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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 63

Chapter IX. — Conclusion

page 46

Chapter IX.


Trust no future, howe'er pleasant;
Let the dead past bury its dead.
Act, act in the living present,
Heart within, and God o'erhead.

The crisis of our history is reached. It remains to be seen what the result will be.

There is a tide in the affairs of men
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.

The Resolutions of last Session have indeed but brought us at once face to face with the problems which must be solved before New Zealand can fairly start from a new departure. To this time the Provincial form of Government has been useful; but the circumstances have vastly changed. The distant portions of the Colony are now more closely connected than London and Edinburgh were fifty years ago. The means of traffic, both for passengers and merchandize, are now numerous and convenient. Twenty years have changed the scattered hamlets of this country into thriving towns. Roads now, like arteries in the human frame, convey the throbbing tide of life to and fro, and carry vigor and sensation to the farthest extremity. And upon the ocean, which sweeps and sways along the vast coast-line of these islands, upon that, the greatest road of all, the highway of nations, there glides for ever, day and night, in storm and calm, by sail and steam, one ceaseless procession of ships—binding, as in an unbroken chain and network of commerce, all New Zealand together in its vast embrace. Electricity takes from Auckland to Invercargill the messages of trade, or the words of affection with the speed of lightning, and as swiftly bears back the answer. The great towns and cities are all now the subjects of Municipal Government. The out-districts, in their turn, are governed by their local bodies. Everywhere the talents of colonists are being called into exercise, and everywhere we behold the evidences of an advancing state of civilization, Nor must we forget that all these things are firmly rooted and growing. No final breaking-up, or indeed long interruption of inter-communication is possible. A telegraph-post may fall, or a wire may break, or, perhaps, the natives may for a little time cause a temporary cessation, but these are only questions of a few days. That which has been done is done for ever. So also in the means of transit. A storm may stop it for a day or two, but when the storm sinks down the traffic, with its white sails and rushing wheels, will reassert its existence and dominion. The necessity for Provincial Governments no longer exists. The Central Government is now by the post, the press, and telegraph close to us. Indeed, to many of the out-lying districts of each Province Wellington is now much more accessible than their own Provincial capital was only a few years since. To these out-lying districts Provincialism was never very agreeable; and to it they are still averse. The Provinces must go. Not because some are poor must they only vanish from the stage; not to suit the pettish ill-temper of a fretful Premier must some of these great territorial divisions and semi-independent powers be swept away; page 47 but because the time has come when the conditions of things demand it. The very position of the Provinces is, perhaps, the strongest argument. Some are bankrupt, weak, and dying, while the minority of two are rich, strong, vigorous and self-assertive. What does this shew but that the Colony, for the welfare of all, must strike away these fearful differences, and make all equal in material wealth, at least so far as the taxation of the country and the upholding of Government is concerned. The Legislative powers of the Provinces are now a farce. There was reason in them in past days, when, from isolation, each Province was, as it were, a distinct community; but this is now merely a tradition. We are accustomed in the Colonies to rejoice at the assertion that in these new countries we have no prejudices to overcome; no ancient and hereditary abuses to encounter; no slavery question as they had till recently in the United States; no game laws (?) : no Church tithes; no civil or religious tyranny; no class legislation or difference, as in Great Britain. It really is enough to draw a smile to the features of a stone image, for here, at the very threshold of our national career, we are told of vested interests and peculiar institutions in New Zealend. It does not need four centuries, it does not require half-a-dozen generations of men to make a superstition, or prejudice, or a national wrong. In twenty years the Provincial Governments and the Land Fund have become as hard and fixed in their distinctive features as though the storms and the sunshine of five hundred years had hardened them into hoary age. The existence of Provincial institutions, and the removing the Land Fund from its proper position, that is, as a means of enabling the people to bear the public obligations, may be demonstrated, so far as such questions can be demonstrated, with almost absolute certainty, as evil. The continuance of these conditions may not only be shown to work a cruel injustice upon the vast majority of the people by insidiously overloading them with taxation, while the minority escape, but also be seen to be dangerous to the peace of the country. It may be shown to be a question of very doubtful policy, even to the two Provinces themselves which are to survive the rest. And still there are found men who will maintain them. And these are the men who exclaim most loudly "We are free from the hereditary prejudices of older lands. No abuses sanctioned by the observance of older lands press unevenly upon any portion of our people. Our institutions are elastic, and work solely for the happiness of the people!" The time has indeed come for the death of Provincial Governments. But not for the reasons given by Mr. Vogel. Nor must the change be partial, else we shall run the risk of a still stronger prejudice, and a still grosser tyranny in future. Otago and Canterbury, existing as Provinces, might easily in any grave political exigency gather to their own vote of thirty-three members ten or a dozen others, and thus the rights and liberty of the other colonists be imperilled. Such a state of things could not last. It could not be endured, nor would it. Because I live in Auckland and not in Dunedin or Christchurch am I therefore not to have an equal right to govern myself or the country with a colonist who resides at those more favoured places? Because I am a settler in the North Island and not in the Provinces of Otago or Canterbury am I to pay a heavier taxation than the settler's in those Provinces? I trow not. I did not come to New Zealand to have my rights unfairly page 48 abridged, nor to be compelled to endure exceptional and partial taxation. The common burdens of the country I am content to share. The common rights and privileges of the people I claim as mine. And it will become a serious question with the great majority of colonists whether, if the Constitutional means of resistance fail, they will not be called on to use other means or seek in some other land the liberty and equality which here they cannot obtain. Are we to be bound for ever to the chariot wheels of Julius Vogel and his ragged company? Thus then our destiny has brought us face us to face with these two questions. So were the people of England brought face to face with the exercise of arbitrary power by the levying of ship money, and by the opposition to the Reform Bill; the people of America by the levying of taxation which they did not themselves impose. We may smile at such comparisons, but they are strictly true; and, unless the people of the Colony rouse themselves from their disgraceful supineness, and speak and act for themselves, they will find it no laughing matter.

Who would be free themselves must strike the blow!

Let the Constituencies awake. Let them compel their representatives to act aright in this matter. There is much to be done. The legislation of the Colony—so lamentably neglected during the past five years has to be attended to. The really important questions which have been neglected in the present Parliament clamour for settlement. The duration of Parliaments, Colonial Education, Liquor Laws, Alteration of the Franchise, Redistribution of Electorates, Consolidation of Statute Law, Administration of Justice, Native Lands and Goldfields Acts, Bankruptcy, Redistribution of Taxation, Payment of Members—all these have been neglected, but they must be swiftly attended to. We have been regarding nothing but the Public Works and Immigration, and the public and private corruption thereon attendant. But first and foremost stand the two Resolutions, and the principles and changes they contain. As the Alps reared their mighty peaks between Napoleon and the peaceful plains and sunny fields of Italy, so these questions arise between us and the true state and theatre of the prosperity of New Zealand. The avalanche, the ravine, the frozen pass, the slippery glacier were to be braved. The snowy heights had to be trodden, the mountain torrent crossed. And amid the ever-lasting snows would many a gallant soldier leave his bones, before the troops could rest their wearied feet upon the green grass and quiet glades of the Southern Land. So with us. Let us but get past the Alps of difficulty, and all these other questions may be well decided. The people must sift out the best of their present representatives, and sending them with new men to Wellington leave out those who are a disgrace to the constituencies. If this be done the most faint-hearted need have no fear for the future of New Zealand. Our history is in that future. We have no past to look back upon, but we must prove ourselves worthy of the loins from whence we sprung. Our Colonial Debt may be large, and the calls it makes upon our resources may be heavy, but if we have an united people we need not be anxious as to the results. New Zealand is rich and fertile. Property is largely increasing in extent and value. It may be that the wealthy classes will be called upon to bear a more proportionate share of the burdens of the country than they now do. They must however remember that it is page 49 good policy as well as justice to lift from the shoulders of labour those weights which would drive it to distant lands. The educated and intellectual too must be prepared to take their share of public duties. They must not abandon the government of the Country to those who, as in many instances in the present House of Representatives, have entered political life simply to make themselves more valuable as an article of commerce. Nor must they think that the position of the true statesman is to be one of ease and comfort. Ease and comfort belong to those who are prepared to give or rather promise whatever is asked; who are willing to buy off their opponents and reward their friends at the expense of the State; who with smooth tongues deceive and beguile the people, nearly always easily led and deceived. Storms will gather thickly enough upon the path of the real and honest politician in New Zealand. A venal Press will constantly assail him. Disappointed plunderers of the public will oppose him at every step. When he shows the true condition of things in order to prepare to meet the future he will be called a prophet of evil, and accused of attempting needlessly and for his own ends to frighten the people. If he attempt to keep much wealth in the country, and prevent an exodus of its working classes by so altering the taxation of the Colony as to make it press equally upon all, he will be assailed on every hand. When he practises that economy which will be absolutely necessary for the existence of Colonial institutions his conduct will be unfavourably contrasted with the lavish and prodigal expenditure of the Vogel Ministry. When he seeks to support and advance measures simply because they are for the public welfare the screams of the birds of prey who are now accustomed to live upon public plunder will echo throughout New Zealand. Every useless hanger-on, every parasite of a corrupt Government, will become his foe, and unless the people support him he will fail in his endeavour. Who will take the helm when Julius Vogel leaves the ship to the storm? For he will not attempt the reforms here shadowed. Nor would the people be inclined to bear additional burdens laid on them by his hands. They would recall too often the words in which he promised them such wonderful prosperity. It is easy to run a nation, a ship, an army, or a reputation into danger, but to extricate either is often difficult. The men who would aspire to rule New Zealand for the next five years must be prepared for the duties and dangers which lie before them. When the old lines and forms of political life are broken they must prepare new moulds in which simplicity and justice will be combined. They must be prepared to heal the sores already manifest in our social and political systems. They must be ready to encounter the unbridled animosity of disappointed and selfish politicians, and the suspicion and fears of large sections of the people. They must be able to unify and consolidate the distracted portions of New Zealand, and by careful management and wise legislation fulfil, through the blessing and approval of the Great Ruler, some of those promises so freely made by Julius Vogel. They must, with eyes as steady and unswerving as the eagle's, with hands strong and unfaltering, with purposes pure, single, and unselfish, fearless of opposition or censure, and careless of popular praise devote themselves to the service of the people. Then will New Zealand take her true position among the colonies of Australasia, and in days to come will inscribe in golden letters against the names of those who shall thus give themselves to the country :—"In the days of New Zealand's danger there were found these men who did their duty."

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Auckland: Reed and Brett, General Printers, "Evening Star" Office, Wyndham Street. 1874