Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 63

The Compact of 1856

The Compact of 1856.

Here we are at once met by two propositions, the first being that in 1856 a certain compact was made in relation to the Land Fund, and the second that it is desirable to recognise that compact and make it unalterable. It is necessary that this subject should be approached with extreme moderation. The calm and dispassionate attention, therefore, of the reader is invited to the consideration of a question of momentous importance Unless the third Resolution be thus considered, and in this spirit page 23 determined, it threatens to rend New Zealand into fragments. It is well that we as a people have nearly twelve months in which to weigh the whole matter, and to view it from every stand-point. What, then, is the "compact" which is alluded to? In the year 1856 there were, as there have ever been in New Zealand, two parties—one headed by Mr. Fox, and the other by Mr. Stafford. Each party had its separate and opposing principles. Mr. Fox contended that the Provinces should be assimilated to the United States of America; that the Land Fund should be Colonial, and the Customs Provincial revenue. Mr. Stafford held that Land Fund should be Provincial, and a small portion of Customs revenue should be used for the purposes of general government. Prior to this time the Land Fund was by the Constitution liable to certain public liabilities. The question in 1856 was to pay off these liabilities, including a claim by the New Zealand Company. To a certain time Mr. Fox was in a majority, but only a majority of one. By-and-bye Mr. Travel's came up from Nelson to Auckland, then the seat of Government, and being an adherent of Mr. Stafford, the votes became equal. Still, however, Mr. Fox was in a majority, for it was well known that the Speaker of the House was in his favour; when, to every one's surprise, Dr. Campbell suddenly turned on a division, and walked into the lobby with Mr. Stafford. In such trivial incidents do the larger events of history find their source! It may well be doubted whether if Dr. Campbell had not thus strangely voted with Mr. Stafford the Land Fund would not to this clay have been Colonial revenue, and liable primarily to the whole burden of the public debt. And so little of actual interest upon the question itself was felt in its thus peculiar decision that when Mr. Robert Graham and Captain Daldy asked Dr. Campbell why he had thus acted, that gentlemen replied, "I thought I was bound in honor to vote with my party." It is not too much to say that out of that thoughtless vote has arisen the present state of things which bids fair to convulse New Zealand from end to end. Afterwards a series of resolutions was carried, but it was disallowed by the Imperial Government. Power, however, was given to the Colonial Parliament to alter the Constitution within certain limits. In 1858 was passed an Act called "The Land Revenues Appropriation Act," by which the land revenue of the different Provinces was to be paid to the credit of the respective Provinces in which it was raised. How grotesque is the position of political affairs. The country now beholds Mr. Fox and Mr. Stafford side by side, working in conjunction with Julius Vogel, who has cleverly pledged them both to pass these famous Resolutions! For the Resolutions go but half-way on either subject: only half the Provinces are to be expunged; only half the Land Revenue is to become the property of the General Government! Fox—Stafford—Fitzherbert sole survivors of an Assembly once famous—you who join the miserable present to the happy past—will it be too much to ask you to listen for a moment to the advice of a younger man than yourselves, of one who dreamed not of visiting the Britain of the South when you were lighting her standard to the morning winds, but still one who loves New Zealand as well perhaps as you, and who sees in her the infant who will expand and grow thro' storm and sunshine to a glorious queen? Will you not join together in this coming day of storm and tumult to lead the country into peace? Throw away all half measures. Realize the perils of the page 24 situation. Bury the hatchet, and together, side by side, determine these questions; and as you once led the people to the first enjoyment of Constitutional government, now guide them through the dangers of the straits which they have entered. These objects once achieved, all other reforms will follow. The Assembly, no longer the scene and theatre of contending Provinces, will set itself to the great task of governing an united Colony, and the wild chaos at present existing will rapidly subside into regularity and order. Thus then the Land Revenue Act was passed, and since that time the two questions, the Provincial and the Land Revenue, have stood like gloomy shades in the path of this Colony. Sooner or later they must be swept away, and at last the time seems to have arrived. It behoves the people of New Zealand in all places to see that the work is done once and for ever. We have seen the origin of the so-called compact of 1856. Supposing, however, that there ever was such a compact, we must not forget that the public safety is the supremo law. If such a state of circumstances ever arose as would make it necessary for the public welfare that the public lands should be resumed by the State he would be a traitor to the country who would oppose it. Nor must we forget that the Provinces as such never paid for or acquired in any way these public lands. They are held by the Crown in trust for the people of New Zealand. But, says Mr Vogel, if there had been no compact of 1856 it would be wise now to settle the public lands of the South as Provincial property. And in his speech at Auckland he reproached those who had spoken in his absence upon this matter with not having told the people that the Assembly had agreed to spend £700,000 on a landed estate for the North. This, however, does not seem of much importance to the North, as if the Provinces be destroyed the lands will remain in the hands of the General Government, and directly they are wanted as security for a public loan they will be so given. It is not, however, for Julius Vogel, but for the people to determine this matter. Should the third Resolution become law it will of course keep the Provincial exchequers of Otago and Canterbury full for many years. It will ensure in those Provinces not only the vigorous administration of the ordinary duties of a Provincial Council and Executive, but also a complete system of roads and railways. The value of property in many places will be greatly enhanced—the price of labour will for a time be kept up, and the circulation of large sums of public money will give a temporary though powerful impetus to trade. Even, however, for benefits so material as these the people of Otago and Canterbury may pay too much. They are colonists of New Zealand although they happen to live in the favored Provinces of the South. And they must recollect that they must share equally as individuals and families, as consumers and tax-payers, with their brethren in Westland and Nelson, in Wellington and Auckland. There are portions of Otago and Canterbury, and it may be said very considerable portions, which will derive little or no benefit from the expenditure of Provincial treasures. There are other localities where but an unequal portion is distributed. To these and people who reside in them the increasing colonial taxation will come with aggravated bitterness when they remember that Otago and Canterbury are selfishly keeping from the public creditor those funds which would avert the necessity of such growing demands upon the people as a whole. In every Province, in page 25 every community, there are different classes of society. Of these the most numerous are the labouring and small trading classes. To them, although they treat it seemingly with no concern, the question is one of vital importance. To them the expenditure of large sums of public funds means a very small and evanescent increase in the price of daily labour, swiftly reduced by competition of incoming strangers from less prosperous Provinces, or immigration, or by the cessation of the extraordinary distribution of money. But a permanent increase in the Customs duties, or other taxation, means the taking away for good a certain number of shillings per week, which will not be replaced when employment becomes more scarce and wages fall to their natural level. If the taxation of the Colony be permanently increased it will be as much a burden upon the working men, the small settlers, and the tradesmen of Dunedin and Christchurch as those of Hokitika and Grahamstown, for naturally wages will gradually become equal, and prices also. No inconsiderable portion of the population is" composed of those whose incomes are settled and subject to few fluctuations—ministers of the Gospel, Government officers, Bank clerks, other clerks and officials, schoolmasters, persons who have small annuities or live upon the interest of money invested. To these it is of the last importance that there should be no increase in the cost of living. To these, five pounds, or ten pounds, or twenty pounds in the year of additional taxation means the loss of some moderate pleasure. It means the robbery from some dear friend of a yearly present, and in every case the loss of some one of the many little sources of the happiness of life which they only know who are called upon to suffer. Already has this been recognised. The Government have made a gift of about ten per cent, to their more poorly paid servants last year because the cost of living has so much increased. Living will be as dear this year, but this cannot be repeated. What consolation will it be to the Government or Bank clerk when he finds that one or two of his children must go without proper clothing, or that an invalid mother or wife must lack her accustomed little comforts, or that his subscription to a pleasant Club or Friendly Society must cease, to know that the roads are in good condition, or that the Provincial exchequer is in a state of plethoric abundance, and that his Province has seen the so-called compact of 1856 adhered to. The classes enumerated, counting amongst them the goldminers and bushmen, are by far the largest portion of the population of Otago and Canterbury, and they possess the power of deciding this question in a manner consistent alike with the dictates of common sense, kindness, and honesty. And they must not forget that if one portion of the Colony suffers all must suffer, and if population decreases in the North Island they will have to pay for the deficiency. If by the retention to Otago or Canterbury or any other Province of the land funds arising within that Province the rest of the Colony suffers, then the suffering will soon extend to that Province so causing it. Soon the General Revenue of the country will be utterly too small to meet the demands upon it. When the time arrives in which the Public Works and Government expenditure cease, the Consolidated Revenue will suddenly go down to a very large extent. The demands on it will not decrease, but steadily grow, until the interest and sinking fund, with the vote say for defence purposes, will absorb it all. The Colony will then be in nearly the same position that the seven page 26 bankrupt Provinces now occupy. To what sources will our statesmen then turn for funds? What unknown mines of wealth can they hope to discover that they may satisfy the hungry craving of the public creditor, and carry on the ordinary government of the Colony? Mr. Vogel—for he cannot avert the advent of that disastrous day—will perhaps exclaim like Glendower, "I can call moneys from the vasty deep"; and the people, like Hotspur, may answer, Ay, so can we, or so can any men. But will they come when you do call for them?" Let the people of this Colony remember that no more provision is being made for colonial future wants than has been made for the wants of the Provinces. When Mr. Vogel began his political alchemy the Provinces were rich, strong, and prosperous. So was the Colony. The Provinces have fallen; and, under the same guidance and conditions, the Colony will fall also. They were the outposts. They have been carried by the foe, and now the Colony stands face to face with difficulties and dangers, which it will not recognise nor prepare to meet. Nor are the wealthier classes in Otago and Canterbury altogether beyond the reach of argument. If they withhold the land fund a heavy property tax and a tax on wool will form the best source in lieu of the proceeds of land. At present gold is taxed; why should not wool be taxed also? All the argument is in favor of the exemption of gold. That is produced at enormous cost, and toil, and danger. None of these conditions attach to wool. All taxation is at present taken equally from the people. And yet not altogether; for the gold-miners are specially taxed. In 1871 they paid £120,000 to the revenue in the shape of special taxation more than any other class. This is absolutely unfair and impolitic. Why should not property bear its share of the common load? Is it just that the labourer should pay as much as the man of property? Taxation should fall equally upon men in proportion to their power to pay. After our time of plenty there will come a time of want, but Julius is not Joseph, nor is he making any preparation for the approach of the years of famine. If however the Land Fund become Colonial Revenue, and is made available to pay interest and various charges, then we may hope without serious enlargement of taxation in any way to hold on till population increases, and our northern and western lands can aid to replenish the Colonial chest. The course of a young country like this is onward. It must go forward. No barriers can stay its course. The finger of destiny points it to a brilliant future. But to its immediate future the third Resolution would be as disastrous as the first. That would tend to destroy the oneness of the people, and split them into local and angry factions. This would unfairly and unevenly place the public debt upon the shoulders of colonists, unduly increase taxation, clog the development of those truly vast resources, which must, when opened, increase the revenue of the colony and the wealth of the people, and produce a spirit of discontent among large sections of the community. No sane man can believe that seven of the Provinces will bear an undue share of the taxation, while to please a few and only a few of the little great men of the other two, the land fund of those two is expended in order to improve the property of the rich and to add to the wealth of the wealthy. The end of that would in the nature of things soon come. The seven Provinces would not endure the tyranny of the small although wealthy minority which forms the governing class in Canterbury and Otago. page 27 To the true-hearted men of the South there are higher grounds on which to stand in these matters. For these are but the arguments of expediency and what is prudent. To them the first question arising will be—Is it honest that the land funds should be spent by these Provincial Governments when the people want them? What right have these Provinces to them over the people of the other Provinces? And to such—who recognise the laws of justice and uprightness, who understand that the foundations of a nation should be honesty and truth, who are prepared to suffer if need be on behalf of their adopted land, who look to the future with hope, because they resolve to act so as to deserve success—to these the question will be one easy of solution. And to them the very sacrifice—if sacrifice it can be called—will make this land more dear and its best interests more cherished. Too long have we permitted provincial and local jealousies to keep the different members of this national family apart. At length a noble opportunity is offered of perpetual union. And upon the altar of our common country may now be offered that provincial selfishness and greed which alone can impede our speedy steps in the colonial race to greatness.