The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 60
Annual Meeting of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce. — The Chairman's Address
Annual Meeting of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce.
The Chairman's Address.
The duty of moving the adoption of the Committee's Annual Report now devolves upon me according to precedent, and I consider the duty a pleasant one, for I know that the Committee during their year of office have held many meetings, and have devoted much time and care to the numerous questions referred to in their report. I have also the satisfaction of knowing that they have assisted in many ways in promoting local and foreign trade, that their recommendations on the majority of questions which came before them have been given effect to by the Government or other public bodies with whom the Committee have communicated, and I shall thus be spared from making further reference to these subjects than has already been done in the report. I regret that, in attempting to review those other subjects which may, in some way, have had a bearing on the commercial prosperity of this port during our year of office, I shall, as compared with those men of talent and experience who held this position in bygone years, fall very far short in my ability to deal with them. Fortunately, with the assistance of our Acting Secretary, Mr. Menzies, the Committee's report lays before you a concise account of the business of the Chamber during the past twelve months, and I commend it to your careful perusal, along with the tables of statistics to 31st March, which will accompany the report when printed.
Imports and Exports.
Notwithstanding that for a portion of the time under review, commerce throughout the world was paralysed by the prospect of impending war with Russia, and active preparations for defence were of necessity commenced by our own Government at this port, in common with similar preparations at every important strategic or naval centre in the Empire, an examination of these page 18 statistics cannot but afford subject for congratulation, for they indicate substantial progress in the total volume of our trade, in the amount of tonnage visiting our ports, in the traffic on our railways, in the extent of land under crop or grass, in the export of wool and some other staple products. Had we closed our statistical observations on 31st December, the results would have been more favourable, as is shown by-such Customs returns as have been laid before Parliament; but by extending our year to 31st March, there is apparently a slight shrinkage in value in one or two of our exports, amounting in all to £76,000, as compared with previous corresponding twelve months. The decrease is chiefly shown on the export of gold. But we must remember that the previous year showed an increase of £92,000 in our exports. For the twelve months under review our imports have increased by £90,000, the total imports amounting to £2,000,000 sterling, and the total exports, foreign, showing £1,125,000. I think it is necessary that I should attempt to give some explanation of this large balance in favour of imports, as the bare statistics might be misconstrued by those who are not familiar with certain facts in connection with the distribution of merchandise and manufacturing industry at this port. Take, for instance, the item of sugar, the imports of which amounted to £700,000 in 1884. A large proportion of this is raw sugar, which, after being subjected to the refining process, and greatly increased in value, is partly distributed to southern ports of this colony, and is not recorded as an export. The value of these southern shipments is estimated at £250,000 for the current year. Then, again, although we are aware that this port is growing in importance as a manufacturing centre, and as a depôt for valuable merchandise, we have as yet to share with coastal ports the honour of exporting the raw produce of our district, which will not bear the expense of transhipment. I am of opinion that the proportion of these figures will be greatly altered during the present twelve months; for owing to the successful starting of meat-freezing works on a large scale we shall be in a position to claim a share of that export, which in 1884 amounted to £345,000 for the colony. But the increasing expansion of our import trade cannot but be viewed satisfactorily, providing that we can observe along with it that increasing industry and prosperity which indicates our ability to pay for the balance of trade. This, I think, members of the Chamber will have no difficulty in doing. Look at the numerous indications which we have that labour is daily creating wealth—viz., in the building of substantial houses, for which, within the limits of the city, 1539 permits were issued within the past year; by the breaking in of 112,000 acres of virgin land; the building of 16 new registered vessels of medium tonnage; the manning and freighting of 240 sailing vessels and page 60 60 steamers belonging to the port; the constructing and completion of 37 additional miles of railway; by our large new graving dock, our tramways, and by the industrial work of a permanent nature to which all these improvements tend. Briefly stated, our imports amount to rather over one-fourth of that of the whole colony. Time, I think, will show that our exports and manufactures will assume proportionate figures. It is said that the average proportion of the imports and exports of all nations shows the declared value of imports to be 12 per cent, in excess of exports. Some free-traders call the apparently difficult problem of the deficiency the pons asinorum, and say that communities maintaining the highest difference are the most industrially prosperous.
I shall refer very briefly to one or two of our staple exports. On referring to our Government statistics extending back for 30 years, I find that the last two years, 1883 and 1884, stand at the head of the list for quantity and value of kauri gum exported, the production for 1883 being stated at 6,518 tons, worth £336,000, and for 1884 being stated at 6,393 tons worth £342,000. Our Secretary's statistics show that the climax has been reached for the present, and as I am informed, owing to the competition of other gums which high prices have called forth in the great markets of the world, we may expect to see a considerably lower total at the end of the present year. It is gratifying to know that after taking from the ground within 32 years the enormous quantity of 95,000 tons, valued at over £3,000,000 sterling—but which at present values would be worth nearly £4,000,000—the supply shows but little sign of an approaching termination, but, on the contrary, it would seem that, given a certain price, and the supply is maintained by more diligent seeking. By those who would rejoice to see new channels opened for the skill and industry of our rising population, the wish has often been expressed that some portion of this valuable export should be subjected to manufacture here, in preference to exchanging only in its crude state the entire product which is so liberally yielded to us by mother earth.
Turning for a moment to our timber production, you are aware that the foreign exports of kauri pine record but a small portion of the result of this most important branch of industry as compared with the quantity produced, manufactured locally, or shipped coastwise. What little information can be gleaned from the Customs returns is gratifying from an industrial point of view, in that it shows a considerable increase in the quantity and value of dressed timber exported last year, being nearly equal in value to page 20 that of sawn timber (together valued at £130,000). The total production of sawn kauri has been estimated for the year at about 75 million feet or upwards, representing 115 million feet of logs. Of this quantity about one-half is used locally, the balance shipped southward or exported. The wages expended is estimated at £220,000 annually, there being 2200 men employed. The capital invested is variously valued at £700,000 to £1,000,000 sterling. From the abundant supply of logs floated down the creeks by recent rainfalls, and the satisfactory demand existing, it is supposed that the production for the next twelve months will be on a still larger scale.
Referring to the conservation of our forests, I must confess that it has often struck me that when expressing gratification at the great productive powers of our saw-mills, we cannot but feel regret that every vibration of the saw but brings us nearer to a time when, although it may yet be far in the future, the strictly finite quantity of marketable kauri must cease to exist. I had cherished a hope that certain of the forests yet in the hands of the Government could have been reserved from sale and kept for the benefit of young New Zealand, who in twenty or thirty years hence might decide for themselves what they thought best to do with them. But after making careful inquiry, I have the almost unanimous opinion of experts that, so far as our indigenous kauri bushes are concerned, to attempt to conserve them is simply to waste them, exposed as they are to the fires of the gum-seeker, and that the persistent working of them is becoming yearly more of a necessity. But all forests are not equally susceptible to this danger, and it is to be hoped that some practical good may come of the proposed legislation on this question as affecting the vast totara, kahikatea, and other bushes of the interior. Then, as to tree planting. Mr. Baber, of Remuera, in his practical paper, recently read before the Auckland Institute, shows most conclusively, from his own experience and observation, that within an average lifetime many of our indigenous trees, particularly the puriri, pohutakawa and totara, can be grown to become a source of profit. A great element of future wealth, therefore, hangs in the balance of our legislators' decision at present, both as regards native bush and tree planting.
New Industries, Coal, and Gold Mining,
One of the most pleasant experiences of your Committee during their year of office was that which brought prominently before them the great number of manufacturing industries now in existence, while assisting to promote their representation at the New Zealand Exhibition. It would be impossible, in the time now at my disposal, to attempt to describe these manufactures, but when I say that exhibits of great value and importance have been entered page 21 from 125 manufacturers, and that these probably represent only a small portion of the factories in existence, you will understand that there is vitality in this branch of trade. Our sugar-refining and meat-preserving works I have already referred to. Tobacco growing and cigar manufacturing appear to have proved a success. Mr. Walsh informs me that 80 acres of tobacco have been grown last season, yielding in some cases half-a-ton to the acre. Mr. Vollbracht estimates next season's planting at 200 acres. The lesson of industry formerly taught us by the bees is now taught by the bee-keepers. Mr. Hayr informs us that 80 tons of honey are produced this year; that it is a growing industry, and has encouraged along with it an extensive manufacture of bee-keepers' requisites. Biscuits, doors and sashes, canned fruit, pottery, sauces, cement, furniture, cheese, flax, rope, iron-smelting, ironwork, fish-curing, leather, boots, saddlery, marble-work, coach-building-work may just be mentioned as amongst the exhibits. It is of the highest importance to know that for such manufactures as depend on a supply of cheap coal the output of our local mines is rapidly and steadily increasing, the total output being shown to be 106,000 tons for the past year. Our gold fields during the same twelve months produced 39,484ozs. valued at £156,633, but it is confidently expected that by improved methods of gold saving now being introduced, and by the opening of new mines that an increased yield will be shown for the current year.
Bills of Lading.
In September, 1883, this Chamber forwarded a resolution to the London Chamber and other friends, recommending that steps should be taken to procure legislation by which shipowners would be compelled to issue only an equitable form of bill of lading, and by which they would be prevented from contracting themselves out of the ordinary liabilities of common carriers. The Imperial Parliament has not yet been moved to adopt this course, neither do I think they will readily consent, considering that the proposal involves a question of Government interference with the freedom of contract, and as it is a principle of civil law that the goodness or the badness of a bargain is the affair of those who make it, the powerful opposition of the shipowners' interest will have a claim to support. The United States Congress, influenced by the New York Chamber of Commerce, did introduce such a bill, but it was rejected by the Senate.
I was glad to observe that at the date of recent advices from England a committee of the London Chamber was interviewing shipowners with a view of settling the vexed question mutually. It is to be hoped that shipowners will see their way to resume some portion of the liability formerly admitted.
The Customs Tariff.
Having so recently debated this question and resolved thereon, I shall only briefly refer to it. The Chamber declares for free trade, but the Colonial Treasurer wants money, and has been unwilling to adopt new modes of direct taxation. The compromise, therefore, must be in the direction of simplifying the tariff, exhausting the taxes on luxuries and vanities, and, if necessaries must be taxed for revenue purposes, by all means consider intelligently what effect these taxes will have in initiating or developing natural industries—not those of an exotic nature. I know that this is treading on debatable ground; but much as I would like to see the Custom-house swept away, and its iron grip on the distributing industry removed for ever, no such sweeping change can be effected except after years of patience and of compromise.
Intimately connected with the tariff question is one referred to in the report which, but for the reason that it is pressed upon us by the London Chamber, we would probably have considered to be beyond our scope. But courtesy demands that we should unite with our London brethren in promoting a great work, if on mature consideration we can adopt their views. In this position is the question of Imperial federation, the uniting of the future five millions of Australasians—the number predicted within ten years hence—in a federal bond of union with every portion of the greatest empire that the world has ever seen. After hearing the favourable opinions of leading statesmen from all sides of politics, the philosophic reasoning of such a man as Professor Seeley, of Cambridge, and the support which the question has received from Colonial politicians as regards a federal defence, we need have no hesitation in throwing in our lot with them. But Mr. John Bright says the whole thing is "childish and absurd," for, says he, "these colonies have adopted protective tariffs." There is just a suspicion that the London Chamber has carefully considered the question from a tariff point of view also, and as they "look into the future," they see visions of the Royal assent being withheld from a purely protective Customs Tariff Act, or from that species of Reciprocity Act which denies to the mother country privileges conferred on nearer neighbours.
Native Land Surveys.
It will be the duty of the new Committee to make some representation to the Government on the question of proceeding with the opening of the King Country.
Elaborate details of traffic are given in the tables of statistics. The question of railway management is before the Committee, an page 23 they are awaiting the Public Works Statement. As Mr. Vaile has special resolutions on this subject I shall defer further remarks.
On the subject of technical education only one word. The Committee, I think, are justified in claiming that their representations have borne fruit, if, as is announced, we are to have Government assistance for a School of Mines, a School of Agriculture, and a School of Forestry. With reference to the first-mentioned, it is now generally admitted, that, to obtain the best results from our gold mines an expert knowledge of chemistry, mineralogy, and geology is becoming yearly more requisite.
The Committee have made but brief reference to this subject. The Act is being tested on its merits. I consider that those who have the misfortune to appear as creditors under the Act have much reason to be thankful that the department here is in the hands of an assignee who has proved himself most zealous in administering its details. The Committee have a copy of a valuable report from Mr. Lawson now under their consideration, and, as the Committee's report also states, Mr. Waymouth has given us his views and Mr. Cooper has promised assistance.
As to the Future of the Port and District of Auckland.
Has anything occurred during the past twelve months to defer the realisation of the hopes expressed by retiring Presidents of this Chamber for many years past? I say, on the contrary, everything points onward as before, until the imagination fails to picture the ultimate greatness of this privileged natural home of commerce. The outlet for future railway lines, tapping all parts of the interior, south and north; the deep-water depôt for a nation's fleet; favoured with the attractive benefits which health-giving springs bestow on the pleasure-seeker and the suffering: climatic conditions and natural resources unequalled for certain branches of agriculture, grazing, gold-mining, or other forms of industry; semi-circled by a thousand "summer isles" of extreme fertility, whose produce must be shared with us and ours with them,—what is there wanting but good laws, peace, and diligence to realise a commercial splendour which less favoured cities can never aspire to?
I now propose the adoption of the report and balance-sheet.page 24
Mr. G. Aickin said the duty now devolved on him to second the proposal made, and he did so with great pleasure. The report was a clear and concise statement of business, and the excellent address was such as they might well congratulate their Chairman upon. With liberty from the Chairman and members, he would refer to some matters which should occupy the attention of the Committee next year. First, there was the North Island Trunk Railway. In 1882 an Act was passed authorising the raising of a million loan, so soon as plans were prepared and laid before the House. This had been done, and now the Government were doing something towards making the railway, but were only making partial progress. Two small contracts had been let, and they had the statement of the Hon. Mr. Richardson that the whole work could be completed in three years, but according to the progress now being made it would take ten years to obtain through communication with Wellington. The attention of the Government should be urged towards floating the loan for this railway and completing it as speedily as possible, especially at this juncture, when our credit stood high in the Home money market. Another question was that of wharfage accommodation. At the last annual meeting the subject was before the Chamber, and since then it had been stated that in respect to wharf and shed accommodation they were behind the rest of the Colony. If true this was not creditable to the port, which had a wealthy Harbour Board and was the first port in the Colony. They certainly should not be the last to take steps in this direction, and the Committee should urge that necessary wharf and shed accommodation be provided. On a previous occasion, when speaking of the harbour, reference was made to the port of Auckland as a naval station, and the necessity of calling the attention of the Imperial authorities to the advisability of making this a naval depot. There were still greater reasons now to advance in favour of the argument. They had a large dock under contract, which would be capable of taking in any of Her Majesty's ships, and in other respects they could show from its geographical position, and for many other good reasons, that this port was most suitable for a naval depot. There was another question, a burning question, which would also have to engage the attention of the Committee—that was the question of railway management. Mr. Vaile would, no doubt, refer to this matter, but he thought they should try to drive it into the official mind that business men should have a share in framing the railway tariff and its management. Reference had been made by the Chairman in his address to railways north of Auckland. After the Main Trunk Line had been dealt with, attention should be paid to giving the agricultural districts north of Auckland railway communication. If struggling settlers had lines to markets the local bodies could themselves provide roads to the railway. In regard to foreign trade, the Chamber should have the fullest information on their shelves for the use of members. Their President had referred to the question of technical education in connection with an Agricultural College or School of Mines for this district, and properly so. The Chamber had done some good in this respect; but they should not be content with mere promises—they must seek for its completion. Here they had a sub-trcopical climate and special soil, requiring exceptional treatment. He had no doubt the new Committee would keep these questions steadily in view and vigilantly observe matters of moment to the community.
Mr. Mcmillan said he congratulated the Chairman on his able address delivered. He showed judgment in keeping clear of debatable ground, and the report and address were creditable to the Chamber. There was one suggestion he had to throw out, and that was in regard to the question of borrowing, viz., that, with the exception of the loan for the North Island Trunk Railway, no more money should be borrowed. The Committee would have to watch this, as an effort would be made to obtain loans for the East and West Coast Railway. It was quite a mistake to suppose that only lands on the East and West coast would be liable for deficiencies on these railways. All the lands in the Colony would be liable; and it would be the duty of the page 25 Committee to see that the subject was kept prominently in view. He hoped the new Chairman would try to make his year of office marked by having wharves properly constructed and proper shed accommodation provided. In regard to the naval depot, he hoped the Committee would devote their attention to railways and the port and leave that out of the question. A large sum had been voted for an Admiral's house at Sydney, so that the question of making this the naval port might be left out of the question, and they should devote all their attention to the railways, especially the Trunk Railway, which, as they were told, should be done in three years, but which at the present rate of progress was more likely to take ten years.
The motion for the adoption of the report was then put and carried.
The following new members were ballotted for and elected:—Messrs, E. Waymouth, F. Ireland, M. Davis, C. J. Sharland, J. F. Churton, C. Atkin, Edmund Bell, James Groom, and Edward Withy.
The Chairman proposed the following officers for the ensuing year:—President, Mr. G. Aickin; Vice-President, Mr. A. H. Nathan; Committee, Messrs. G. Harper, II. Brett, J. M. Shera, J. Ross, R. C. Carr, and G. Holdship. In doing so he said the Chamber was fortunate in securing the eonsent of a gentleman who had so large experience in public bodies to accept the position of Chairman.
Mr. L. D. Nathan, in seconding the proposition, said that last year Mr. Aickin, being then Chairman of the Harbour Board, had stood aside, and he agreed with the Chairman that they were fortunate in now having a man of his experience to take the position of Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce.
The motion was put and carried.
Mr. Aickin thanked the Chamber for the honour conferred on him, and the proposer and seconder of the motion for the kind remarks they had made regarding himself. He would endeavour to attend faithfully to the duties of the office, so that through his term of office they should not lag behind. In reference to his retirement last year he considered it had been a gain to the Chamber, for Mr. Reid had spared neither time nor money. He instanced how he had taken up the position of entertainer to the delegates from the Chamber of Commerce going to the South Sea Islands. He (Mr. Aickin) would be happy if he was able to place so good a record before them next year, and he had great pleasure in proposing "That the Chamber accord its hearty thanks to Mr Reid for his services during the past year."
Mr. Holdship seconded the proposition, and it was carried unanimously.
Mr. Reid said he felt during his term of office that there were many departments in which he could not shine, but he had struggled through to the best of his ability, and was pleased to find that the Chamber was satisfied with what he had done. He was gratified that now they had got as Chairman a man who had public experience. Mr Reid then referred to the many calls on the time of a President of the Chamber, and concluded by returning thanks for the vote of thanks accorded to him.
Differential Railway Charges.
Mr. S. Vaile, in accordance with notice, moved—1. "That in the opinion of this Chamber the 'differential rating' imposed against Auckland by the 'scale of fares, rates, and charges' now in use on the New Zealand Railways is unfair and unjust, and that it ought to be at once removed. 2. That copy of this resolution be forwarded to the Auckland members, with a request that they will bring this matter forcibly under the attention of the Government." In moving the resolutions Mr. Vaile said he would not have brought them up but that he had been urged by many gentlemen in the country to do so. In page 26 travelling through the country he found that there was an unfortunate feeling existing regarding not only this Chamber, but all Chambers of Commerce, that they only studied the interests of the city, and not those of the country, and that the interests of the city and country were not identical. He had done his best to remove that impression. He had been written to to bring this matter under the notice of the Chamber. Since he spoke in Invercargill and Dunedin action had been taken in regard to differential charges, and they had been removed. He also spoke in Wellington, and a deputation of the Chamber of Commerce had waited on the Minister of Public Works, but with what result he did not know. Mr. Vaile pointed out a number of anomalies in the charges between the South and the North, and also in the North Island railways themselves—as, for instance, the variance in the charges from Auckland to Cambridge and from Auckland to Te Awamutu. Having pointed out this differential rating in several classes, he proposed the resolutions of which he had given notice.
Mr. Andrew Bell seconded the resolutions, and said the labour taken by Mr. Vaile on the question of railways deserved all commendation. In the country, as he knew from his own experience, there were complaints from one end to the other, and he hoped these matters would receive the consideration of the Committee.
Mr. Lamb said it had to be taken into consideration that the Waikato railway had to travel through a large expanse of country from which there was no return, and where there was no one living, so that the profits of one portion were eaten up by the other; but there was one matter on which they had to congratulate themselves, and that was the cheapness of their railways as compared with other colonies. There was only one colony which had an income above their own, so that if they compared with other colonies they had no reason to be ashamed. Of course the Committee should look into this matter of differential rates.
Mr. Lodder said that as nearly the whole of the traffic beyond Helensville passed through his hands, he had taken some steps, and had consulted Mr. Maxwell on the subject. His reply was that where one ton was shipped here ten tons were shipped in the South. He had asked Mr. Maxwell to adopt the ordinary shipping rules, and make only five or six classes, but nothing had been done. He thought. Mr. Vaile deserved every credit for the way in which he had stuck to this matter, and thought the differential rating should be abolished.
Mr. G. Aickin said, to disabuse the minds of the country settlers, he might say that two years ago, when Mr. Nathan was President, this matter had been brought up by Mr. Vaile, and they referred the matter to the Government, and they should still keep on until they got the injustice rectified.
Mr. Vaile replied, and referring to the question of local managing Boards, said they would only be buffers between the Government and the public. They would get all the blame, the Government would get all the credit, and the people would have all the loss.
The Chairman supported the resolutions, and said that last year there was a conference of Chambers of Commerce in Wellington, which recommended the appointment of non-political Boards of Management for railways. Personally he had an objection to these conferences, and thought this Chamber quite able to manage its own affairs.
The motion was then put and carried.
On the motion of the Chairman, seconded by Mr. Brett, Mr. J. Way-mouth was re-elected Auditor.
On the motion of the Chairman, a vote of thanks was accorded to the retiring Committee, and Mr. Matthew Clark returned thanks on their behalf.
This concluded the proceedings.