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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 76

Australasian Federation

page 26

Australasian Federation

"I see
Freedom's established reign; cities and men,
Numerous as sands upon the ocean's shore,
And Empires rising where the sun descends !
Nations shall grow, and States not less in fame.
Than Greece and Rome of old."

In a previous analysis of the Federal Constitution, readers who are accustomed to read between the lines would have no difficulty in comprehending the scope and importance of the measure. It is a large question, however, and I propose in this article to treat it after a more simple and popular fashion. I observe that a public meeting is announced in the columns of the Herald, and doubtless good speaking to the several resolutions to be submitted will have an important educational result.

I propose to group the subject matter of the Bill afresh, and, to begin with, we must clearly distinguish between such functions of government as will become "Federal" and such as will remain "State" functions. We shall probably arrive at clearer notions by this simpler process. The Federal Parliament under the Constitution will at once take over, first, the Customs Departments of the several uniting States, immediately the new Constitution comes into force. For a period of two years, the duties of Customs now being levied will continue in force. At the expiry of that period the Commonwealth tariff, uniform in all the States, will come into existence From the first start, there will be absolute free trade throughout all the States, except as to West Australia, which, for special reasons, will retain her present tariff, so far as it applies to intercolonial productions, diminishing year by year, upon a sliding scale, for five years, when that also comes to an end. So far then, there is no ambiguity with respect to duties of Customs. Then follows the taking over by proclamation of, second,—the postal, telegraph, and telephones; third,—naval and military defences: fourth,—lighthouses, lightships, and quarantine. And that is all.

page 27

The Federal Constitution takes power, with the consent of the States, to take over a multitude of other services, the most important of which is the public debts of the several colonies. It is believed by the best financial authorities that a great saving of interest would be the immediate result—a saving much more than sufficient to pay the whole cost of the Federal Government. It is probable, therefore, that soon after the consummation of the union this desirable change will be effected. They take power also, with the consent of the States, to take over the railways, or any part of the railway system, and for strategic purposes the defence authorities will probably recommend the Federal Government, with the consent of any States concerned, to take over such lines as may become of special importance in case of war. A uniform guage, and perhaps, also, military control in certain eventualities, will probably result. But, so far as New Zealand and West Australia are concerned, there would appear to be small likelihood of their railways, or any portion of them, being required for such purposes.

What, then, will be the effect of such changes as are imperative ? Let us go back to the four services, which will become functions of the Federal Government, and the problem becomes exceedingly clear and simple. Will there be any great wrench ? any dislocation of the business of government ? Most assuredly not ? The income derivable from duties of Customs will be payable to the Commonwealth Treasury, as also the revenues from the Post and Telegraph Department. Two services, it will be seen, are revenue-producing, and two, the Defences and Lighthouses—produce no income whatever. It is provided that not more than one-fourth of the revenue derivable from Customs will be expended in the cost of the Federal Government, the balance—three-fourths of the whole revenue—being returnable in fair proportion to the several States. The postal and telegraph services are revenue producing, but yield no profit, or, at least, ought not to yield any profit, they being carried on, not for profit, but for the convenience of the public. Even as to the fourth part of the Customs revenue, provisionally devoted to the Federal Government., there is a great probability of it being more than recouped to the several States, by way of savings in interest, as Government bonds fall due and are converted. It will be observed, moreover, that the considerable charges for defence and page 28 lighthouse services will be saved to the Colonial Exchequers, which will much more than recoup the expense of the Commonwealth Government.

We saw that an inter-State Commission was to be appointed, to regulate all inter-State questions. To this body of men who will be chosen, doubtless, for their administrative capacity, will belong the great work of reorganisation, to bring the four services of the new Government into line. What may be fairly anticipated as the result of their labours ? They will be directed chiefly, no doubt, at the commencement, to the postal and telegraphic services. What room surely for enormous improvements in New Zealand, not as to the efficiency of the staff, confessedly highly satisfactory, but as to inter-State mail services and accommodation for the staff and general public. Visitors from the other colonies remark upon our dingy and melancholy offices, as compared with Australian offices. The Commissioners are empowered to acquire land or buildings, and the convenience of the public, and efficiency of this important Department, at once point to numerous new and suitable structures, large extensions of the services, the introduction probably also of an inter-State penny post, and greatly reduced telegraph charges. All this may be confidently anticipated, and to crown all, rapid mail and passenger steamers, bringing the States so much nearer to each other, and encouraging, as well as facilitating inter-State trade and commerce. The importance of such reforms, as may be fairly anticipated, can scarcely be over-estimated. There will be nothing visible to indicate that a change of government has taken place, except the newer life, the greater efficiency all round, and the larger operations coming into being with the union.

Coming to defences, both by sea and land, what room also for enormous and much-needed reforms. Instead of a disjointed and fragmentary force, labouring under the greatest difficulties, we may easily enough anticipate the Coming into existence of a Commonwealth force, equal to any emergency, governed and disciplined as one great organisation, and acquiring the maximum of efficiency. All this pre-supposes better equipment, better accommodation, rifle ranges, parade grounds, and much besides. The Governor-General will become Commander-in-Chief of the Forces, and distinguished officers will arise throughout the page 29 Commonwealth, who, if an enemy should invade our shores, will be prepared to give a good account of our preparedness for such a defence of our hearths and homes as will inspire us with confidence and courage when the day of trial comes, as come it will. To us this is indeed an important consideration. Our union with Australia will afford us all that security and protection, with-out which we shall be helpless indeed.

Nothing need be said further of the taking over of the lighthouses, lightships, and quarantine stations, except that they will be better administered by the Federal authorities.

So much for the functions of the Federal Parliament. Is there anything alarming in such changes as they involve? Do we lose anything whatever ? Do they not remain as much New Zealand services as ever ? We part with absolutely nothing. We are gainers every way—in economy, efficiency, the security of the people, should war's alarms be heard, and the roar of hostile cannon for the first time in our history, salute our ears.

In summarising the economic results involved in the absorption by the Federal Government of the services referred to, I am clearly of opinion that this Colony will gain enormously. I do not of course forget that we must, pay our fair share of the Federal expenses. This has been variously estimated, but by none with greater clearness than by Sir Samuel Griffiths, Chief Justice of Queensland, and for many years previously the trusted Treasurer of that colony. His estimate of the expenses of the Commonwealth is £230,000 per annum, to be contributed in equal proportions by the several States by way of deductions from the Customs revenue. Our share, roughly, would be one-seventh, say £33,000. The Consolidated revenue would, however, be relieved of the expenses of the several departments taken over by the Federal Government. The cost of New Zealand defences was in 1897 (the latest figures available), £91,387 19s. 1d., and Lighthouses cost us £31,920 17s. The Post and Telegraph Departments show a large profit, but it is more apparent than real, inasmuch as it includes the considerable revenue derived under the Stamp Duties, which would not be taken over with the Postal and Telegraph Departments. There is a clear saving of £123,308 16s. 1d. on the Defence and lighthouse services taken over, and to this it is only fair to add the probable saving in interest when, as page 30 is most certain, the State debts are pooled. Our indebtedness is something under £50,000,000, but assuming that to be the amount, and that the interest is reduced only one per cent., we get the enormous saving of £500,000 per annum. The best financial authorities are agreed that the saving will exceed one per cent. It is absolutely absurd, therefore, to prate, as so many do, about the extra cost of the Federal Government. So far from that there will be an immediate saving of over £123,000, and a prospective saving of half-a-million, which may prove to be nearer a million, in interest payable upon our indebtedness. If loans to public bodies are likewise pooled, as doubtless they will be, another important saving will be effected. If we stand out, it will be most mortifying to New Zealanders, to find themselves in so many ways, having to pay inordinately for their present and prospective loans, as compared with the Colonies under the Commonwealth.

We now reach the second branch of our inquiry, viz., what functions remain to our State Parliament and State Government? It is deplorable to hear some who ought to know better lament the loss of the right to govern ourselves, and work out our own destinies. What an absurd and ridiculous mistake to make. We part with absolutely nothing. Our postal and telegraph services will remain as heretofore, only vastly extended and improved. Our defence forces, both by sea and land, will remain, but under conditions so much more favourable to efficiency, while we secure the invaluable aid of all our neighbours in repelling any hostile attack. It is plain, surely, that even as to those services which can only be come efficient by becoming federal we are enormously the gainers, and we part, so far even as they are concerned, with absolutety nothing whatever. There will be no sweeping changes; the transformation will be visible only by the marvellous improvements which will become possible, when those services are administered, with regard to the convenience and efficiency of the whole, rather than being administered in fragments, preventing their being either efficient or economical.

The Parliament of New Zealand, as at present constituted, will remain; all those Departments which occupy the attention of the hon. members, chiefly, will remain undisturbed. There is a high probability in the opinion of the best judges, that page 31 there will be as much money to expend as heretofore on works of public utility. When the public debts are taken over inordinate borrowing will be restrained. But this even is a distinct gain of great importance Legislation affecting railroads, roads, bridges, the lands of the colony, education, the administration of justice, hospital and charitable aid, industrial legislation, old age pensions, the drink traffic—everything we now deal with, save the exceptions previously referred to. Members of Parliament need have no fear of their occupation being gone, or the honorarium attached to it. So far from that an additional 18 prizes will be bestowed upon New Zealand to the value of £-100 each per annum, and seven more to all the States, the high distinction of becoming Ministers of the Crown, under the great Commonwealth, and the £12,000 distributable among Ministers. What then becomes of the absurd hue and cry of some little Colonials, the counterpart of the little Englanders, that we will be extinguished or overshadowed, that we shall become an emasculated body from which the life has departed ? How absurd it all seems! Is California or San Francisco emasculated by being one of the United States of America ? Would her people be more free, more prosperous, more secure from attack, were they a colony or even an independent nationality ? What becomes of the still more silly plea arising from our remoteness from the seat of Government? California is four times farther removed by laud, and still farther by sea, from Washington. The Commonwealth Legislature will have members travelling many thousands of miles by sea and land to discharge their public duty. It will have representatives who will be a month or more going and returning. The New Zealand contingent, under conditions that will speedily arise, will be able to reach the Federal city within three days. The Federal City, the great capital of the future, will be nearly as close to us as Dunedin is to Auckland, and much more speedily reached. How lamentable to have to listen to such nonsense from men ordinarily regarded as intelligent.

I repeat we gain every way. We shall never cease to be New Zealand the beautiful, and I fervently hope, too, New Zealand the prosperous and happy. But after all the outpourings of a narrow and egotistical class, who appear perfectly unable to grasp the fair proportions of the questions we are dicsussing, we are not a nationality now, nor is it likely that it will ever be in page 32 the least desirable that we should achieve our independence. We are but a colony of the Empire, an infinitesimal proportion of the earth's surface, or even of the area comprised within the British dominions. You could plant a dozen New Zealands in the backwoods of the Australian continent, and as you journeyed past such picturesque changes of scenery, they would soon pass out of sight.

Once more I desire to emphasise that the great and important fact which cannot be made too plain or too prominent, is the open door. The widespread infatuation that the Federal Bill provides for our joining at any time on equal terms is an enormous mistake. How foolish, how misleading, how fatal even, the opinions of some who counsel us to wait. Why wait ? Why hesitate ? This is the weakest of all the weak inventions of the enemy—the most insincere and hypocritical of cries. It is dictated by a narrow and foolish policy. Wait till the steed is stolen and then lock the stable? Wait till opportunity, now come to us, and inviting us to enter, passes us by, perhaps for ever? Wait for the turn of the tide ? Now is our time of flood tide. Men animated by the loftiest patriotism are calling us, regretting our hesitation, deploring our delusions, unable to account for such a spell as overwhelms us. But within a few months—so urgent, by our stoicism and neglect has this matter become—and the flowing tide will be all against us. Let us be forewarned; don't let us make any mistake. The issues very soon will rest, not with men, statesmen and patriots, inspired by Imperial sentiments, but with hard-headed men, the representatives of the Australian public, largely a manufacturing and industrial people, who for years have been familiar with the charm of fiscal barriers in protecting their trades and industries. How conspicuous in every tariff are the duties levied almost exclusively upon New Zealand products. Forty shillings upon horses, and 2s. and 2s. 6d. upon sheep are duties levelled at New Zealand; 2d. to 3d. per lb. on butter, 3d. to 4d. per lb. on cheese, 4d and 6d. per bushel on oats, 6d and 8d. per lb. on hops, 4s. 6d per bushel on malt, 20s. to 180s. per ton on oatmeal, 20s. per ton on potatoes, 15s. to 30s. per 1000ft. on timber—these are duties well nigh prohibitive, and they are levelled specially at this colony. And it is to this potential class in the Australian Legislature, the manufacturers and farmers chiefly, who desire to shut us out, such misguided councillors would deliberately relegate the page 33 question of our admission to the united States, after the open door has been shut, securely locked, and the key placed, for all time in the hands of these very men ! Was there ever such extravagance of folly ? In all history can we find a parallel for such absolute insanity ? And yet these artificial, unnatural, and irrational barriers notwithstanding, the export of produce and manufactures to the Australian colonies has shown a marvellous increase, when such conditions are taken into account. In 1895 out exports were £978,000, and in 1898 £1,475,157. These figures are highly suggestive. Mark them well, I pray you. How our exports would increase in value had we, as we may easily have, absolute free trade with the Australian colonies ! Our choice, the choice of the people of New Zealand within the next few months, is between this free trade with the Australian colonies, for our trade and commerce, and artificial restrictions; between a revived and flourishing production, and local industries that will surprise and astonish us, and isolation, with its manifold disabilities, a languishing trade, a diminishing population, and all-round depreciation of property. The issues are indeed overwhelming. Never before have the people of New Zealand been confronted with such a grave responsibility.

May wisdom, and prudence, and patriotism inspire us, and the future of our beautiful colony, so richly endowed by Divine Providence, resting upon the broad foundation of the Federal Constitution, and secured against foreign invasion, will become increasingly populous and increasingly happy, our prosperity shall eclipse in the future all the brightest glories of the present.

"We, too, shall boast
Our Scipio's, Solon's, Cato's—Sage's, Chiefs,
That in the lapse of time yet dormant lie,
Waiting the joyous hour of life and light."