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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 63

Chapter VI. — The Three Resolutions

Chapter VI.

The Three Resolutions.

There was a sound of revelry by night,
And Belgium's capital had gathered then
Her beauty and her chivalry; and bright
The lamps shone o'er fair women and brave men.
A thousand hearts beat happily, and when
Music arose with its voluptuous swell
Soft eyes looked love to eyes, that spake again,
And all when merry as a marriage bell.
But hush! hark! a deep sound strikes like a rising knell.

It was at a period of perfect calm in the political world of New Zealand that the famous resolutions of Mr. Vogel were promised to the Assembly. On the 31st of July the Hon. Dr. Pollen in the Council, during a debate on the Constitution Bill, used the following words: "This is emphatically a quiet time. What an honorable friend of mine was wont to call the political atmosphere is absolutely serene at present, even upon the distant horizon; it is difficult to see the small cloud out of which any violent tempest or disturbance may possibly emerge. Whether it is that the policy of immigration and public works is eminently and page 20 entirely acceptable to the public, or whether this serenity arises from the confidence which the Assembly and people repose in his Excellency's present advisers, it is not for me to determine." But the small cloud was there, though Dr. Pollen could not see it. At the very moment that Dr. Pollen was giving utterance to the somewhat self-complacent and inflated words above quoted Mr. Fitzherbert was in the other House delivering that philippic against Mr. Vogel which brought down upon himself and the House, on August the 4th, the Premier's now historic sentences :—"It seems to me there can be but one reply—Abolish the provinces of the North Island."

In a week that which was at the time considered but an idle threat, made in retaliation, assumed shape and substance, and the three Resolutions were brought down. They are as follow :—"That this House is of opinion that taking the circumstances of the Colony into consideration the Provincial form of Government in the North Island should be abolished : and that in the measure giving effect to the same there should also be included a provision declaring Wellington to be the seat of government of the colony, and for continuing the localisation of the land revenue, in accordance with what is known as the compact of 1856."

It was evident, however, that Julius Vogel was not the only mover in these resolutions. It was also evident that he had gone outside the Ministry to seek inspiration, for Mr. O'Rorke, to his honor be it said, at once rose in the House and left the Ministry; because these resolutions, having been suddenly and without consideration brought clown, struck at the Provincial system of Auckland, which he had always held sacred. Honesty is always refreshing in these days, especially in the Assembly. As we have seen, Mr. Thomas Russell was concerned in the preparation; and besides this the House could truly say, like the Patriarch when deceived by Jacob, "The voice is Vogel's voice, but the hands are the hands of Stafford" So far, however, as Mr. Vogel is concerned the Resolutions do not seem to be the result of honest conviction, but merely a fresh bid for popularity in anticipation of a general election—the first to secure the vote of the Centralists, the second the Wellington vote, and the third that of the two great Southern Provinces : Otago and Canterbury. Perhaps the second resolution may be altogether eliminated. It contains no principle, and can only be said to be a question of usefulness, of public convenience, and of expediency. It is also settled, so far as it can be settled, by the private and dishonest agreement that it should be left out of the Bill, but that a large vote should be taken for public buildings in Wellington, which, being expended, the question would be practically decided. Irrespective of the merits of the the question this proceeding was an outrage upon political decency. Representatives then said—"Oh! yes; do that. We get out of a difficulty with our constituents. Leave it out of the Bill, so that we can tell our people that it is so to be left out, and thus deceiving them we shall be safe from their displeasure, and the same end will be accomplished." It will be wise, therefore, simply to consider the two questions which remain.

Mr. Vogel's plan for governing the North Island.

It is a fortunate thing that before leaving Auckland Mr. Vogel announced himself more fully upon the proposed Government of the page 21 North Island when the Provinces are abolished. There is, it seems, to be local government, which will be a reality and not a sham, and abundant means are to be found for all the purposes of good government, both that which is now the work of the General Government, and that which is Provincial. This is upon its face clear nonsense. The sole reason urged for the destruction of the North Island Provinces is that they are bankrupt. Without local and provincial taxation they cannot live and work. Without entering here into the merits of the case, it is yet a fact that the General Government can afford to give but the most paltry assistance to the Provinces; and yet Mr. Vogel is about to localise the goldfields' revenue and the license fees—two of the largest sources of the Provincial chest—and with what remains he will carry on the work of a vigorous administration. No saving can be effected in the present administration. Take the Province of Auckland for example. The only offices abolished will be that of the Superintendent and his Executive; but all their salaries will be more than absorbed in the salary of the Resident Minister at Auckland, proposed by Mr. Vogel. Every Provincial servant must be continued by the General Government, for it is notorious that the Provincial officers do more work and get less pay than their brethren in the General Government employ. All the funds now sustaining the public institutions of the Province will be "localised," which means that Mr. Vogel is making a bid for the votes of Auckland, the Thames, Coromandel, Tauranga, Waikato, and other places where there would be any revenue to localise. It would be a good and wise thing if it could be accomplished, but Mr. Vogel well knows it cannot. Supposing, however, that this localization be carried into effect: where, then, is the money to come from for education, for hospitals, lunatic asylums, gaols, and all other public institutions. For the province of Auckland alone at least fifty thousand pounds a-year must at once be provided. From whence? Not certainly from the consolidated revenue. Our Southern friends will say—and, indeed, under those circumstances justly say—"Oh!—no—wo pay for our institutions ourselves—let Auckland do the same. We are able to enrich our schools and colleges with princely endowments that in future years will give to our children an education equal to that of the public schools and universities of England. We sympathise with Auckland. We trust that she may be able to give to young Auckland a systematic and diligent training in those liberal arts which soften the manners of men, nor suffer them to be brutal; but they really cannot expect that we should do it for them. We support our schools in a very handsome way, and they must not touch the consolidated revenue—already too heavily drawn upon—but must educate their own children themselves. As for the Auckland gaols, they must sustain themselves. Criminals are a luxury, and if the people of Auckland will have criminals they must pay for them. So also in relation to hospitals and asylums. We really cannot be expected to provide these for Auckland; they must support these themselves. If a mysterious Providence will insist that there shall be old and infirm people in Auckland, and accidents and diseases to the poor, and that mental aberration shall afflict men there, really it is no affair of ours. We might just as well be asked to support the benevolent asylums of Madagascar or the hospitals of Japan." The only possible source from whence the necessary funds can be obtained is by levying a page 22 special local tax upon the people of the North Island for these purposes. Indeed if the South were willing that the cost should be borne by the consolidated revenue it would be found that that revenue could not bear it. After this year the general revenue of the country will not be sufficient to pay the yearly charges upon it. It would therefore be idle even to suggest that it should bear additional burdens. One source, as I have said, alone remains. But if such a tax were levied would the people pay it? As Mr. Vogel said in Auckland, "Endurance has its limits." If the people, already groaning beneath the yoke of an almost intolerable taxation, find that this change of Government means merely increased taxation; with the lavish wealth and expenditure of Otago and Canterbury flaunted in their faces, who will answer for their quiet submission to what they cannot but feel to be a crying and enormous injustice. The spirit of Hampden and Cromwell, of Milton and Washington, yet lives and breathes in every community of our countrymen. Supposing, however, that this difficulty were met, only half the task of the Government is accomplished. What is to become of Nelson, Westland, and Marlborough? How will they exist. Year by year their position must become more galling. The General Government will increase, as indeed they must, the taxation of the individual colonists living in those provinces. Can their Provincial Councils tax as well? They cannot. What then will they do? They may ask for assistance from the consolidated revenue. But how remote will be their chance of obtaining such assistance. The colonial exchequer will be drained. You cannot take the "breeks" of a Highlandman, nor squeeze water from a dry sponge, nor drain blood out of a stone. But if the colonial exchequer were full the three Southern Provinces would then be met by two opposite cries. Otago and Canterbury would say "Oh! they must help themselves. We support our institutions; let them support theirs." While from the North Island would come a still more bitter cry : "We cannot allow this. We not only pay as much as you to the general revenue, but we are ruinously burdened with local taxation also. You people of Nelson, Westland, and Marlborough have assisted through your members to lay these terrible burdens upon us, and you cannot in common justice ask us to pay towards those institutions in your provinces which you have compelled us to pay extra for in our own." Now, the people of those three provinces have a potential voice. Their members can turn the scale, and if they are true to the interests of their constituents and the Colony they will do it. They can carry the total abolition of all the provincial institutions of New Zealand, and thus equalise all burdens, and place all: North, South, East, and West upon a permanent equal footing. Leaving for a time the consideration of this first Resolution let us look at the third,