The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 69
Report of Mr. Leaey's Address
Report of Mr. Leaey's Address
At the Oddfellows' Hall, Rattray street, this evening, Mr Leary addressed a meeting of electors in favour of his candidature for one of the city seats. There was a good attendance, and Mr A. Mouat was voted to the chair.
The Chairman said he had pleasure in presiding on the present occasion, as he had town Mr Leary for about 30 years, and spoke in the highest terms of his personal character.
Mr Leary said that he was pleased to see before him men representing every class in the community, and he was not surprised at that, because he had on many occasions been elected to the highest position in the gift of his fellaw citizens—a position he could not have attained were it not that he had been fortunate enough to secure the confidence of all classes; and he hoped he had given them no cause to say he had done anything to forfeit their good opinion. Having referred to the request of a deputation that he should become a candidate for one of the city seats, he said: I think it Would be unfair of me, Mr Chairman, to accede to the flattering request without letting you know what are my views on political questions, as I am conscious that some of them may not reflect popular opinion. It is well, therefore, that you should know what my opinions are; and if, after hearing them, you are prepared to accept me as a candidate, I shall place myself in your hands. I believe I may, with confidence, ask you to accept my assurance that the opinions I am about to express are not adopted by me merely for the purpose of the present election, but are the honest expression of my real sentiments. Not being identified with any class interest, I think I may fairly ask you to take it for granted that I approach the consideration of the various questions without the bias begot of self interest. My desire is that legislation tad administration of public affairs shall be in the interest of the people as a whole, and I am persuaded that this can be accomplished, and without doing injustice to any class, if we only secure as our representatives men of pure motives and lofty aspirations. I may say, that although I hold what may be regarded as Utopian views on some social and political questions, I trust I have sufficient sense to recognise that such views cannot be considered in connection with practical politics; they must simply be regarded as indicating a lofty ideal, the realisation of which is far off. I will therefore merely indicate them by saying that as the people generally become better educated, more thoughtful, and take a more intelligent interest in political and social questions, the nearer we shall approach an ideal state of society in which the brotherhood of man shall be practically recognised and the principle of Christianity dominate human affairs. There are, however, one or two planks in my ideal platform which may, I think, be considered as probable of realisation in the near future. For example, the more equal distribution of wealth. I do not think it to be the true interest of the State that wealth should be monopolised by a comparatively few people who, by the possession of it, shall be in a position to dictate terms to the rest of the community. Acting up to these views, I favour a large increase in the legacy and succession duties, sufficiently large to induce rich people to divide their wealth during their lifetime, and if they neglect to do so let the State succeed to a large portion of it. I am one of those who believe that
The Land Should Belong to the State,
and not to individuals; and that the people, through their representatives, should determine the conditions of its occupation with a view to its being put to the most profitable use by the larger number of people. Were such a system in operation, numbers of people with moderate capital could profitably settle upon the lands, because, instead of having their capital sunk in the purchase of the freehold, and having to call upon the mortgagee to supply them with funds to improve and page 8 stock their farms, which in the majority of cases results in the borrower becoming the unpaid servant of the lender, they, by leasing the land, would have their capital in hand for working it. Let us take one illustration. A man, say, with a capital of £500 buys 200 acres of land at a cost of £600. He has to erect his house and other buildings, fence and plough the land, sow crops, purchase stock and implements, and maintain himself and family for one, if not two, years, before getting any return. A farmer of very modest ideas of comfort, and by the exercise of the greatest economy, could not do these things for less than £600, making, with the cost of the land, £1,200 or £700 more than his capital. In order to secure the required funds he would have to mortgage probably the whole of his possessions; and there may come a time of depression, when land may be reduced in value, the mortgagee, getting uneasy, realises his security, leaving the hardworking farmer without a home and without means. Let us suppose that, instead of sinking his money in the purchase of his farm, he rented it at a rental equal to 5 per cent, of its value—say £30 per annum. He would be able, without recourse to borrowing to fence and stock bis farm and erect his buildings, and be a free man and his own master, instead of, as in the other case, being practically the servant of the mortgagee. In regard to extensive blocks of land held by companies and private individuals, I should be in favour of legislation which would make it the interest of these holders to cut up their properties; and whenever it is found the demand for laud for the purpose of bona fide settlement cannot be satisfied, it will be necessary in the interest of the community that the Government should have power to compel the owners of large blocks to surrender them on reasonable terms.
Incidence of Taxation.
The taxation consists principally of Customs and stamp duties and property tax; and, dealing with the incidence of taxation, we have to consider whether the substitution of some other form of taxation would be beneficial. As regards the
it would be idle to talk of any substitute for them, as the colony is committed to a policy of Protection, and we may consider the question as settled for some years; but there is a probability of a proposal being made for the free interchange of products between the colonies. I should, if the question came up, favour an alteration of the tariff in that direction, so manifestly to our advantage. Now, as to the respective merits of
A Property Tax and an Income Tax.
Let us start with the proposition that the people of a State should contribute to the cost of its government in proportion to their ability to do so. I venture to say that this is a proposition most people will assent to. Let us now examine whether a property tax or an income tax most nearly agrees with this canon in political economy. I will take the income tax first, and see how it would operate in practice. Let us assume for the sake of argument that a tax of 1s in the £ is levied on all incomes of £200 and upwards. An unmarried man with an income of £200 and charged with the maintenance of none but himself, and whose expenses amount to £120, pays £10, leaving a balance of £70 to the good. A family man with an income of £400 having a wife and 10 children to maintain at a cost of, say, only three times the expenses of the single man—viz., £360—would have to pay a tax of £20, leaving a balance of £20 only, and we may fairly assume that he contributes three times is much as the batchelor to the customs revenue. This illustration will serve to show that such a tax would not be in accordance with the proposition we started with. Take the case of a professional man, whose earnings are £1000 per annum, and that of a person deriving the same income from his invested capital. In the one case the source of the income ceases at death, and in the other it continues. It cannot, therefore, be said that each pays according to his ability. As to the operation of the property tax. In the first place, let us clearly understand what is taxed if a man is possessed of property, or assets of any description, of the value of £10,000, and owes nothing, he pays on £10,000; but if he owe £9000 he pays only on £1000, minus, of course, the exemption in both cases, so that it is a man's surplus assets, or capital, that is taxed. Under the existing act, persons possessed of surplus property of less value than £500 pay no tax. Now the greater the stake a man has in the country, the more he should pay towards the cost of protecting his interest, that interest being protected by the good government of the country. So to my mind the property tax seems equitable on two grounds—namely, that just mentioned, and because one pays according to his ability. It may be argued that a person may own property valued at £10,000 from which he gets no return; but it may fairly be presumed that it is owing page 9 to bad management, for if, under proper management, it cannot be made to yield anything, it is of no value, and no tax will be payable on it, for the true measure of capital value is the return which can be obtained under proper management. One argument I have heard used against this tax is that it acts as a discouragement to thrift. Now, I ask any reasonable man whether he thinks it likely that a person would be deterred from saving £1000 because he would have to pay a tax of 1d in the £. Another objection against the property tax is that it would prevent the inflow of capital into the country. I think experience has shown the fallacy of that objection. I am persuaded that the working man and others possessed of small means who join in the cry against this tax do not understand how it operates in practice, or they would scarcely condem a system which relieves themselves and places the burden on the shoulders of those best able to bear it. A great many people advocate a
and very few of them, according to my experience, recognise what they are committing themselves to by such advocacy. In the first place a land tax pure and simple for revenue purposes is a class tax, and therefore objectionable. But such a tax is objectionable on other grounds also. I presume it will not be denied that the fund for our maintenance comes from the land, and that it is to the farmer and the miner that we have to look to keep the rest of us going. As we are not in a position to manufacture to any extent articles for export, it is obvious that the inhabitants of the towns could not exist but for the settlers and the miners, who are the real wealth producers in this country, We all know the widespread depression that follows a fall in value or shrinkage in quantity of the natural products of the country, the price of which is not governed by the local, but by the foreign markets. The prosperity of this colony may be said to depend almost entirely on the profitable occupation of the land and the development of the Mineral resources of the country. Such being so, it appears to me that, so far from singling out the farmer for special taxation, we should make matters as easy as possible for him, so as to make country life attractive, and offer the greatest inducement to people to settle upon the lands of the colony, and not, by specially taxing the farmers, to make it still harder for them to supply the rest of the community with the means of subsistence. Just imagine for a moment that, by reason of the burdens placed upon those who occupy the lands, they were unable to make both ends meet, and consequently were forced to abandon their farms. We should awake to the fact that we had been ignorantly administering slow poison to the goose that laid the eggs necessary to our existence. In my opinion, therefore, a land tax, pure and simple, and imposed for revenue purposes, would not only be manifestly unfair to the struggling farmer, but would be disastrous to the whole community. This brings me to the question of the
Management of the Railways.
It would be good policy, in my opinion, were the railways managed in the interests of settlement, and with a view to the development of traffic, rather than run on purely business lines with a view to a large profit. If our policy be merely to make the railways pay interest on the cost of construction, we might relieve the consolidated fund to the extent of £200,000 or £300,000 per annum by selling them; but I regard the railways as one of the best colonising agents we possess, and apart from the danger of establishing a huge monopoly, which we should incur by parting with the ownership of the railways, there are other good reasons in favour of retaining them. I consider the Legislature should instruct the Railway Commissioners as to the policy they should pursue, without hampering them with details as to management, of which they may be presumed to be better judges than unskilled persons can possibly be. I should instruct them that the railways are to be managed in the interest of settlement, and that the tariff of rates should be adjusted so as to stimulate traffic, and with a view to equalising, as far as they reasonably can, the cost price at the port of export of the produce of the country, no matter what distance it may have to be hauled. Such a policy would, in my opinion, give a great impetus to settlement, and would in time so greatly augment the traffic as to makeup, in part, if not wholly, the loss during the process of development, and would largely increase the area of land profitably occupied, and thus increase our prosperity as a colony.
I am of opinion that borrowing should cease for some years at any rate, and that the colony should adjust its expenditure according to its revenue; and with that object the cost of government should be reduced. I am persuaded that this can be accomplished if your representatives earnestly desire it. It is of course very easy to preach
but not so easy for a man without official knowledge and experience to propound a practicable scheme; but I may venture to indicate how, in my opinion, expenditure could be considerably reduced without detriment to the public service. It will be generally admitted, I think, that we are indebted to the huge borrowing and public works policy for a costly departmental system and the general extravagance in public expenditure. It should be our endeavour to apply the pruning knife wherever possible, and to give up luxuries that are beyond our means and inconsistant with our position. Being of opinion that large sums of money have been expended unproductively and on objects unwarranted by the circumstances of the colony, in response to the demands of members whose support was necessary for the retention of the Government of the day in office, and by the system known as "logrolling." I should put an end to that state of things by abolishing the present system of party government, and thus at the same time admitting of every question being determined on its merits, and of members voting according to their judgment, instead of, as at present, in many cases at the call of the party whips. The Government should be appointed for a fixed term, and should only be removed on a vote of want of confidence in their capacity for administration, and should not, as now, have to retire from office on rejection of policy measures. We should thus be spared many protracted and costly debates and obstructions to the free course of business which take place with a view to harassing the Government of the day, and securing the sweets of office to those opposed to them. The cost of legislation can be largely reduced by shortening the duration of the sessions, and this desirable reform can be achieved by abandoning the system of party government and abolishing the system of fully reporting members' speeches, and also by a reform in parliamentary procedure in the direction of overcoming obstruction and putting a stop to unreasonably protracted discussions. I believe that several thousands a year can be thus saved without the slightest disadvantage. Members of the House can tell us, as many of them have told me, that a very small percentage of the speeches has any influence on members. The interchange of opinions in the lobbies has far more effect upon the legislation than the long-winded speeches have. They will also tell us, at least those of them who are honest will, that the most useful and influential members are not those given to speech making, but those who are respected for their earnestness of purpose, good sense, and honesty. If a return were tabled showing what party government had cost the country, in the way of unnecessary expenditure, during the past 20 years it would prove a very startling piece of information, and serve as an overwhelming argument against the system.
Any reform in the constitution of the Upper Chamber should include the abolition of life membership and the substitution of the election for the present system of appointment Personally I rather favour the election by the House of Representatives than by distinct constituencies, but have no strong views either way.
This is a very difficult question, and it cannot be expected that I should formulate a practicable scheme on the present occasion. I will therefore content myself with saying that I should favour a system somewhat on the lines of our former provincial system, but divested to a large extent, if not wholly, of its legislative character.
I look upon conferring the franchise on women as a logical sequence to manhood suffrage, and as a reasonable extension of the principle already affirmed by Parliament in the Municipal Corporation Act. I am convinced that the intelligence of the average woman is quite equal to that of the average man, and that the exercise of the franchise by women would be highly beneficial to the State.
On this question I believe I hold the opinions of a minority of the electors, but it is duo to you that I should state my views on this important subject in unmistakeable terms. In the first place, I am of opinion that it should be the duty of the State to insist that the children are educated up to a certain standard, and that it should contribute largely to the cost, but I object to the schools being used as nurseries for infants, and should therefore be in favour of raising the "school age" to six years, were it not that such a step would have the effect of closing many of the small country schools. As a parent, and also as a member of the community, I deplore the absence from our schools of that page 11 grand book containing the highest code of morality. Apart altogether from the question of religious teaching. I think that the effect on the minds of our youth of the authorise exclusion of the Bible from the schools is bad. I am also of opinion that a large minority, if not a majority, of parents of children embracing several denominations of Christians (and be it noted that the parents contribute by far the largest amount of tuition) deplore the total absence of religious teaching in the schools. As it is hopeless to expect that any scheme of religious instruction will be admitted as part of the curriculum in the State schools, I consider it only a matter of simple justice to so large a number of people holding similar views to my own on this question that they should receive back in the shape of subsidy to schools they may themselves establish a portion of their quota to the cost of education am therefore in favour of a capitation grant to private schools which comply generally with the requirements of the Education department in respect to standards, attendance, inspection, &c.
Believing as I do, that the temptations and pities offered by the existence of public houses to the over-indulgent in intoxicating drinks is a bad thing for society, I should support measures in the direction of reducing the evil. But I should leave it to the people of each licensing district to determine, by their votes, whether the traffic should be limited or entirely suppressed.
I am in favour of legislation in the direction of securing to workmen payment of their wages and compensation for injuries sustained in the performance of their duties, thus imposing on the employers the duty of taking all reasonable precautions against accidents, and particularly in the direction of limiting like hours of employment of boys and girls and of securing that they, and the adult workers also, shall work under health conditions. I am in favour of eight hours being declared the legal working day and of the appointment of a standing commission, or board of conciliation, to which may be referred all differences between employers and employed with a view to their adjustment and the prevention of strikes and their attendant hardships, inconvenience, and loss. In this connection I may say that in giving exmission to my opinions I am not truckling to a section of the community or making a bid for their support. I am not a man of that sort, as the people of Dunedin should know by this time. For years past I have by voice and pen, in my small way, stood up for the dignity of honest labour and the rights of the workers; and although the recent unwise and unreasonable action of the leaders of the labour bodies in endeavouring to cause a general strike and paralysing the trade and industry of the colony, just when it was recovering from severe depression, has for the time alienated public sympathy with trades unionism, I do not recede from the position I have taken up regarding it, and I still believe that the trades unions, properly conducted, will benefit alike the employer and employed. But I object to unions that limit their membership and practically claim a monopoly of the work in any trade, regardless of the fate of those outside their ranks. Whilst I concede the right of every man to join a union, I claim that he should be allowed to follow his lawful calling un-molested, whether he belong to the union or not. To deny such a right would be to outrage the liberty of the individual in a free country, and an exercise of tyranny which must be resisted by every lover of freedom. I cannot help admiring the loyalty of the men in obeying the call of their supreme council, but I consider the leaders are to blame for raising a false issue and for not recognising that a general strike that does not carry public sympathy with its object cannot be successful. There was no attempt made by the so-called capitalist in this country to crush labour or to put down unionism. Generally the relations between employer and employed were of the most satisfactory character, and in most, if not all, cases I venture to say the men who came out at the call of the Maritime Council had no genuine cause of complaint against their employers. Such being the case, is it surprising that the general public, almost to a man, outside the ranks of unionism, should have resented the attempt of an irresponsible body to paralyse the trade and industry of the colony without any justification. In this country employer and capitalist are not convertible terms. I speak with some knowledge when I say that a large proportion of the employers of labour are practically little more than managers, and many of them get very little remuneration. The capital employed in their business is borrowed from the banks, and where do you suppose the banks get the money from? I am informed on good authority that of the number of interest-bearing deposits in the banks those of the working class far outnumber those of any other class. So you will page 12 see that the so-called capitalist is really a man who finds employment for the savings of the people, and of the very people who join in the cry of the tyranny of capital. Such a cry in a country like ours is meaningless to any man who is sober, and takes the trouble to think.
Rely upon it that the interests of both capital and labour will be best promoted by their working in harmony, each respecting the rights of the other.
I may express the hope and belief that respectable working men, having had time to reflect, will, on the polling day, show that they can distinguish their real friends from those who, presuming on their credulity, expect to secure their election by raising false issues. I think, Mr Chairman, I have dealt with the various questions of interest to the electors at the present time, and hops I have succeeded in my endeavour to conver my opinions upon them.—(Applause.)
Having replied to several questions to the evident satisfaction of the meeting, Mr Leary retired, whereupon the question as to whether! he should be asked to become a candidal was put to the meeting. There was a difference of opinion as to his views on the education question, the large majority appearing to hold opposite views, but the general opinion appeared to be that the point should be waived, and a resolution proposed by Mr Haynes, and seconded by Mr Hardie, that Mr Leary be requested to become a candidate for one of the city seats and expressing entire confidence in him was carried unanimously, amidst applause.