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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 48

[report continues]

The Chairman, in moving the adoption of the report, said: Gentlemen, having laid before you the report, I will move the adoption of it by the Chamber. In doing so I shall not venture to detain you by making many remarks. We have to regret that during the past year we have lost two very valuable members of the Chamber, whom I am sure we are all sorry to miss on the present occasion. Our old friend, Mr Walcott, was always a very active member of the Chamber, and he has rendered excellent services in connection with the Committee; and Mr Tewsley always took a very active part in everything affecting the commercial interests of the port. Both these gentlemen were our representatives at the Harbour Board at the time of their decease, and the vacancy has been filled up, as mentioned in the report, by the nomination of Mr Matheson. I trust the members of the Chamber will be satisfied with the services rendered by the Committee during the past year. You are aware that it has always been a somewhat difficult thing to keep the Committee of the Chamber actively working, and it has been the fashion in time past to grumble a good deal at the inactivity of the Chamber as represented by its Committee. But, gentlemen, you must consider that work of this sort falls upon a somewhat limited number. I am sure I can say for the members of the Committee that they have given very active and hearty service whenever it has been called for from them, and I trust that their labours on behalf of the commercial community have not been altogther without benefit. I do not quite take the same view page 7 of the purpose of a Chamber of Commerce which seems to be entertained by many of the commercial community, who look upon it as a sort of independent machine, which is to keep a close watch over all mercantile interests and continually busy itself by looking into and raising questions bearing upon those interests. I look upon it more as an organisation to be used by the mercantile community, and its efficiency will very largely depend upon what that community make it. Of course its efficiency depends in some measure upon your appointing good members on the Committee to do your work, but it must chiefly and mainly depend upon the interest taken by the mercantile people generally in what concerns them, and it is for the mercantile men to use the Chamber of Commerce, and to set it in motion in respect of matters they look upon as important. The Committee have, I think with good reason, to congratulate the Chamber at the present meeting upon the very much more cheerful prospect of affairs generally, as compared with what they were this time last year. We were then suffering from great depression, both from scarcity of money and the low price of produce, and although we have not quite got into the position we should like to occupy, still in many respects there has been improvement, and I think we may take credit in any case as a mercantile people for the manner in which a very severe crisis has been passed through without anything like a serious disaster or breakdown in trade generally. There have been fewer failures of any consequence, in Otago, and particularly in Dunedin, than in any other part of the Colony, and I think we must show to the world at large as a very prudent and careful commercial people. This view is further borne out by the great restriction in transactions, which is apparent in the diminution of imports to the extent of £653,000. I may say that that is not due to any want of enterprise, or any disinclination to take the fullest benefit of the markets, but is simply the result of prudence, suited to meet the stringency of the times. A number of subjects have been under consideration during the year, which have been referred to the Chamber from time to time, and upon which opinions have been expressed and given effect to. In fact, it has been the practice of the Committee to seek the opinion of the Chamber at large in all matters of serious importance. One or two matters have been dealt with by the Committee of the Chamber, the most important perhaps of which is the one upon which we agreed to join in a petition to America for some remission of the very heavy—the prohibitive duties upon wool going into the United States. I do not know that in the present state of the political world there, this representation is likely to be at all successful, but it is very much to be desired that we should have something like reciprocity of action on the part of our American friends, and that while we continue to take a large portion of their manufactures, they should be content to admit upon something like reasonable terms a produce like wool, which is a first necessity for their manufactures. I will not detain you with further remarks, gentlemen, but simply move the adoption of the report, and express the hope that if members have any matters to bring forward they will do so.

Mr R. Stout had much pleasure in seconding the adoption of the report. He thought the statistics given in the report were very credit- page 8 able to Otago, especially those that had been given by the Commissioner of Railways, which showed that notwithstanding the depression the traffic had gradually and surely increased. As to the imports falling off, no doubt one of the reasons for that was that merchants had been more careful in sending orders Home; but he believed there was another reason, viz., that our local manufactures were gradually increasing, so that the imports, unless our population increased, could not be expected to keep up to their old level. It was not necessary to comment on the report, for it seemed very full and able, and he felt sure that members of the Chamber would be thankful to the Committee for the exertions and care they had exercised in looking after commercial matters during the past year. He could only say that he hardly agreed with the Chairman as to the functions of a Chamber of Commerce. He looked upon it that the Chamber ought to be a body appointed strictly to watch over the commercial interests of Dunedin and neighbourhood—at any rate, of Otago; because, if this were not done, there was such a thing as competition in trade, and the result might be that other ports would gain advantages which Dunedin did not share. In other ports the Chambers of Commerce strictly looked after their own commercial interests, and he thought Dunedin should have an institution for the same purpose.

The adoption of the report was put and carried unanimously.