abolition of the Native and Defence Departments alone, which cost the Colony £126,000 a year, would enable the Provinces largely to increase their expenditure in outlying districts. Had the management of Native affairs been left to the Provinces, as they ought to have been, millions of money might have been available for outlying districts, and for the general benefit.
One of the crimes with which your Provincial Council was most loudly charged in the Assembly was that its sole aim had been to aggrandize Dunedin at the expense of the Province. Never was there a more reckless and unfounded charge. It would be no difficult matter to show that considering the extent of its population, Dunedin has had no more than very scant justice at the hands of the Provincial Council. It is much to be regretted that there are those among us who, while they exhibit an unfounded jealousy towards Dunedin, have no objection to aggrandize Wellington, to any extent, at the expense of Otago.
I have long been convinced that if there is to be any genuine diffusion of local administrative power throughout the Colony, such diffusion will have to emanate from Provincial Legislatures. I do not anticipate that any practical measure in this direction is likely to proceed from Centralism as it exists in this Colony.
The Provincial Council of Otago has done much in the way of extending power of local administration. It has already placed upon the Statute Book an Ordinance whereby, if the people desire it, County Boards may be constituted at any time, with full power to administer all local matters; an Ordinance which confers far greater powers, and makes much more liberal provision page 13 in the way of substantial endowments, than did the local Government Bill, introduced into the General Assembly as part of the Abolition Bill.
By virtue of a Colonial statute, a fixed proportion of the land revenue has to be set aside as an endowment for these County Boards, whenever they are brought into existence. As it is, however, none have taken advantage of this Ordinance, from which it may be presumed that the people deem themselves better off as they are; an opinion in which I do not think that they are very far wrong. The Provincial Council has created and endowed all over the Province, Municipalities, Road Boards, School Boards, Harbor Boards, Athenæums; in short, its maxim has been to decentralise administrative power in every direction, and in this it has afforded a striking contrast to the Colonial Parliament, whose principle of action has been, centralise—centralise—centralise—so much so, that if not checked now, it will shortly become impossible to move in any part of New Zealand without the authority of the Governor in Council, which means practically, an irresponsible bureaucracy at Wellington.
That your Provincial Council is faultless and may not be improved, it is not for me to allege. Let it be what it may, it is an embodiment of the popular will; a transcript of yourselves; and if it acts indiscreetly, the remedy is in your own hands. All I would say further is, that if you sweep it away, you will commit an act which you yourselves will yet bitterly regret; an act which posterity will mourn over and deplore. What would England, Ireland, and Scotland give now to have what we are asked to throw away—their local parliaments to deal with local affairs?
You may rest assured that political privileges are not so easily acquired that they should be lightly disposed of, and that nothing but the most culpable indifference as to the responsibilities which devolve upon them, will account for the people of this Colony parting with one iota of the powers and privileges which they now possess, or permitting themselves to be led by those who are influenced by a morbid love of change for its own sake.page 14
One word more in conclusion. I have endeavored very imperfectly to point out that Otago, which has been the milch cow of the Colony, has nothing to gain, but everything to lose should the Abolition Bill be carried into operation—that the Colonial Parliament has from first to last been the wet blanket upon progress—that the resources of the Province are every day disappearing more and more in the maelstrom of Colonial finance—that the bane of the Colony has been the gradual growth of a grasping and improvident Centralism, repugnant to the genius of free institutions, and totally unsuited to the peculiar circumstances of New Zealand. You might as well attempt to build a pyramid, commencing at the apex, as to build up a great nation in New Zealand by means of one Central Government at Wellington.
I cannot disguise from myself the fact that, could we divest ourselves of the idea of the unity of New Zealand, the true remedy for the existing evils, in as far as Otago is concerned, would be that the Province should be erected into an independent Colony. Even were the people unanimous on this point, however, there are difficulties in the way which would take much time to surmount. As it is, therefore, the practical remedy at this moment is to send to the new Parliament men who will spare the country from that plethora of Government with which it has for years been scourged—men who will see to it, that the General Assembly shall take the shape of a simple and inexpensive federal Council, dealing only with a very few subjects; and that the two islands, and the various Provinces in each, shall be separate, distinct, and independent as regards the disposal and control of their respective revenues and the management of their local affairs. Of course there must needs be an equitable adjustment, as between the Provinces, as to the payment of existing Colonial liabilities, which adjustment would have to be regulated by the federal Legislature.
Finally, I trust it may not be deemed out of place to point out, in reference to the approaching election, that if there should be more than one anti-Centralist candidate for the same seat, the page 15 chances are that the Centralist candidate representing it may be a minority of the constituency, will be returned, unless all the anti-Centralist candidates but one can be induced to retire, or unless the electors shall determine to confine their support to one and the same candidate. I do most fervently hope that every elector will arouse himself to a due sense of the gravity of the situation, and that we may each and all be guided and directed by that wisdom that cometh from above.
Superintendent of Otago.Dunedin,
16th November, 1875.
Mills, Dick and Co., Steam Printers, Stafford Street, Dunedin.