The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 69
The Tory Press of the colony has sot up a howl that the policy of the present Ministry in imposing a Land Tax has the effect of frightening capital from the colony, and all sorts of dismal forebodings are indulged in as to the future. These vapourings need not cause you much uneasiness. We do not want hero capitalists owning large tracts of land, and thereby having practically the power of life and death over their fellow men. Capitalists did nothing for the settlers north of Auckland. And where will you find a hardier and, all things considered, a happier race of men than those whose homesteads are dotted round the bays and inlets on our northern coast? And in the main the settlers in the north had to be content with moderately fertile, and, in many cases, poor land, while the capitalists swallowed the rich plains of the south. We can find ample capital among ourselves to clear, fence, and cultivate the soil of the country, and Nature will supply the crops in superabundance. It will be an unmixed blessing if English land speculators are for ever effectively warned away from the colony. They are of no more use to the country than locusts. The absentee capitalist, especially if he be a land cormorant, is a perpetual drain upon our resources. He levies a tribute upon the labour of the people here, and disburses that tribute in foreign lands. His capital pauperises instead of fructifying the colony. What possible benefit, for instance, is it to us that Mr. Balfour, the late Secretary for Ireland, should own, as he does, a large tract of land in Canterbury? But there are those who unflinchingly contend that the colony should encourage the growth of great estates, and welcome the money of English nobles and plutocrats to be invested in our lands. What would be your fate in the near future if you, were deluded by the specious arguments of the Tories on this subject? If the Land Tax were repealed, and unrestricted monopoly in land permitted, the evils which have followed from the great estate system in England would be renewed and intensified amongst us. Listen to what Mr. Joseph Chamberlain, M.P., says in his "Unauthorised Programme," with regard to the state of the English peasantry, "The hard lot of our peasantry is, as a rule, accepted by them in silence, and their sufferings are but little known outside their circle. The life of the labourer may be said to be one long grind of human toil, unrelieved by holidays or recreation. Happy if he escapes sickness and loss of work. With no pleasures in the present, and the horizon of the future bounded only by the workhouse and the grave, he works on to the end to escape "the parish," which he dreads. Strength, however, fails at last, and he then has to rely on a scanty "out-door relief," or he goes into the "House." In duo time he is reported dead, and so ends a long life of toil in which he has added, who shall say how much, to that stock of national wealth so small a portion of which has fallen to his share."
Now is this a picture which you would like to represent the agricultural population of this free land? But the Liberals who repealed the Property tax cannot even by the most mendacious of their adversaries, be said to be the foes of capital. The National Association and all the other Tory upholders of the Property tax are the real enemies of the capitalist, because they taxed him whether his capital was earning anything or not. But the Liberals allow him to go scot free unless his capital is producing an income, or unless he be a large land-holder. Another reform that the permanent interests of the people call for, is the abolition of the power of what is known as the "Settlement" of landed page 11 property, whereby land may be locked up and rendered incapable of being sold (except by order of the Supremo Court) for practically an indefinite period. This is really just as effective as the old power of entail for keeping land in the possession of a few individuals. The freedom of disposition by will should also be curtailed. While I would leave a man absolute discretion in the disposal by will of his money, goods, and personal property of every-description, I think a compulsory division of landed property among his children after his death (as in France) would be a reform which would be attended by most beneficent results. The tendency to the accumulation of landed property to gratify family pride should be combated at an early stage of the colony's growth, and compulsory subdivision at death is probably the most effective way in which the excessive growth of estates may be prevented. It was thoe great estates that ruined Italy. We are told that shortly before its fall in the Roman Republic "large sections of the country were depopulated of freemen, while Rome swarmed with a horrible population of half savage paupers, who were only kept in good humour by doles." (J. A. Picton, M.P., "The Conflict of Oligarchy and Democracy.")
If the democracy of New Zealand cannot work out its own destiny, and that a high one, then truly must faith in mankind be despairingly given up. You have, such as no former people had, the experiences and examples of the nations of the past made common knowledge by the unprecedented expansion of literature. The disasters which have befallen the peoples of old through allowing the political power and the land to be monopolised by the wealthy are painted in lurid colours in the pages of history. Let the lessons which they teach be ineffaceably impressed on your minds, and operate to prevent you from allowing a criminal apathy with regard to public affairs from paralysing your power. Take your rightful place in the Constitution,—that is to govern! Every man should as a matter of simple duty take care that he is registered on the roll of electors. Every man of 21 years of age and upwards can now be registered as an elector. No qualification by property or house-holding is now necessary. We have manhood suffrage. Therefore every man's name should he on the electoral roll. Any qualified person can get his name registered on the electoral roll by applying to the Registrar of Electors, whose office is in the Resident Magistrate's Court building in High-street. No fee is payable. I would strongly urge upon all the necessity of registering your names as electors. At election times it frequently happens that large numbers are unable to vote through not having applied in time to be placed on the electoral roll. Now your adversaries take great care that every vote they can rely upon is safely registered. Therefore take a leaf out of their book, and be in time. The trouble is slight and the advantage incalculable. Then when an election comes around do not allow any business whatever to prevent you from voting. The vote which you hold is a sacred trust which every individual should conscientiously fulfil by voting. No one should think or say, as too often unfortunately happens, "Oh! a single vote won't make much difference. I cannot conveniently go to the polling booth." If many act in this way it is evident a large number of votes are lost. Every one who abstains from voting when he is called upon to do so, except physically incapable, is guilty of a grave breach of duty, and his abstention might be the means of bringing great evils upon his country. The heads of societies should get supplies of application for registration forms, and see that all the members of their body are correctly registered on the electoral roll of their proper district.page 12
If the democracy of New Zealand does its duty a magnificent future is before the colony. Her position enables her to dominate for the purposes of peace and commerce the great archipelago of the South Pacific. Her resources and climate combine to furnish the materials to make a great and happy people. Nothing is wanting but good laws and just government. Let the democracy frame laws which will promote the acquisition of moderate wealth and discourage the accumulation of excessive riches, which will extinguish monopoly of natural advantages, which will preserve the freedom, the independence, the health, the manhood of its workers, above all their manhood, for as the immortal bard says, "He is but the counterfeit of a man who hath not the life of a man." If only these things be done then in truth an auspicious future is before you, a nobler fame than that of Greece awaits you, and priceless indeed will be the heritage of your descendants who shall inhabit these islands in the coming time.
W. Wilkinson, Central Printing Office, 177 Queen St.