THE PUBLIC WORKS STATEMENT.
The following is an abridgement of the statement on .Public Works delivered by Mr. Oliver in the House on Tuesday night. The report is supplied by the Government It AIL WAVS. After dealing with the railways in the North Island, the Minister for Public Works referred as follows to the South Island The original public Works scheme for the Middle Island was finished in the last financial year, communication by railway being established between Christchurch and Invercargill. The Western Railways in Southland, however, the construction of which was taken over from the Previn cial Government, and some small exten sions of the iGeneral .Government lines, are not, yet complete. With the exception of the Riverton-Orepuki Branch, these will be finished during this financial year. A connection is being made on the Nelson and Foxhill line with the Port at Nelson, and inland ah extension of three miles from Foxhill is in progress. The Picton and Blenheim line is being carried into the town of Blenheim. The harbor works at Greymonth, which may be regarded as an adjunct to the railway system, seem as far as they have been completed to answer the purpose for which they were intended. From the engineer’s report it would seem that the employment of a dredge, has materially facilitated the work, and reduced the cost of these improvements. - The works in progress during the year on the Amberley-Bluff railway consisted chiefly of extensions of stations, workshops at the large towns, and increased wharfage at Port Chalmers. A large expenditure has been proposed, in relaying the main line with heavier rads, but after much consideration it seems inadvisable to do this, as before the present rails could be lifted most of them will be so much worn that it would not he worth while to put them on another line.' Short extensions are made, or are in progress, of the Malverh-Awamoko and Green Island branch lines. The Waipahi-Tapanui railway contract was undertaken on terms of payment differing from the usual ones, inasmuch as no progress payments were to be required as the work went on, all payments being deferred until the line was completed. It was thought the adoption of this method would enable us to definitely extend bur system, and to obtain such an increase of price for Crown lands in the neighborhood of new lines made under similar conditions, as would pay the cost of construction. I grieve to say that these expectations have not been fulfilled. The works which were pushed on with great vigor for some time, are now almost entirely suspended, and the contractors have stated their inability to finish their contract without progress payments being made to them.
RAILWAYS AUTHORISED LAST YEAR. Contracts were let almost to the full extent of the votes on nearly all the lines authorised last year, and in several cases the votes were largely exceeded. Sections were let by piecework and day labor at Weka Pass and Albiny, in Canterbury ; on the Livingston branch and Otago central railway, in Otago, and at Kaiwarra, near Wellington. On all these there are about 2,200 men engaged at wages somewhat less than current rates. It is certain that the number will rapidly become less as the summer advances. ROADS. The Government expenditure on roads and bridges in the Middle Island last year was comparatively small, having been almost confined to Westland and the Northern end of the Island. COAL EXPLORATION. The most important work of this class which has been undertaken during the past year is the examination of the coal beds of the Mokau by Dr. Hector, who reports thst the coal formation there is of considerable extent, the outcrops having a width of over two miles, and stretching
frcra the Kawhaia harbor to the upper portion of the Wanganui river. ' Coal seams crop out oh the banks of the Mokau river, varying from two feat to six feet in thickness, and the quality is excellent for steam purposes A. new mine has been opened at Fernhill Green Island. The Kawakawa coal mine, at the Bay of Islands is undergoing development, and the coal is rapidly acquiring in established position in the market as a valual* le steam coa . A shaft recently sunk disclosed the existence of four seams four and nine feet thick, of superior quality, - and at a greater depth than any previous working in the Waikato coalfield. The company- which were working the Kupakupa mine have opened another mine on the opposite side of the river, and indications of the improvement of the quality of the coal with increasing depth have also been shown by recent discoveries. The heavy works undertaken by the Westport Colliery'Company for developing' the rich coalfield of the Mount Rochfort district, are making rapid progress, and in a few months it is expected the market will receive supplies from this source. The further development of the principal coal inines of the colony by increasing facilities for shipment deserves most careful consideration, as the means of fostering an industry that will profitably employ at home a large sum of money which is at the present time sent out of the colony for the purchase of foreign coal.
WORKING RAILWAYS. The traffic returns for July, August, and September show a considerable tailing off, compared with the corresponding period of last year. No doubt this is owing to the financial' depression, but much may be expected from the grain traffic of the approaching season, which bids fair to be a prosperous one. . A good ha; vest and the revival of trade, symptoms of which are apparent, would speedily produce happier results. lam glad to say that we are; extending the use New Zealand coal on our railways, and after the expiry of existing contracts* for the supply of Australian coal, our arrangements will enable us to dispense to a large extent, if not altogether, with imported fuel, and save several thousand pounds a year. I find that the cost of railways open for traffic at the end of the last financial year is L 8,690,417 os. 4d., including L 633.228 os. 4d. for interest to date of opening. The gross traffic returns amount to L 1,729,955 3s. 7d., from which must be deducted L 1,250,797 ss. 7d. for working expenses and maintainenance, leaving L 479,057 18s. for payment of interest on loans out of which these railways were made. Table No. 11, which will be appended to this statement when printed, shows for the past year the receipts have been L758,09G Bs. 2d., and working expenses L 545,478155., leaving a surplus of L 212,617 13s. 2d. This amount represents 2.054 per cent, on the averagecost of construction, leaving 2.946 per cent, to be supplied from other sources. We all believe that New Zealand is a country of such groat resources that in the course of years even those railways which are now the farthest from paying will become remunerative. In the meantime, however, the inhabitants of districts which have no railways are taxed to pay for them, as well as those, who inhabit more favored places. Hbw burdensome this charge has become was lately shown by my colleague, the hon. Treasurer, and the dftty is placed upon us of. considering how to make our railways pay a larger contribution towards their cost by skilful and economical management, and of submitting all future proposals for new railways to the same rigid scrutiny as private investors would make, and firmly rejecting them unless a strong probability can be shown that they will prove remunerative. It must not, however, be forgotten that the demands of the public have forced on the Government the adoption of a more expensive mode of constructing railways, and greater speed in transit than was at first intended, thus necessarily interfering with the paying character of these undertakings. No doubt groat collateral advantages are gained by the construction of railways, but after all the practical test of usefulness really is their being or not being used.' If,' therefore, it is found that on any railway the traffic is so small that great loss results from its working, it may, I think, be assumed that either it is badly managed, or that, being useful only to a few, it ought not to have been constructed. To quote from the statement made by my liredecessor in 1878, “Difficulty commenced from the moment when the Legislature repealed that cardinal condition of the public works policy, that in the event* of the proceeds of any railway failing to meet interest and sinking fund on the cost of its construction, the property in the district should be rated to make upitsdefiicency. ” The proposal of the Government, ashonovable members know, is todevotethe proceeds of sales of land to local and colonial public works. But if this fund is to be supplemented to any great extent by additional borrowing to- complete the general scheme of railways, there is no doubt in my mind that either- those already constructed must be made to approach more nearly to a paying condition, or else a system of rating districts beneficially affected mnat' eventually be resorted to.
Sir, we do not think that the proposals for. the various lines of railways •which are now in course of construction have been subjected before their adoption to so close a scrutiny as their importance demanded. It has, moreover, become, apparent that the funds which will be at our disposal for the prosecution of these works will prove inadequate to -complete them. We think that the time has come when our whole’ future policy with regard to public works must be considered, and it is, therefore, our intention to ask Parliament for authority to appoint a Royal Commission to make a more full and complete investigation into, the cost and economical value of the several works commenced and proposed, than would be possible for the Government unaided to complete before next session of Parliament. The Government hope, by means of the report of these Commissioners, to bo placed in a position to make proposals to Parliament for the prosecution of public works upon a plan carefully adapted to the circumstances of the colony. Our eiforts must now, therefore, be earnestly directed to the economical management of the railways, and, amongst other means, I think the keeping the accounts of the various sections separate and distinct, so that it may be seen what each is earning and spending, will have the good effect of arousing emulation
among the officers, as well /ah I 'of showing which of the lines a different system of working should be adppted., - , - PROPOSALS FOR THE .PITftJRE. . \ Sir, my predecessor has had the gratification of proposing and instituting many now works of great, magnitude. To,me • has fallen the unwelcome task of showing that our resources are inadequate to bear the continued strain: of so rapidly constructing these expensive work; BelieV- ; ing that to be the case, .we do 1 not intend to ask for authority to begin many how works; The funds at disposal . for the next few years .will be only sufficient to meet the necessary requirements for jnisr: cellaneous pUblic works already authorised, at a rate proportioned l to dflr resources, and l to the point at which they will be of real use to the community. Our ! position is barely this. In respect of the . L 5,000,000 loan, and the balance of L 517,120, including credits, with which we began the year, the positive engagements on contracts entered into: and; liabilities which must be met, together with , the expenditure already made during, the current year, will absorb L 3,800,865, including L 1,210,802 for land purchase,;and L 184,791 payable to counties inthe provincial districts of' Canterbury and Otago, in respect of stoppages from the surplus land revenue of the districts. If finished is the stipulated time, these works will require L 2,559,082 of'this amount to be paid before the 30th June next. The re-' mainder of the liabilities, excepting a per-/ tkm of thoao for land purchases, will fall within the following year. The balance . therefore, which is available out, of the; new loan, is L 1,872,046, and the only method of adding to this for public _ works, in addition to . receipts i from land sales, is by . diverting ...tpi, tb ; s purpose a sum from one of the other;. objects for which the loan was authorised.: , I have stated generally our. intentions, and the principles which we bpliet®-muat, ( guide onr proposals. Whatever may bo’ the opinion oi the House as to the expediency of 'the, course which we-, propose, that course must: to. a. large extent be guided by circumstances which w? cannot control. It is my duty to inform the House that the understanding, onwhich the loan agents are likely to obtain the : L 5,000,000 loan is such as will.preclude our going upon the English money market fbr further loans .for_ a period,; of ;three years. It is imperative, therefore, in the. • interests of; settlement-that the expenditure of this loan should, be .judiciously spread over that period. Our proposals for expenditure will be placed in detail before you. I regret to state that’ although, an earnest endeavor has been made to keep the estimates within« reasonable compass, they reach a very much larger sum than hon. members will eir pect. It will be seen, however, that no , less a sum than £2,366,729 7s. in our estimates is for liabilities which We found/, in existence upon our assumption of, office, and a largo , pprtipn of the,,i;er mainder is for works which are necessary, , to make available those sections already* in the course of construction.. However -much. wo. have desired; to ..contract: large expenditure to whiph i#! . committed, we have felt bound to ask for . appropriations which- we are advised* will, 1 be re(]uirod,for the above.purposes. . But;., should Parliament agree.to our propb&ls, v it will be our anxious endeavor to limit the actual expenditure during the currant .year considerably within the amount... pf ’ , the vote. . : ,i ... ,
The Minister then enumerated in detail the works to be carried , out . this year,, , amongst, which were : rHurdaui.W , taki—The main lino through the Wiifea,'. Pass to Hurunui Plains will be completed, and the stations at the large centre* improved. The branch line* to the Upper Ashburton, Little River* . and Opawa, will also be proceeded-with. ~. Canterbury ■ Interior.—Three sections’-., will be gone on with, namely, pne at each , end, and one south wardsfrom the VVhite* ... clifiabranch. ,• ; . ■ ■ • East and ' West Coast This line will-. not be lost sight of, and while nospecial portion can for the present he begun* the; surveys will be continued during the summer. Hitherto .. Only preliminary surveys' have been; made, and even these,-, have! not been cpmpletedj on the roptea. which seem to preaent the greatest adypn- ! tages. In the absence of the ftillesi ; formation* it would evidently be impo*-, sible to give a trustworthy estimate of the cost of this undertaking...
, DISTRICT BAXLWA.YS. ; ... , Nearly all the railway companies fprined ; under the provisions of the District" Bail* ways Acts have been compelled to suspend their operations ; bwitig ;,to the%en4ral financial depression, and the defects which have been found lit Working those Act*. Applications have been received from moat of those companies for assistance,' ori’ the* ground that unless the Government assume' their responsibilities the expenditure already made will be lost.' : branches would form - useful portion* of Out* railway Vaysteih', f J artd : regard these" the Government' : propose (to' -take; power .to treat with such companies’* a* have begun wofks and are’ unable plete their lines, and in the event ofsatiß* l factory arrangements being'made; to<'pdir*. chase them for the colony. : As the rating.'power is intended to be retained by the Government, the risk willbe reduced to a minimum; the Government being already liable to pay 2 per Cent, per annnm. . In conclusion I have only to add that t should have made this Statement much earlier in the session if there had beeu-afijr certaintv as to the funds which would l bo at our disposal. Even how 1 should .hays liked to defer ’ making it for h ' few ‘days, until the result of our application for th* . five million loan had become known to tub but the advanced period of the session and of the year forbade auy further 'delay.
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