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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 32

IX. Changes

page 75

IX. Changes

Since the preceding remarks were written, the Parliament of the Colony has, by a large majority, passed a Bill for the abolition of the several Provinces. As this measure, if it become law, will exercise a great influence on the future, a short statement of the relative position of parties may not be without interest, and is necessary, to understand properly the position of matters.

By the Act passed by the Imperial Government in 1852, granting a representative Constitution to the Colony of New Zealand, two forms of Government were provided. The first to be called into existence was the Provincial, thereafter the General. For the purposes of the first, the Colony was parcelled off into six divisions, and the Provinces of Auckland, New Plymouth, and Wellington, in the North; Nelson, Canterbury, and Otago, in the South Island, were established. Each of these Provinces was to possess an elected Superintendent and Council, have distinct powers of legislation, and a special revenue. After the Provincial form was brought into operation, the General was to be called into existence, to consist of the Governor, a nominated Legislative Council, and an elected House of Representatives, having their distinctive functions well defined. The idea of the Provincial was to carry out the original plan of peopling the Islands by settlements in different localities, localizing expenditure, and enacting laws suited to the special requirements of the districts. That of the General, whilst equally suitable, was more ostentatious, embodied the principles of the home constitution, had much more extended power, and withal a more centralizing tendency. To the former, the body of the common people was most attached; to the latter, those who fancied they were born to rule devoted themselves. From the earliest a contest was imminent, and soon commenced—the bone of contention, being of course, money. The Provincialist party desired their own revenues spent amongst themselves, in works of public utility; the Centralists to collect all into one common purse—create a show of authority with a make-believe page 76 mightiness. Gradually the greater power grasped and absorbed the functions and privileges of the lesser. First, the revenues were appropriated, and then the legislative sphere was speedily narrowed. The existence of the Provinces was a peculiar eyesore to a few of the higher sort of people, and their destruction was resolutely determined on. This mode of Government was too popular to be open for direct attack, so more wily measures must be adopted. Member of a Provincial Council always was a high distinction, open to settlers in any position who could afford a little time and money, and aspired to the honor. Representative in the Assembly was a taller office; the aspirant required the command of more money, more time, and perhaps more ability. To bring the Provinces speedily to destruction, the Assembly, in 1858, passed the New Provinces Act, which, being ratified by the Imperial Parliament, new Provinces were accordingly declared—not for new territory, but breaking up the original six, for real or supposed grievances. The plan was a deep laid and insidious one, and, to a large extent, it has gained its object. In this wise it was wrought. Wellington was, in 1858, dismembered of Hawke's Bay, the lands of which were speedily bought up by its promoters, and it became a comfortable location for a number of runholders. In 1859, Nelson, known as the Sleepy Hollow, was cut in two, and the new province was named Marlborough. Neither of them has followed the example of the great commanders after whom they were named, but have been content to lie down under their burdens. Otago, in 1861 was shorn of the Murihiku district, and the new Province, much to the chagrin of its denizens, was named Southland. After nine years of precarious existence, the new Province returned to the embrace of its parent. Canterbury was, in 1868, stripped of its west coast, which received the title of County of Westland. Prosperity did not attend it, so, in 1873, it was raised to the dignity of a Province, with no better result. The six original provinces were thus increased to nine.

Although a little out of place, it may be here stated that the name New Plymouth was by an Act in 1859, changed to Taranaki, by which name that Province is now known. Considered the garden of New Zealand, so far as climate and soil are con- page 77 cerned, it has not been able to raise sufficient for its subsistence. Relying on the value of its iron sand for a name and existence, its hopes have been completely destroyed by the announcement of the Premier that the sand is only fit for making asphalte for footpaths. This fair Province is now to be made the penal settlement of the Colony. The convicts are to be employed in the construction of a breakwater and harbor works, which will, in after days, be pointed to as a stupendous folly on the part of the present Government, their services not being required.

The promoter of the New Provinces Act did not claim the paternity of the Abolition Bill, although he was credited with it. Himself, however, the Superintendents and members of all the new and unprosperous Provinces, strongly supported it in the House and so it was carried. If the Abolition Bill becomes law, the Hon Mr. Stafford has attained the acme of his wishes; the Provincial form of Government is destroyed; the election of representatives goes with it, and agents and executive officers appointed by the Governor will exist in their stead; the management of our landed estate is taken away; revenues collected from all sources, and in all districts, will go to one centre, and be there spent; for redress of any grievances the people will require to go from home; and to carry out any works of special or local benefit, they will not only have to tax themselves, but also require to go to a jealous neighbour to ask permission to have these works carried out. In proposing such a radical change in the Constitution as the Abolition Bill contemplates, it would naturally be considered that its promoter? would be men distinguished for eminent and important services in the past. A view of the position of each of the three great estates of the realm will be interesting.

Normandy, Governor, stands chief of the three. His Excellency, prior to the assembling of Parliament, had, for the period of six months, occupied his high position. A perfect stranger in the country, with no brilliant spots in his previous career, and having made once a formal visit to the principal Provinces, he considered himself justified in assenting to a measure which was opposed in the House by nearly all the members acknowledged to be statesmen—one of them a former Governor, and the man by whom principally the Constitution was framed. Although the page 78 country was in a flourishing condition, and the people quite contented With the condition of things, in no wise clamorous for a change, but the reverse—instead of, as he would have been justified in doing, reserving the Bill for the signification of Her Majesty's pleasure thereon, he at once gave effect to the measure by attaching his signature, whilst strangely enough the doubtful character of the scheme is borne testimony to by itself, as it is not to come into force until the "day next after the last day of the first session of next Parliament."

By the Legislative Council, or Upper House, the proposal was received with great joy, inasmuch as it would destroy a popular form of Government. This branch of the Legislature is selected from a peculiar section of the community—men noted for their ability in acquiring large landed estates, and devoted to the glorious cause of multiplying sheep and cattle,—the squatocracy, who have a single eye to their own interests, and do not believe in anything so strongly as large runs and small population. As a rule, the members of this chamber can only look on their fellows in the lower chamber with a powerful eyeglass, as they are too small to be seen by naked vision. One of the honorable members certainly opposed the measure, but he is notorious, not for the exceeding greatness of his flocks and herds, but only for his espousal of the popular cause, and for devoting himself to the interests of the people. Nevertheless, a good old soldier, a thorough politician, as well as a good old man, is Sir John L. C. Richardson.

The absence of the Premier from the Colony on the arrival of the new Governor necessitated a reconstruction of the Cabinet, it being necessary that the oaths of office should be taken by him. The Ministry was thus constituted during the recess, and had not the opportunity of receiving the confidence of Parliament. The members were, however, not much changed, only one new one being introduced to fill the position of Minister of Justice. Not holding a seat in the House, it was first proposed to elevate this gentleman by nominating him to join the Peers; but a little talk occurring, a quiet country constituency was induced to elect him as its representative, and he was introduced as member, and Minister duly constituted. None of the other members had ever page 79 done anything to make them favorably known to fame, save the absent one and the Native Minister. The latter has managed to control the Maories, and bring them into subjection by mysterious measures, into which Parliament itself dare not pry, the expense being no object. The absent one alone having a political reputation worth caring for, kept out of the way, as he certainly would not stain his consistency by apostatising from the Honorable Julius Vogel, apostle of Provincialism, to Sir Julius Vogel, advocate for Centralism. The country generally pronounced him to be the one member, and alone, in the Cabinet possessed of anything approaching to legislative or administrative ability, and in both capacities he was acknowledged to excel.

The House of Representatives was not considered to be of a higher standard than the average of its predecessors. Indeed the leading newspapers, especially in Otago, mentioned members by name representing that Province as totally unfit and unworthy to hold a seat in the House. In addition to this, the Parliament itself was in an expiring state, being in its last session; and common prudence should have dictated to the members that, before making such a radical change in the Constitution, the constituencies should have been consulted, not only on the change, but also as to what was to be substituted. And not only should prudential considerations have dictated this course, but the leading mind in the Cabinet, Sir Julius Vogel, in the previous session, on introducing a motion having the object of abolishing the Provinces in the North Island only, cautiously observed:—"Although I believe throughout both the North and the Middle Island the opinion of the people of the Colony would ratify such action, yet there would be a feeling throughout the country, on the part even of those who approve of such legislation, that it would be dangerous to indulge in large legislation of this kind in a hurried manner, and without giving due notice of it. Even those who approve of it might justly say that they could not welcome any surprise of the kind. They might feel a sense of insecurity if such large questions were introduced and legislated upon during the sitting of Parliament, without due notice being given to the people of the Colony, so that they might express their opinions, by petition or otherwise, upon the matter. It is page 80 quite possible, therefore, that men who approve of the measure might most regret its being carried into effect hurriedly, because it might lead to a precedent of surprise which might be almost considered something of the nature of a coup d'etat." So spake that astute statesman, Sir Julius, and knowing the thorough consistency of his political life and action, no one would for a moment suppose that, had he been in his place, he would have supported the passing of the Abolition Bill. It would have been well for some of the lesser lights in the Cabinet, and in the House, had they followed his advice. What the people thought of the precipitate action of the majority will be related shortly.

Having seen, then, the long experience of the Governor, the high legislative ability and character of the majority of the members, and the extent of the duration of the Parliament by which this Bill was past, it will follow that the minority who opposed the measure should be described. The opposition was resolute and determined. Point after point was disputed with a courage and a skill of which the cause was well worthy. The number of the Opposition was small, but almost every one was a host in himself—men in whom the large majority of the electors of the Colony had implicit confidence,—tried men who had been found worthy, in whose hands the honor and prosperity of the country were safe. The leader of the Opposition, Sir George Grey, was not only formerly Governor of this Colony, but was so distinguished for his ability in that capacity as to be transferred to the then more important Colony of the Cape, when its affairs were in a disastrous state, and needed one of Her Majesty's ablest representatives to arrange them. Sir George was the Governor by whose advice, and under whom, representative government was conferred on New Zealand. He was in fact the framer of the Constitution. In his place in the House, as member for Auckland City, and also Superintendent of that Province, he fought valiantly for the constitution. Associated with him were Mr. Fitzherbert, Superintendent of Wellington; Mr. Rolleston, Superintendent of Canterbury; and Mr. Macandrew, Superintendent of Otago. These four men were the highest representative men in the Assembly, speaking not only for their individual constituencies, but also for their Provinces, the four most important page 81 in the Colony; and had it not been for the salamander action of the General Government, in depriving the former two of all their available revenue, and asking them to make bricks without clay, each would have been swimmingly prosperous. The Superintendents of the smaller provinces were in the majority, in hope of gaining something by the change. In the ranks of the minority, other names will be found who have done the State some service in former days, and whose names will, along with their more prominent coadjutors, command the esteem and gratitude of their countrymen for the noble defence they made of the principle that a free and educated people should have not only the right to be consulted in deciding the form of Government under which they are to live, but also that it is the imperative duty of their representatives to submit for their decision, through a general election, whether a change is to be made or not. And more especially was this the case in this instance, when it was proposed to destroy the branch of the Government which had by judicious care and administration been chiefly instrumental in forwarding the national prosperity, and without stating what was to be set up in its place. Far more anxious and thorough observation and experience is needed to frame and suit a form of Government for a country and people than our senators seem to have imagined; and for their ruthless haste in undoing what wiser men than themselves had carefully constructed, the constituencies whom they so misrepresented have sent them to seek a place of repentance, and some of them have sought it bitterly, and with tears. The names of the Otago members who opposed the carrying of the measure were—J. B. Bradshaw, Wakaia; J. C. Brown, Tuapeka; J. Macandrew, Port Chalmers; J. W. Thompson, Clutha; D. Reid, Taieri; R. Stout, Caversham; W. A. Murray, Brace. The Bill was carried by a majority of 19, or, with the Speaker, 20 votes.

As it is with Otago principally this history has to do, it will be well now to see, as formerly stated, what the people here thought on the matter.

No sooner was the result of the division known in Dunedin than steps were taken to mark the approval of the conduct of the minority in so resolutely opposing this uncalled-for, unjusti- page 82 fiable invasion of the people's rights. How to do it was the question. After due consideration, it was resolved to invite the more prominent members of the Opposition to accompany His Honor the Superintendent and his Otago supporters to Dunedin, and there receive with him the ovation that was to be accorded him. The invitation was accepted by the Superintendents of Auckland, Wellington, and Canterbury, along with Messrs. Bunny (from Wellington) and Sheehan (from Auckland). Arriving at Port Chalmers on the 27th October, 1875, they were cordially welcomed. On the special train which conveyed them to Dunedin coming into the Station, the crowd awaiting their coming vociferously cheered them, and in triumphal procession escorted the carriages that conveyed the honored guests to the Club, where they were to reside. A heartier or more decided expression of approval of the honest, fearless, straightforward conduct of public men could not be given. Nor did it stop with the reception. A public banquet was accorded, and the largest floor space in the city, Messrs. Sargood, Son, and Ewen's new warehouse, was handsomely placed at the service of the Committee, and in it, on the evening of the same day, the greatest crowd that ever sat at a complimentary feast in the City of Dunedin, or other City in the Colony, felt honored by having the able defenders of their rights in their midst, and listening to the words of sound political wisdom which fell from their lips. The result of this demonstration, and others which followed, will be afterwards noticed particularly. At present, it may be remarked that the supporters of the Abolition policy predicted a great failure for the whole affair. Finding their prediction likely to be false, another course was pursued, and that was to reduce the banquet from being a public recognition of the political action of His Honor and friends to a mere friendly welcome and congratulation on having fought so pluckily. But the promoters and the supporter's were not to be so easily caught, and with unmistakable language they announced that the banquet had not only a political signification, but was for political purposes, and for these alone. The thoroughly complete success of the whole arrangements sank like gall and wormwood into the heart of the Government party, and, with maddened rage, they unscrupulously page 83 risked every statement to try to counteract the effect. It was, however, but a vain effort. The Province had pronounced its verdict, notwithstanding the protestations of the Dunedin and local journals, and with calm, dispassionate purpose the electorates proceeded to give effect thereto.

After the dissolution of Parliament, writs were issued for the election of new representatives, and either by chance, or by one of those special providences that shape the ends of mankind, the first election fell to the lot of the City of Dunedin. Hitherto, Dunedin had been represented by two members, but on account of its increased size and importance, the Assembly awarded it and Waitaki each an additional member; so that, on this occasion, three instead of two members were to be elected. The Hon. Mr. Reynolds had represented the City in several Parliaments, was popular among the electors, always a strong Provincialist, and relied on as such, but during the Assembly, having occupied a place in the Cabinet, he so far forgot himself as to give his support to the Abolition Bill. After a protracted delay he came to Dunedin, and met his constituents, his colleague, Mr. Wales, being with him on the platform. His plausible address would not take, and Mr. Wales would not be listened to. The latter gentleman took the not over gentle hint, and did not offer himself as a sacrifice. The nomination day came round, six candidates were proposed, and the poll resulted in the three on the Provincial ticket being returned by an overwhelming majority. Waitaki followed suit, rejecting the old member, and returning two Provincialists. Invercargill, Roslyn, Mataura, Riverton, Wallace, Lakes, and Mount Ida, all put aside their old members, and returned new men. Of the twelve members from Otago who supported the Abolition Bill, only one has been elected as representative for his former constituency, and two for other districts; of the seven who voted against the third reading, only one has lost his seat. It is a noteworthy fact that the old members were very vehement in supporting the Bill, declaring that their constituents were strongly in its favor;—the result has shown how far they were mistaken. Loudly and emphatically has Otago thus protested against the tyrannical conduct of the majority in the House, and against the grievous wrong which has page 84 been done by passing the measure. The course that ought to have been followed was to drop the Bill on its second reading, and appeal to the country for its decision.