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Kaipara, or, Experiences of a settler in north New Zealand

Chapter XXII. — System of Government in New Zealand

page 176

Chapter XXII.
System of Government in New Zealand.

At the end of my last chapter I remarked that we pay dearly enough for our laws out here, and I will now try and explain my reasons for so thinking. In my humble opinion, we are altogether over-governed, and that this is one of the reasons why so many of our enterprises turn out commercially unsuccessful, and also why we do not make our own varnish, our own furniture, and do not push many other industries, for the prosecution of which the colony possesses exceptional advantages. We seem to be playing at being a big nation—a second Great Britain in fact—while our entire population does not reach the population of one of England's first-class towns.

Besides His Excellency the Governor, we have a Premier, styled an "Honourable," with a salary of £1750 a year, a ministerial residence, travelling and other allowances; six Cabinet page 177ministers holding portfolios, receiving each a salary of £1250 a year, a ministerial residence, travelling and other allowances, and each styled an Honourable; one minister without portfolio, receiving a salary of £800 a year; a host of clerks belonging to the different ministerial departments, with salaries from £800 a year downwards; an attorney - general, solicitor-general, and several law officers; a Legislative Council, consisting at present, I believe, of a Speaker, a Chairman of Committee, Clerk to the Council, and forty-six members—each member being appointed for life, and receiving 200 guineas every Parliamentary session, a free pass on the railways, and. the title "Hon." tacked on before his name.*

Then we have the House of Representatives, consisting of a Speaker, Chairman of Committees, Clerk of Committees, Clerk of the House, Sergeant-at-arms, Clerk of Writs, and ninety members. The M.H.R.'s are elected for three years, and each receives an honorarium of 200 guineas a session, a free pass on the railways, and has M.H.R. tacked on after his name.

page 178

It is doubtless a very proud and pleasant thing to be able to say we have a House of Lords, a Sergeant-at-arms, and all that sort of thing, but we are paying too dearly for the gratification.

In England, with an army and navy to support, and a National Debt of about seven hundred millions, the general government costs rather under fifty shillings per head. Out here, with a public debt of thirty-two millions, it costs double, though all we possess in the way of army and navy consists of one general, a few volunteers, and a small steamboat called the Hinamoe (i.e., the sleepy), which, I believe, looks after the lighthouses, and carries the "Hons." and the "M.H.R.'s" about when they require change of air.

With regard to New Zealand's debt, it may be remarked that the money borrowed has not been thrown away on profitless wars, as is often the case with Government loans,—and that although I fear a good deal of money has been wasted, still there is something better to show than soldier's graves and tattered standards. There are telegraph lines, harbours, lighthouses, and about sixteen hundred and twenty miles of railway, which return at present a net profit of page 179nearly three per cent. on their entire cost— over twelve and a half millions—and would probably return considerably more were the charges reduced so that farmers, orchardists, and others could profitably utilise them as carriers. Last year over four millions were expended in governing the colony, of which about one million was derived from the gross revenue of the railways, and three millions squeezed somehow or other out of the colonists. About half this sum of three millions went to pay interest on the public debt, and half the cost of government. It is with the latter item that our chance of retrenchment at present lies.

The population of the colony last year numbered about 620,000, comprised, as nearly as I can ascertain, of 120,000 unmarried men, women, widows, and widowers, 100,000 married men, 100,000 married women, and 300,000 children. It is clear that the 120,000 unmarried, and the 100,000 married men, have between them to pay, directly and indirectly, the whole sum necessary for the interest on the loans and the cost of government. The married man, with wife and average allowance of three children, has of course to contribute a very much larger share than the single individual, who has only page 180himself or herself to support, and I will assume that the married man pays three quarters, and the unmarried one quarter. The former has therefore (without counting local rates) to contribute about £22, 10s. annually, half of which sum goes to sustain our expensive game of pretending to be a big nation.

How can labour be cheap when the above is the case! If the cost of government were reduced to one half, the married labouring man (and it is he that fixes the rate of wages) could afford to work for appreciably less than he now can, the cost of working the railways would be diminished, and the revenue from them proportionately increased. A sensible reduction in the price of labour would doubtless also most beneficially affect the commercial prospects of the colony, and probably cause the successful development of its many suitable industries.

Mr. Froude, in his book "Oceana," talks about the possibility of New Zealand repudiating her debt, and I trust he will not be angry if I say that the information given him on this point is about as accurate as the information he received concerning Kauri gum, to the effect that it was valuable because it made pretty ornaments. There is little fear of New Zealand page 181repudiating her debt—as I think the figures I have given show—but I trust before long she will repudiate all the unnecessary paraphernalia of government that is weighing her down.

The colony may at present, I think, be likened to a goodly fruit tree full of bud and promise, but suffering from the ravages of a host of caterpillars, which are destroying its blossoms, and with them the chance of fruit.

A new Government pledged to retrenchment has lately been formed, and I trust the promises made on the platform will be fulfilled later on in Parliament.

Since writing the above, the following paragraph referring to the late ministry appeared among the items of Parliamentary news in the Auckland Evening Star of December 6, 1887.

"Ministerial Residences.

"The following rather questionable items appear in the return of expenditure during the last six months on ministerial residences, and have created some comment:—

"Tinakori Road House (Sir J. Vogel's): Overhauling lift, £11, 16s. 8d.; gas-fittings for theatrical stages, £2; 9s. 11d.; hire of piano, tuning and repairing, £10, 4s.; 12 dining-room chairs, at 60s., £36; pink and gold breakfast set, £3; one spring lounge, £10; hire of piano, £7, 10s.

"Molesworth Street (Hon. E. Richardson's): Re-covering suite in plush, £35; knife-cleaning machine, £4, 10s.; page 182hire of piano, £8, os. 6d.; hire of piano repairing, £3, 5s.; three gas fires, £9; one dinner service, £14, 18s.; garden hose and fitting, £4, 1s. 4d,

"Tinakori Road (east) (Hon. J. A. Tole's): One walnut card table, £5; two spirit seltzogenes, £5, 2s. 6d.; flower-pots, £1; set best hangings, £9; one mangle, £8, 10s.; three pairs curtains, £5, 12s. 6d.; one child's bath, £1; packing piano from Christchurch to Wellington, £1, 10s.; freight, 9s. 8d."

* The Legislative Council is supposed to correspond with the House of Lords at home, but is called out here by the irreverent, the Old Man's Refuge.