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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 63

Chapter VIII. — End of Public Works and Immigration Policy

page 43

Chapter VIII.

End of Public Works and Immigration Policy.

Like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-eapp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself—
Yea, all which it inherit shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind.—Shakespeare.

In two more years, at furthest, we shall be at the end of the public works and immigration scheme. We shall then have increased our population to 350,000, and we shall possess a complete telegraph system, about eleven hundred miles of railways, and a tolerable system of roads and public buildings. The public debt will have increased from £7,500,000 to at least £22,000,000, and the yearly payment of interest from £375,000 per annum to £1,110,000, which, with additions of sinking fund and Defence Force expenditure, will reach nearly £1,400,000. Of this the most formidable part is the fact that the country will be drained year by year of over one million of money, sent as interest to foreign creditors, and for which we shall receive no return. Have the legislators of New Zealand thought of the meaning of this? The population of the United Kingdom is over 30,000,000, and the people pay—striking an average for annuities—about £24,000,000 a-year interest on the national debt—that is, sixteen shillings per head. Next year the people of New Zealand will pay nearly three pounds ten shillings per head for the interest on their national debt, or more than four times as much per head. The Italians are a heavily indebted people. So heavy is their debt that it has made Italy bankrupt. But the Italians only pay one pound per head of the population. Franco is in a fearful state of debt, and this year her expenditure is fourteen millions above her revenue. But France does not pay one pound per head interest a-year. England is notorious for its large debt and the fearful incubus of interest. But an average Englishman pays but sixteen shillings interest yearly. The United States are heavily indebted, yet they are only called upon to pay ten shillings a-head in the twelvemonths. But ambitious New Zealand calls upon its people to repay the interest and sinking fund upon twenty millions—an average per head of about £3 10s. 0d., considerably above the aggregate amounts paid by all the nations above put together, and yet they are besides ourselves perhaps the largest interest-paying people in the world. When it is considered that we shall be paying away this vast sum to foreign creditors we shall be able somewhat to understand the overwhelming drain upon the resources of this country. How long could Great Britain, wealthy as she is continue to pay a hundred millions of money yearly to foreign creditors? Even then she would not be paying more than we shall have to pay in proportion to our numbers. The world stood aghast at the enormous demands of Prussia against France. But the French indemnity only reached £5 10s. 0d. per head of the population, and was mostly borrowed by France, and on it she still pays interest; while our interest will reach about £3 10s. 0d., and will have to be paid every year. Of course it is not a parallel case, and our money is not so much as £3 10s. 0d. to a citizen of France; yet it will serve as an index to some extent of the state of things. Our railways and public works will not we may be sure repay the cost of working and repairs, page 44 At least ten thousand people will be thrown out of employment by the stoppage of public works, and these ten thousand represent, directly and indirectly, 30,000 more who are dependent upon their labour and its products. Besides this enormous influx upon the labour market there will be a very large decrease in the demand for labour in other ways. The people will not have so much money to spend, and as a consequence not so many people will find employment either to minister to the necessities or luxuries of their countrymen. Taxation will be increased, and the bone and sinew of the country will be off to Victoria, New South Wales, and Queensland. The cost of government will be increased, and although we may reasonably hope that the entire destruction of the Provincial system will prevent this increase from being large, yet we must expect and prepare for an increase in our liabilities in this direction.

Where will the people find employment when the Government work ceases? Beside them the Government are now introducing about 40,000 immigrants. Where are these to get work? What new sources of industry are opened? They will flood the labour market. They will no longer be good customers to the revenue, nor to the merchants nor storekeepers. Every ship which ceases her visits will take something away in the aggregate yield of revenue and business. Will any one venture to say how much the ships which have brought out emigrants and railway plant have helped, to swell the receipts of the Treasurer? For some time those ships have formed a large majority of all our maritime communication with England. They have been good customers in every port. When their visits altogether cease their absence will be materially felt. Then again the Government money has been lavished, especially in Wellington and the South, with prodigal hand. It is not therefore surprising that the revenue increases, and trade is good, although in relation to trade there are ominous murmurs even now. The influx of immigrants has tended also to enliven trade. Each person of the thirty thousand new-comers landed from the ocean voyage has not only been a customer to the butcher, baker, and grocer, but before settling down in a new home his money has gone to benefit all classes of the trading community in a greater degree than if he were and had been a resident in the Colony. But the time will come when large numbers of immigrants will no longer disembark in Auckland, in Wellington, in Christchurch, and Dunedin. Mr. Vogel and his friends, as we have said, are very fond of alluding to the "unexampled prosperity of the Country." Let us examine the statement and the foundations on which it seems to rest, and judge impartially as to its truth or otherwise. The meaning of the word prosperity is success—good fortune, attainment of wishes. Seeing then that the Public Works and Immigration policy of Mr. Vogel is now upon its trial, and its success or failure is yet unascertained—that the end of it is as likely to be a fearful disaster as to be a signal success—it is surely a most inappropriate term to use in relation to the present condition of this Colony. What are the evidences of prosperity appealed to by Mr. Vogel and his colleagues? They point to the increased revenue of the country. But that is accounted for by a disgraceful trick of Mr. Vogel himself, by which the Customs taxation was increased to a very large extent. And in addition to this the temporarily increased commerce of page 45 the country, the sudden impetus given to trade, the enormous and unexampled expenditure of Government money, do naturally, and so long as they are continued must of necessity tend to swell the revenue. They also appeal to the high rates of wages and the difficulty of obtaining labour in every district and province. This is still more easily disposed of. The Government has employed nearly one-fifth of the available labour of the Colony. It has entered into such undue competition with private enterprise as to put a stop to nearly all those private undertakings which really advance the wealth and induce the prosperity of a country. For certain things indeed labour must be had, and people therefore employ it; but at the present prices land, coal, iron, clay, and other things go unworked because the rate of wages is too high to work them with profit. We import wheat from South Australia and potatoes from Victoria and Tasmania. Manufactures are almost absolutely untouched. Some indeed that were in a feeble way commencing life have died away. Men find it cheaper to import manufactured articles and pay the heaviest duties in the world than to compete with the Government as employers of labour. The high prices of labour—skilled and unskilled—brought about by the unhealthy fever in the work-market is a complete bar to the creation of new industries or new fields of labour, which might when the public works are over absorb some of the very great labour power which will then be cast adrift. Then we are told of the increase in the value of property. This is explained partly by the present general aspect of things, which always has a large effect upon the value of property. No man long used to Colonial life, even in its ordinary course, would guarantee the value of property for six months together. The fluctuations are sudden and violent. A farm or property worth ten thousand pounds to-day—let a crisis or a panic come—will not be saleable at half the money a month hence. These then are the evidences of the unexampled prosperity of New Zealand. An opponent, however, of the Vogel administration may well arswer—these are not evidences of prosperity. They shew indeed that if the Customs taxation be increased the revenue will proportionally grow; that if the Government buy up all the available labour of the country, the day's wages of men will increase; that if the Government expend unbounded sums of money a temporary and fictitious prosperity will spring up during the continuance of such lavish expenditure. But when the Government expenditure shall cease, then will cease also these transient tokens of public wealth and happiness. There are however surer signs than even these of public prosperity. The possession of money is not the sole good. Contenment and quiet in the mind of the people is an almost certain sign of prosperity. A high state of public morality, the existence and the enactment of just, wise, and impartial laws, the pure administration of justice, the advance of science, the spread and expansion of ethical truth, the sound progress of commerce, manufactures, and agriculture are infallible tokens of the existence of a high state of prosperity. If a people be happy they are prosperous. Which of these signs can be seen in New Zealand?