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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 62

Recent Legislation

page 6

Recent Legislation.

This will be a fitting place to offer a few remarks on the recent legislation of the Colony. There should be no more interesting study for any politician or social reformer on this side the world than Colonial politics. Vested interests and old associations are so strong in this country, that it takes many years before a reform which may be almost universally approved can be carried out, whereas in the Colonies there are few impediments preventing the conversion of theories into practice. I am not sure that the rapidity and ease with which changes are effected in the Colonies is good; but the political student should not quarrel with this; for whether he regard them as reforms or fads, as a study they are none the less interesting. Then the Colonies, being far in advance of the Mother Country in the matter of the education of the people, and the intelligent interest taken in political and social questions, it may be surmised that the political opinions prevailing to-day in the Colonies provide an index of public opinion here twenty-five years hence. Most of the English papers have recently been loud in their denunciation of the policy pursued in the Colonies by what they term the "Labour Party." I use the term "Labour Party," because that is the term generally applied to men who have been chosen as representatives in Parliament from the ranks of the working men; but, as far as New Zealand is concerned, it cannot be said that these men have ever tried to form themselves into a separate party, and they have always deprecated the notion that they exclusively represented any particular class. It has been assumed that the working men of the Colonies, under a franchise which is practically equivalent to universal suffrage, have commenced a political warfare against capital, and a reckless demand for the expenditure of large sums of borrowed money on public works. The most extravagant and wild statements have been made, and some papers have gone so far as to lead the public to believe that the New Zealand Government, driven nolens volens by the Labour Party, is rushing on at galloping speed towards confiscation of private property and repudiation of the public debt. Such words as confiscation and repudiation do not exist in our Colonial political vocabulary, and I hope they will become obsolete here as applied to the Colonies. There is not a tittle of evidence to prove that the rights of meum and tuum are less religiously recognised in the Antipodes than here, and the standard of commercial morality is quite as high in the Colonies as in this country. But if Colonials page 7 are not credited with honesty, at least credit them with common sense. The standard of intelligence is not lower in the Colonies than here, and the Colonials know full well that foreign capital is a necessity for the development of the resources of the Colonies and the profitable occupation of labour, and that to drive away capital or tax it unduly would be the most insane act that could possibly be committed.

It is a matter of general interest to note the demands of the so-called Labour Party in New Zealand. So far from the representatives, who are said to specially represent the workers, clamouring for the expenditure of borrowed money on public works, they have in New Zealand adopted quite a different policy. It is only fair to them to point out that they have hitherto been in the vanguard of those who have advocated retrenchment in Government expenditure, and they are generally strong opponents of further borrowing. This, as I said before, is contrary to the prevailing opinions formed here of the policy of the Labour Party, who are erroneously supposed to exert their influence in extravagant demands for public expenditure. The cardinal plank in the programme of these men in New Zealand is a demand that greater facilities shall be offered for enabling men to take up and settle on land. They hold that the public expenditure of the past has resulted in enriching individuals, but has not permanently improved the condition of the working man, and they demand, not public works expenditure, but economical administration with its corollary, reduced taxation and greater facilities for settling the waste lands of the Crown.