The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 64
"A thing of shreds and patches."
I have said before, the present [unclear: Government] to power with unexampled opportunities [unclear: cting] reforms, had they but possessed [unclear: rage,] and at the commencement of [unclear: this] they had a majority with which they [unclear: s] have carried their measures triumphantly, [unclear: ey] but introduced such Bills as com-[unclear: ed] themselves to men of common sense, [unclear: et] the requirements of the country. [unclear: As] they met the House with nothing ready, [unclear: ing] prepared, except the Licensing Bill. [unclear: they] threw down before rampant and [unclear: y] members, and watched it torn to [unclear: s.] This was an index of the want of [unclear: ess] of purpose which was to rule their [unclear: s] throughout. Had they rallied [unclear: their] round them, and set their [unclear: existence] the main features of the Bill, it [unclear: ly] have been carried; but they [unclear: ely] stood by while the work of [unclear: tion] proceeded; and only by good [unclear: e,] and by the determination of the [unclear: er] House, have landed their first offspring, [unclear: ed,] senseless, and disfigured, in the [unclear: pages] the Statute Book.
It is always said for the Ministry that they [unclear: k] office at a time of great depression, [unclear: and] saved the country by their retrenchments. This is, no doubt, true; but retrenchment was forced upon them by the House, and any Ministry taking office at that time would have done the same thing. It was to their interest to paint the condition of affairs as black as possible, and they succeeded in showing that they have, since their accession to office, effected great reforms. So they have; but in a partial, undecided manner; by blackmailing the most unprotected portion of the community of one-tenth of their incomes : but comment on this subject is superfluous—the publication of Sir Julius Vogel's masterly letter will have convinced any minds that doubted the iniquity of this transaction before. This session the Government, or rather Mr Hall, has proposed to continue it; but he found that the good sense of the House would not permit it, and, with his usual timorousness, he withdrew from the position at once.
What demand for legislation was there at the commencement of the session ?—Three things prominently: Law reform, bankruptcy reform, and more satisfactory provisions for local government. And how are these questions met? Having in their hands a code recommended by the Judicature Commission, which could have been brought into effect by a Bill of three or four clauses, they left it unnoticed and probably unread, permitting the Commission to adjourn without reporting finally, in deference to the wishes of certain prominent members who wished its consideration to be put off.
As to bankruptcy : The Government had in their hands the exhaustive report of the Legislative Council, made last session, and they probably had the advantage of the English Bill introduced into Parliament, and yet they have not even framed a measure on the subject, nor intimated their desire to do so.
As to the Local Government Bills it is hardly necessary to speak. These measures have been so fully exposed in the speeches page 22 made by Mr Ormond and those who voted with him, that further remark is needless. The utter insanity of the Government scheme of electing an independent Board; a second Government, possibly of Opposition tendencies, to administer public works, is, I fancy, admitted even by themselves. Thanks be to Mr Ormond that these Bills were killed. It was a very doubtful position the Ministers found themselves in, too; for, had the division upon these proposals taken place at once, they would have been defeated; but, with the pusillanimity that has is characterised all their movements, they dared not stand to their guns, but by a careful manipulation of members at all times and seasons—in their bedrooms and at the House, and by promises that if not defeated they would withdraw their Bills, Ministers retained all that seems dear to them in life—their seats. They lost their honor; they sacrificed their self-respect; they abandoned what few principles they had, that, if possible, they might for a time retain the nominal control of the Government. Mr Ormond must have been quite satisfied, for he attained his end—he had their Bills rejected. He had no desire to defeat the Government. It would have been most unfortunate for him if he had done so; for he had no party of his own, and he had too much self-respect to sacrifice his principles and repeat Mr Larnach's undignified coalition with Sir George Gray. He succeeded in achieving what he aimed at, and made his first step to power.
The pitiful exhibition of the Public Works Statement exemplifies the weakness of Mr Hall again. Was ever such a miserable attempt at trying to please everyone!—no policy, no scheme, no originality, merely a parcelling out of the few loaves and fishes in such a manner as, if possible, not to give offence. The Statement itself was narrow in the extreme, merely a rechauffe of the Engineers' reports, containing no broad grasp of railway affairs. It was just such a statement as would have been expected from Mr Hall, but there the curious part of the thing comes in, for it was not Mr Hall, but Mr J. C. Richmond who composed this precious document. It was Mr Richmond who was smuggled day after day and night after night into Ministers' rooms for weeks, while the messengers were strictly enjoined not to speak of his presence there, to concoct this very weak composition. Can it be that for Mr Richmond the vacant portfolio is kept open for the time, when, after the session, he shall be called to the Upper House and appointed a Minister, and then, with the prestige of a portfolio, stand again for Nelson at the general elections ? Or, now that [unclear: Ne] in revolt, for a Taranaki electorate? [unclear: S] selection will be but another nail in [unclear: the] of Mr Hall's Ministry. Had the [unclear: Perm] his own way, Mr Wakefield would [unclear: befo] have held the vacant portfolio; but [unclear: the] position of Mr Rolleston, and the [unclear: fea] offending by the appointment such [unclear: me] Mr Richardson, has kept the politicals out of power for the present.
The great measure of the session—[unclear: the] presentation Bill—has now passed the [unclear: H] and will probably be the last effort of [unclear: the] vernment this session. The Ministry [unclear: hav] pretend they have, arrived at what [unclear: they] sider the true basis of representation, [unclear: pe] in proportion to the population. [unclear: The] that fixed this principle in Mr Hall' [unclear: s] was that he would outbid Sir George [unclear: Grey] popularity, and he has certainly rather [unclear: ta] the wind out of that wily politician' [unclear: s] But is this a dignified method of [unclear: legislat] Mr Hall must certainly see—and should [unclear: th] for legislate accordingly—that no [unclear: hard] fast rule can be arrived at for [unclear: represen] on the basis of population. There are [unclear: gr] districts whose interests clash with [unclear: othe] which they are bound. There are other terests which will be unrepresented but matter: so long as each elector has a [unclear: w] matters not if his vote has to be given [unclear: to] a member for the Chatham Islands. [unclear: Not] the policy of the Bill in this respect [unclear: is] cally wrong, but the division of [unclear: electorates] huge blunder, and may prove disastrous to unity of our centres of population. But [unclear: w] again shows out the want of courage [unclear: in] Ministry is the fact that in spite of [unclear: their] testations that retrenchment is [unclear: the] object in their government, they [unclear: cannot] the House with their Bill without [unclear: add] numbers to the already over-grown [unclear: Asse] so as to secure the votes of those [unclear: mea] whose districts benefit by the addition. [unclear: proposal] of those who desired to [unclear: reduce] number of our representatives to fifty [unclear: or] was too patriotic a conception to find [unclear: fav] the eyes of the Cabinet. Without [unclear: decre] the effectiveness of the legislative [unclear: body] nay, rather by increasing it—and [unclear: by] enlargement of districts [unclear: reducing] jealousies, the Government could have [unclear: red] the expenditure by at least £15,000 per [unclear: am] but they dared not. To accumulate [unclear: pro] Ministerial weakness were a [unclear: tedious] indeed, and a veritable weariness to [unclear: the] but their crowning proof was that rash [unclear: ac] timid man frightened into momentary [unclear: au]—the introduction by the Premier of the [unclear: cl] His valiant speech with which he [unclear: heral] and his timid speechless withdrawal of [unclear: wit] page 23 [unclear: rt] days, was a pitiable sight.
[unclear: at] the dreary Financial Statement, [unclear: e] void of ingenuity in lightening the [unclear: te] grievous burdens. Contrast it with [unclear: wing] eloquent budget speeches of Mr [unclear: e's,] embalmed in Northcote's volumes, [unclear: far]-reaching, thoughtful, statesmanlike [unclear: s] of Vogel. The great, the prominent [unclear: s] of Atkinson's budgets is the childlike [unclear: ty] of their proposals. They might, [unclear: so] are they, have been written by any [unclear: ly] educated man of common sense, [unclear: and] a rule, decorated with a few simple [unclear: nts] from the commonest text-books on [unclear: l] economy. This was extremely [unclear: t] in his much-lauded recent speech at [unclear: ki,] where he treated the uneducated [unclear: y] folk to a disquisition on the incidence [unclear: tion] which was taken bodily [unclear: from] well, worn antiquated text-book, [unclear: Smith] 's" Wealth of Nations." [unclear: These] listened, open-mouthed, to these trite [unclear: s,] and thought the Colonial Treasurer [unclear: a] sent financier. Atkinson's sole idea [unclear: ce] is a Micawber-like horror of debt, [unclear: cess] of expenditure over revenue [unclear: was] enormous. J will make both [unclear: ends]-a most praiseworthy view. The unfor-[unclear: part] of the matter is that his [unclear: sole] of achieving this is tax, tax, tax; [unclear: ind] the fact that the people are groan-[unclear: e] under their burdens. A [unclear: commercial] has ruined many and is [unclear: ruining] more; thousands of men are leav-[unclear: shores] for want of work, and [unclear: the] population is groaning and travailing [unclear: in] His cry is, "I will tax you more [unclear: and] Now, Mr Gladstone or Mr Vogel [unclear: ave] said, "During this bad year, or [unclear: ese] two bad years, I will not oppress [unclear: ple] more. I will scheme and contrive [unclear: st] to distribute the burden over [unclear: coming] I will take the tax off this industry [unclear: by] of financial arrangements; by [unclear: Treasury] will postpone for a year or two, till [unclear: ity] comes, the necessity for at once up" The President of the British As-[unclear: Prof]. Tyndall, read a paper on the of the Imagination in Science, and dis-[unclear: y] demonstrated that every great scientific had a vivid imagination, and used it [unclear: y;] that without such imagination no [unclear: er] achieved great scientific results. [unclear: is] imagination, which Newton, Bacon, [unclear: t] Spencer, and Darwin all largely [unclear: ed,] which Tyndall himself has in [unclear: ce,] is clear as the noon-day sun [unclear: in] page of one of Gladstone's or Vogel' [unclear: s] it is this imagination which [unclear: enabled] men to achieve such great results; [unclear: e] shsence of this imagination which characterises the budgets of North cote and Atkinson. Another reason why Major Atkinson's budgets are so simple, so void of any statesmanlike devices, is his want of experience in financial and other matters. Major Atkinson's sole experience of finance is what he has gained in the narrow precincts of our Government Buildings. He has not studied commercial matters in a large house, and the mysteries of the London Stock Exchange are to him as deep and unfathomable as are the sacred rites of the Rosierucians to the Christians of Wellington. Major Atkinson knew absolutely nothing of finance for some time after he first took office, and his budgets were the unacknowledged work of Under-Secretaries like Batkin and others, a fact that was at the time widely known and was most startlingly illustrated by Major Atkinson's ludicrous display of ignorance when cross-examined by the Finance Committee. However, not being too proud to learn from the officials of the Treasury, and being very industrious, he slowly acquired a larger knowledge; but though his knowledge of the state of the Government account became greater and more correct, so closely immersed in these accounts was he that he quite failed to obtain any of that larger, wider knowledge of the operations of commerce in this colony and in Great Britain. By dint of close and constant study, his mind has become microscopic in its power of revealing the most infinitesimal points in the accounts, and for this reason has not that telescopic-range vision which surveys the larger world, embracing commercial principles which govern this and every other colony. This and last session's Financial Statements have been in their way monuments of the Treasurer's utter inability to capably fill the post. Under his guidance, the country would certainly never get into debt, and just as certainly would never prosper. A budget more unfitted to meet the crying wants of the people was never published—it increases our evils and lessens none.
But the mismanagement, timorousness, and weakness of the Ministry is most apparent on private members' nights. Then it is that, cowering in their seats, they permit, with possibly a faint, querulous remonstrance measures of the utmost importance—measures altering the Constitution of the colony, breaking faith with its servants, effecting the most radical alterations in the existing institutions of the country, and making away with its assets—to pass triumphantly. Well might Mr Shrimski exclaim with wonder when he found no determined opposition to his Pensions Bill, and well might Sir George Grey snub the Premier when he found the Government page 24 would not oppose his Law Practitioners Bill. They do not take their party into their confidence, nor take any trouble to keep it together; and one of the first actions of the session was to submit calmly to have an adverse vote carried against them upon the motion of one of the Government whips.
Not only are the ties that bind the party loosening and breaking, but the homogeneity of the Ministry itself is disturbed. The constant interference of the Premier into the management of other departments has caused many a rebellious feeling, and the Colonial Treasurer, in particular, will not submit much longer. Mr Rolleston, as I have said before, has gone further and resigned; but, fortunately, the gap has been healed again. The relations between the Governor and his Executive are also strained, and, as Mr Hutchison has discovered, the despatches Home are not always sent on the responsibility of the Cabinet. In fact, a feeling of dissatisfaction and uneasiness pervades the [unclear: Ministry] Parliament, the Civil Service, [unclear: and] country. It is not so much the [unclear: Mini] as a whole as for Mr Hall in [unclear: parti] that this feeling is entertained, but [unclear: in] minds the position is being summed up. [unclear: Th] is already in the House a majority [unclear: agai] the Government, and shortly the [unclear: univer] feeling will be that Mr Hall must go. [unclear: what] is to follow I shall have a word to [unclear: add] but for the present, I say that the [unclear: Mini] must be ejected. I charge them-[unclear: and] majority of the House concurs—with [unclear: in] bility of purpose, incompetence of weakness of execution, and power [unclear: lessness] control. If Responsible Government is to [unclear: b] maintained, wo must have a Ministry [unclear: whi] will accept its responsibility, maintain its [unclear: pos] tion, and not become at the hands of [unclear: th] House a weathercock, changeable with [unclear: eve] breeze that stirs.