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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 76

Special Interviews. — Australasian Federation. — "The Union of the Colonies." — The Advantages of Federation. — Interview with Mr. J. Kennedy Brown

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Special Interviews.

Australasian Federation.

"The Union of the Colonies."

The Advantages of Federation.

Interview with Mr. J. Kennedy Brown.

The question of federation appears to be attracting more attention at the present time in New Zealand than it did when the proposals for the union of the colonies were first laid before the public. The excitement attendant upon the vote just taken in New South Wales, and the victory gained by the supporters of the federation movement, have had the effect of causing renewed interest to be taken in this important question, consequently the impressions of those who have paid close attention to the federation movement should be read with interest. A "Herald" reporter interviewed Mr. Kennedy Brown, who takes great interest in the movement, and gleaned from that gentleman some important details in connection therewith.

Reference was first made to the probable fiscal policy of the Federated States. "Don't you think that intercolonial free-trade would interfere with some of the local industries which the protective tariff has fostered, by introducing Australian competition?"

"That is an important subject, and getting at once to the crux of the whole question so far as New Zealand is concerned. I have been in the intercolonial trade for more than a quarter of a century, representing the largest manufacturing houses part of the time, and can speak from very ample experience. Twenty-five years ago New Zealand's industries were in their infancy, while the industries of the mother colony had become important, and still later, Melbourne came to the front with a bound, cutting out New South Wales and building up enormous local industries, which her energy and enterprise carried over all the page 41 colonies. New Zealand came into the field next, and her industries are at this moment, notwithstanding hostile tariffs, the most conspicuous, and far and away the most important. Our timber trade is one of the oldest, and overshadows all the colonies except Queensland. Then comes farm and dairy produce, our surplus production being enormous. Next comes manufactures of wood, of wool, of iron of leather. In all these lines New Zealand is unrivalled. It is Australia that has to reckon with us, if only we join the union and secure the inestimable blessings of intercolonial free-trade. You see our climate and natural resources favour continuous production, as well as human energies. Australia is indeed a grand country, but she is almost destitute, Queensland excepted, of the more useful timbers—her climate for more than half the year a scorching one, her seasons intermittent, droughts and floods and bush fires, paralysing the energies of her people and inflicting enormous losses upon the country. I think we have everything to gain and nothing whatever to dread, from a policy of intercolonial free-trade."

"But taking clothing, shirts, woollens, and other similar manufactures in which enterprising colonists have invested much capital, would they not be likely to be overrun with Australian goods of the same description ?"

"Now you have got at the question which I am aware creates considerable trepidation in certain quarters, and nothing can be more natural I am persuaded however, that in all these manufactures we can not only compete with the other colonies, but beat them. No firm in Australia could make such a display of woollens, blankets, rugs, etc., as several New Zealand firms recently exhibited in Auckland, neither in get up quality, or price. We are enormously ahead of Australia in those lines. Although our population is only about three-fifths that of New South Wales, we have seven times as many woollen mills, and produce more than twenty times the quantity of woollens. The fact that the trade in them has become established in Australia, hostile tariffs notwithstanding, demonstrates surely that with free trade this great industry would be greatly increased. Look at our raw materials. We are recklessly sending away that we might manufacture among ourselves Take kauri gum, for instance. We alone possess this valuable product, and in is sent off in the rough. page 42 If we converted it into varnishes, every £100 worth of gum would represent over £1000 worth of varnish, and it is in the latter form we should deal with this commodity."

"And what of the timber industry ?"

"Our kauri timber is also an exclusively New Zealand product, and is being ruthlessly sacrificed. Trees of small girth are cut down that ought to remain growing for years. We are doing scarcely anything to replace those being felled, a foolish and impolitic tax expediting the wasteful process. For every tree we cut down a dozen should be planted by force of law. The same argument, moreover, which I have used in dealing with kauri gum, applies equally to kauri timber. Had we free trade with the neighbouring colonies, which our federating would assure us, this valuable natural asset would be largely exported in the manufactured state as woodware, doors, sashes, etc., and the wages and profits of human labour added to the value of the commodity in the rough. The duty on timber is from 1s 6d to 3s per 100ft. Try to imagine the result of free trade in timber with Australia! Both Baltic and Oregon timber, now more than dividing the intercolonial trade, would be nowhere. They would be subject to heavy duties, and their competition would vanish. Besides, if we decide to remain isolated, Queensland, with ample supplies of excellent timber for every purpose, would simply annex the markets of Sydney and Melbourne, and Auckland's great industry would be strangled. Last year we exported over 40,000,000ft "

"Take the products in which the farmers are interested. Do you think they would benefit from federation if New Zealand were to be included ?"

"Well, if we send a horse to South Australia, we must pay the Government 40s. If to Tasmania or West Australia 20s. Sheep landing in Victoria pay 2s each, and in West Australia 2s 6d. Our oats are heavily handicapped, being 8d. per bushel in Queensland, and 2s. and 3s. respectively in South Australia and Victoria per 100lb. But, nevertheless, we sent them £100,000 worth in 1895, and the next year nearly twice that amount. A free port at Sydney explains this extraordinary increase. .Their cheese pays 3d. and 4d. per lb. to get into Australia Think of that! And yet we sent them in 1895 nearly £10,000 worth, and page 43 in 1898 over £50,000. Had we free trade with these colonies, how enormously this export would expand, and what a boon to the farmers. A good puzzle for the "Graphic" would be to estimate the increase a single year after federation secured us the enormous advantages of free-trade with these colonies. Butter is rated at 2d. and 3d. In 1895 we sent them nearly £9000 worth, and in 1898 £75,728. Oatmeal at 20s., 40s., 80s., and 180s. per ton! How the people paying the latter duty must prize it, and it deserves all the fame it has achieved. In three years our export to Australia more than doubled. Maize pays 6d. and 8d. per bushel. Grass and clover seed goes to Victoria free, marking the desire of the people for improved pastures, but to the other colonies 15 per cent, and 25 per cent. The export was £11,205 in 1895 and £43,152 in 1898. Potatoes are 15s. to Queensland and 20s. to the other colonies—nearly half their value. And we ship enormous quantities. In 1895 our exports were £6871, and in 1898 £137,416. Here is a big jump, the result of an open port. Had we free trade, with all five ports open to our exploitation, how this export would expand ! Land would become increasingly valuable. And not only the produce of the land, but the produce likewise of the sea a highly valuable asset. How marvellously our wealth would increase, and human happiness—the only thing worth thinking about—the real chief end of man—would abound !"

"Another question, Mr Brown. How do you think federation would—I mean our federating—affect our larger commercial houses ?"

"Federation is primarily a manufacturer's and producer's question. It takes all local manufactures and productions to be chiefly within its province; but it is also, I think, of great importance to importing firms. Many locally-produced commodities will take the place of imported articles, and the more the better, but the merchants will share in the general prosperity. If the colony suffers a loss of population commerce must languish and cetirus paribus, if as I think the colony prospers by federating the purchasing power of the larger population will greatly benefit the commercial classes. They dreaded and opposed a protective policy, but it has benefited them enormously."

"You have drawn an attractive picture. But should New Zealand not join, what then ?"

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"I am almost sorry you have referred to that side of the question. It is like a horrid nightmare; I dread to think of it. In one sense New Zealand and her people could exist in a high state of comfort if she were surrounded with a sea of fire. The country is so productive that we either produce, or could produce, every necessary, and almost every luxury of life. But what a wretched, lotus-eating life that would be! And so likewise, if we remain isolated in this great crisis in our history. Our farmers would lose heart, as they found the federated States waging a war of exclusion by means of a high tariff; settlement would be discouraged; gazing across the Tasman Sea they would envy their more fortunate contemporaries, and many, doubtless, would take their departure from New Zealand. Australia has abundance of good land open for settlement at a tithe of the price here, and the youth and hope of the colony would leave us in multitudes. Manufacturing industries would be dwarfed and stunted Commerce would languish. A period of unrest and depression of unexampled severity would set in, and we should chew the cud of bitter disappointment. Don't let us make any mistake. It appears now or never, never at least on terms equally favourable."

"And what of the political situation ? "

"That is much more simple. To approach the question from the commercial side requires knowledge and experience, superfluous when dealing with the political side of the question. We must clearly distinguish between Federal functions and State functions. The former will be both large and important, but not so much in evidence as local functions. The change of Government will be little perceptible. The saving of interest upon the public debt will pay nearly, if not all, the expenses of the Federal Government. It would be unrivalled as a colonial federation, '.there can never be such another. Australia is more than twenty-six times the size of the United Kingdom, fifteen times larger than France, half as large again as Russia in Europe, almost equal indeed to the entire Continent of Europe, or the United States of America. You could put twenty Englands and more than a dozen New Zealands into the wilds of Australia, and to employ the language of the "Review of Reviews," "they might be playing the game of hide and seek in Australia" The same journal says you could plot a map of Europe with an area cut out of Continental Nations containing 250,000,000 inhabitants, and page 45 still leave three-fourths of Australia uncovered. In my pamphlet I made the following extract from a lecture I delivered some years ago in Christchurch:—"Before taking our leave of the Australian Colonies, let us group some figures afresh, as indicating how ripe we are for federation, a movement in which I earnestly trust the position of New Zealand will not be one of isolation. The total revenue of the Australian colonies amounts to over twenty millions, being four times that of Canada, about double that of Belgium or Italy, three times that of Portugal, more than three times that of Sweden or Norway, and ten times that of modern Greece. Surely there is nothing premature in such a galaxy of young and prosperous colonies uniting for their mutual protection, and for the purpose of securing among other things the inestimable blessing of free-trade among themselves." More populous and wealthier by far than the States of America, when they poured forth their blood and treasure like water to achieve their independence. How changed the times and the men. The House of Commons cheered New South Wales; they voted large sums, and sent army after army to crush the infant States of America. Think of the slow growth of the British Constitution, the wars, the persecutions, the tyrannies, the nation steeped in blood a thousand times. And yet we hesitate. The Federal Constitution is the noblest monument which wisdom and patriotism and statesmanship has ever reared. It will become the admiration of the world."

"And what of local government? "

"Some important functions will, of course, be Federal, but heads of departments and all the machinery of Government will remain. Our local Government as at present carried on will still remain to us with a Governor and dual Parliament, and all the pomp and ceremony of State. They will still have ample work; almost every question that interests the politician will remain; roads and bridges, land settlement, new railways, the whole round of social questions, and local option, and the old age pensions. Members of Parliament need not fear the loss of their billets, or the honorarium attached to them. I am afraid we will still be far from a millenium; the loaves and fishes must still be scrambled for; petty parochialism will not even yet be abolished. The ins and the outs will still fight bravely on, and the wretched game of beggar-my- page 46 neighbour will not cease as yet. But the Federal Parliament will be potential in all matters Federal, and we may fairly hope, will set a lofty and highly beneficial example, that will influence the local Legislatures for good. For all public purposes we should have a larger revenue to expend, and taxation upon the necessaries of life would be reduced very largely."

If we do not join at once, do you think there will be any obstacle to our joining later on ? "

"Yes; emphatically. That way madness lies. Now, or perhaps never; it appears to me never—at least on equal terms. The decision rested with the creme de la creme of Australian patriots and statesmen. Now it rests with the people of New Zealand. But it will soon pass from them. Australian leaders have deplored our hanging back, and cannot comprehend it. From the first the ideal Commonwealth was an Australasian Federation, to include eventually the South Sea Islands. The dream of New Zealand ever obtaining the least hold upon the Islands, or the Island trade, except through Federation, must vanish,

"Like the baseless fabric of a vision."