The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 72
We said the other day that Mr. Seddon had probably been predestined from all eternity to make a fool of himself. But there can be no doubt about Mr. McKenzie. The Minister for Lands must have been doubly predestined, to make the thing absolutely sure. No New Zealand Minister has ever been a patch on him. He stands alone in proud preeminence—the most insolent, sour-natured, and tyrannical vulgarian that ever abused the trust of a portfolio. Mr. McKenzie would no doubt hold this to be libellous, but it is the simple truth. His outburst of ill-temper in the House the other week was a disgrace to the politics of the colony. Even the "dumb dogs" to whom he applied his lash could not help snarling a faint defiance. But he seems to have outdone himself in his Libel Bill. This precious document has not arrived in Napier yet; but the few particulars given by our correspondent last night are enough to damn it a thousand times over. No British community would for a moment tolerate such a measure. The anonymity of the press may be said to be part and parcel of the British constitution. It is at any rate one of the strongest safeguards of the liberties of the British people. The contrary custom, which still obtains under the Republic in France, was a device of tyranny, and has entirely nullified the legitimate influence of the French Press. A newspaper like the London Times or the Daily News is a simple impossibility in Paris. There is practically no Fourth Estate in France. The Press still retains the marks of bondage; it is a weak, rickety, spasmodic thing, and no more like that of England than a cripple is like Hercules. And yet this is the condition to which Mr. McKenzie would reduce the newspaper press of New Zealand. The strange thing is that it should have come into the world as a Government measure. Mr. Seddon indeed does not love the penny-a-liners. No New Zealand Liberal ever did. Even Sir Robert Stout, who will no doubt soon be fulminating against this mad McKenzie Bill, did his very best when a member of the Grey Government to muzzle the Opposition papers. But we do not believe that Mr. Seddon is such a doubly predestined fool as to approve of his colleague's Libel Bill. and what about Mr. Ward, an old penny-a-liner himself? That gentleman is noticeably degenerating since he got among his present associates, but he cannot possibly have taken leave of his senses or of common decency to such an extent as to give his cordial assent to such a preposterously outrageous measure. Nor can Mr. W. P. Reeves, another of the scribbling breed. If Mr. Cadman has any say in the Cabinet, we should imagine that he also must see the infinite absurdity of this Libel Bill. And as for Sir Patrick Buckley, why, his Hibernian love of fun will actually revel in the proposal to prescribe the limit of newspaper comment on public measures and public men! What, then, is the inference? Simply what we conjectured a few days ago, that Mr. McKenzie's colleagues, wishing to get rid of the incubus they find him, have laid a trap for the honourable gentleman. In the meantime it will page 5 be interesting to notice how the Bill will be regarded by the Ministerial organs—whether they will take the thing in earnest and submit to be muzzled for the sake of their masters and their subsidies, or whether having been duly notified of the intrigue, they will adopt the patriotic role and vociferate in defence of the "palladium of liberty." The attitude of the Government supporters will also be watched with interest. Will they consent to a measure to extinguish the public liberties? Or will they, too, on receipt of the Government tip, shout for freedom and the indefeasible rights of Britons? It is certainly impossible to believe that any Government in a British community would venture to bring down such a measure in sober seriousness. But supposing that the present Bill is a serious attempt to muzzle the press, and that Parliament passed the Bill and the Governor gave his assent to it (two seeming impossibilities), the next step would unquestionably be to destroy the independence of the Judges; for the Supreme Court Bench, as at present constituted, would, of course, be still a barrier against the arbitrary will of our Liberal despots.
Mr. McKenzie, even if he were backed up by the whole of the "Highland host" in the Southern Hemisphere, in kilt and plaid, and duly furnished with snuff-mulls, dirks, and claymores, could not do what his petty rage demands. But we heartily hope the Bill may pass. Nothing better could be desired. It would indeed bring the ridicule of the civilised world on the colony. That, however, would not signify. New Zealand could survive a good deal of ridicule. It will even survive the choice collection of charlatans who compose its present Government. But the quickest way to get rid of them would be to pass the Libel Bill. It would be the greatest practical joke ever played by a Collective Wisdom; but it would make a full end, and that in a jiffy, of its wiseacre authors. If it were to become law to-morrow its only effect would be to hurl the Government from power, to use the regulation phrase. There is not a journal in the colony—except, perhaps, a dozen or so of the more abject Government organs—but would, metaphorically speaking, snap its fingers in the Honourable John McKenzie's face. Only imagine Ministers prosecuting the majority of the journals in New Zealand for refusing to sign their articles! Let the Ministerial mob execute the orders of their masters and pass the Bill; and Heaven forbid that the Council should reject it. At first we believed that it was, as we said, a trick of the Premier's to get rid of his colleague; but we are told that Ministers as a whole are in favour of the measure. It is scarcely credible, but so we are assured. Then by all means let the Bill pass both Houses, nem. con., and let it be sent at once to the Governor. If his Excellency were to refuse his assent, as he might well do, on strictly constitutional grounds, he would nevertheless at once spoil an incomparable joke and do a very unpatriotic action.