THE PUBLIC WORKS STATEMENT.
Last night the Hon. Richard Oliver, the Minister for Public Works, delivered
the usual Public Works Statement to the House of Representatives. After stating his intention of being as concise as possible, and in view of full reports by the various heads of departments being printed along with his statement, as well as copious tables and maps, the hon. gentleman said he would refrain from wearying the House with details while he showed what progress had been made in railway construction during the seven months that had elapsed since the delivery of his last Statement. Beginning then at : / the moat northerly point in the North Island where railway works are in pro- .... gres, he gave a clear account of the state of advancement of each work in the North Island. Coming on to the Middle Island he commenced with the Nelson-Greymouth line. Nelson City had been connected during the year with the port by a short line, and three miles had been added to the Nelson-Foxhill line. At the Greymouth end, the Stillwater creek contract, an extension of the Brunnerton railway, had been found to be very costly the contract price of only sixty-three chains having been L 12,234 for formation only. The Grey mouth harbor work had been delayed awaiting the report of Sir John Goode, which arrived in March. That report approved of the work which had already been done, which was intended to aid the development of the Grey coal industry. Some small contracts on the GreymouthHokitika line were either completed or nearly so, and no new works there would be begun this year. After stating that the last mile-and-a-quarternf the line required to connect Picton with Blenheim had been completed, and the Blenheim station buildings put in hand, the hon.--gentleman went on to refer as follows to the Hurunui-Waitaki railway, with branches, “The new works on the main line from Hurunui to Waitaki are the Waipara contract, extending from Amberley to the Waipara river, and the Weka Pass section, nine miles long—a continuation of the line through the Pass to the Waikari and Hurunui Plains. The latter section was reserved from contract in order to provide work for the unemployed, of Christchurch.” After referring to the completion of the Springfield cutting in February last, and the formation contract on the Little River and Akaroa branch, he noticed the opening of the Ashburton branch, on the 7th : of April last, when the first ten and threequarter miles became available. The bridge on the Gpawa branch had been completed by contract, and the remainder ' of the work on the line had been reserved for giving work to the unemployed in the neighborhood. THE UNEMPLOYED, After a short reference to lines further south, Mr. Oliver reverts to the question of the unemployed :—“ The great depression from which nearly all our industries have suffered lately has thrown many workmen out' of employment, and the Government have been called on to alleviate the consequent distress by finding work for them on the railways and roads which ' are in course of construction. We have thought it our duty to comply with these requests, and I am sorry to say that n 0.,, less a number than 1674 of these men are
now being employed at low wages in various parts of the colony. Although it is to be deplored that in a country of such great natural resources as New Zealand, this state of things should exist, yet it is by no means a new experience in the history of the colony. At various times during the last twenty years the authorities
have found it necessary to afford similar temporary employment; but, fortunately the need for the interference of the Government has in every case soon passed away, and has been succeeded by a large demand for labor in the ordinary industries of the country at the highest rate of wages known in any, part of the world. I believe, Sir, that hon. members will agree with me in thinking that this season of depression wiU alao pass away, and give place to a period of prosperity not inferior to that which we have until lately enjoyed. The disorganisation of the labor market is already ' -beginning to find its own remedy by bringin to existence new industries in the chief centres of population, and developing the self-reliant spirit of our working classes. There are also the most encouraging in* dications of a revival of the goldfields industry which may be of the greatest value to the colony at large. Meantime, it is satisfactory to find that though many of the men thus employed by us are-'-engaged in work to which they are unaccustomed, yet, from their labor, the colony has obtained a fair equivalent for the but* lay. . . ' GENERAL PROGRESS IN RAILWAY CONSTHUO ■ TXON. ■ .1 “The sums voted by Parliament for additional railway works in the last session, exclusive of preliminary surveys for lines >, not yet authorised, amounted L 2,308,700. On the 31st March L 856,550 of this sum - - had been expended, and liabilities incurred amounting to L 910,506 —making a total of L 2,767,056, leaving, an unexpended balance on last year’s votes of L 541,644. - Recognising the necessity’for spreading the • expenditure of the remaining public works fund over a period of at least the next three years, and believing that, . as some of the railway works had beenadopted in times of great prosperity, Parliament would not disapprove,: in our changed circumstances, of having an •; opportunity afforded of reconsidering them, I have not been in haste to press on the construction of new works. In fact, only one new section of railway has j been commenced since the end of last session. Many new sections were ; got >, ready for contract, and in some instances ’; * tenders were invited and received, but the grave considerations connected with a failing revenue, and an increased deficit from our finished railways, could not he • evaded, and obliged us to defer the acceptance of some of these tenders so that , time might be given for re-examining pur, future railway policy. ” ROADS. The Statement then goes on to deal with tlfe expenditure of the. votes for roads. In the North Island this has been mainly left to the local bodies, while the mainlines of road under the charge fthe Government have been maintained as usual. “ The road works instituted on the West Coast, between Waingongora and Stoney rivers, crossing the Waimate Plains, have been carried on very satis- f factorily, and the two sections of the | roads will probably meet in a few days. ' The character of the country is, very favorable, no natural obstacles -, having , . been met. The cross road from Stratford . to Opunake through the bush is also being. made. The amount expended on roadsT and bridges in the South Island during * the past year is very small, and no new works of importance have been undertaken. ” : . A COLONIST OF THE EIGHT SORT. Mr. Oliver apologised for noticing the work of snagging the Thames river by saying—“ Although not such a public work as is usually referred to in a Statement of this kind, I cannot refrain from mentioning the self-reliant and public- , spirited efforts made by Mr. Birth, Matamata, to remove the snags from the River Thames' at his own cost; In these days, when colonists are too much in the habit of looking to the Government for almost everything, it is refreshing to see a public work useful to the community -begun, *. carried oil, and finished by a private person, without application having been . made to the Government for- aid from the funds of the colony.”
WATER-RACES. The expenditure on water-races did not appear to produce the benefits expected. None of the companies which Government had subsidised had been a success, and in most cases the undertakings had been abandoned. The total expenditure and liabilities upon goldfield water-races up to 31st March had been L 441,633, of which amount L 42,329 gives no return whatever, while works costing L 86,485 had been handed over to local bodies, and from the comparatively successful races the Charleston, Nelson Creek, Waimea, and Mount Ida—costing in all L 312,819, the the yearly return was only about 1 per cent. These races, however, enabled 771 men to find remunerative employment, their earnings averaging Ll4O per man per annum. THE COAL INDUSTRY. “Almost every month brings new discoveries of coal in some part of the colony, and it has become apparent that New Zealand is exceptionally rich in this mineral. Our most import lines of steamers are now almost wholly supplied from the coal mines of the colony, and the more extended use of native coal will effect a saving of L 8,500 on uur railways in the Middle Island for the current year, in addition to an almost equal amount heretofore saved bn those in the North Island.” WORKING RAILWAYS. After referring to the CMI Service Commissioners’ report on the management, &c., of the working railways, which would be serviceable in remedying defects in organjsation and practice, the Statement wenl on :—“ The working railways department began the last financial period under circumstances exceptionally un-favorable-heavy floods in the South having interrupted traffic over more than a hundred miles of line, causing a loss of revenue, as well as a large expenditure for repairs. Amongst the first effects of the commercial depression from which we have been suffering has been a diminution of our railway traffic. The result was to be expected, and the efforts of the department were directed to obtaining greater economy in our system of railway arrangement. By working with a smaller staff of officers and men, and by reducing the number of trains and the speed at which they were run, a considerable saving has been effected, while the convenience of the public has not been materially curtailed. The train service has already been reduced by 370,000 miles a year. The staff has been reduced by 266 men, and it is estimated that these and other economies which up to this time have been affected, will save on the year upwards of L44,C00. I am sorry to say that for the nine months ending 31st March, railways only gave a return equal to slightly under 2J per cent per annum, while the rate of interest which we have to pay is over 5. The loss on the cost of the lines, which stands at L 8,629,582, was at the rate 0fL237,730 per annum, and had to be furnished from surplus in the prosperous years which we have just passed. The hon. gentleman then went on to speak of the light in which railways had hitherto been viewed —that they were remunerative whether they-yielded interest on their cost or not, inasmuch as they aided settlement and the development of the colony’s resources. But he contended the colony was not a joint stock company, with equal share and a community of interests, and th benefits of : railways were very unequally distributed, many districts having none, while all have to contribute to make up the loss that has been entailed upon the colony by the lines. The loss entailed such a serious charge upon the revenue of the colony, that unless the lines irero made more nearly self-support-ing it became questionable whether a desirable outlay in other departments of Government could be entertained. He attributed the unremunerativeness of the railways to thesmallness of the population, anditsscatteredposition—failing to furnish either goods or passenger traffic enough to make the lines payable at the hitherto current rates. In proportion to population New Zealand had many more miles of constructed railways than either England, France, the United States, Canada, or any of the Australian colonies. The hon. gentleman went into statistices to show how few people per head New Zealand possessed to the mile of railway, and in addition to the spafseness of the population he gave as a reason for the non-profit of the lines, the needlessly low tariff adopted in many districts. It would be necessary to increase the tariff as far as the circumstances of the colony would allow. Traffic could not be increased to an indefinite extent, nor could tariff be so increased, but railway rates that were only designed to bring in 6 per cent, on the cost of outlay surely could not be considered high when competing modes of conveyance permitted their adoption. The hon. gentleman then spoke of a proposal to sell the railways, but could not imagine where a purchaser could be found unless at a sacrifice of perhaps millions of money to the colony. Speaking of the Railway Commission’s recommendations, Mr. Oliver said that the funds at the Government’s disposal were insufficient to admit of even their not very lavish proposals being undertaken, and Government would therefore content themselves with the extension of some incomplete lines to such nearest points as will bring them into use, and to some extent make the already incurred expenditure remunerative. Of the sum voted last year for public works, L 2,356,729 was for actual liabilities already existing. Realising the position of the public works fund, Government had endeavored to minimise expenditure, and to. spread it over as large a space of time as possible. Todothis many works had tobe deferred for which tenders had been received. On the 31st March last the total ways and means was L 3,262,410, and the public works liabilities L 2,445,313, reducible, however, by L 315,763 advances in the hands of officers, thus leaving a balance of L 1,122,860 on March 31, 1880, clear of liabilities. Since March 31, ways and means had been augmented by receipts and recoveries to L 29,934, and during the four months to July 31 the liabilities of the fund had been unavoidably augmented to the extent of L 330,871. Adding L 29,934 to the balance of L 1,122,860 on March 31, and deducting L 330,871, the result, L 821,923, was obtained as available on July 31. The account might be more clearly stated thus : —The ways and means on 31st July amounted to L 2,677,910 17s. Id.— consisting of cash in hand L 593,910 17s. Id. ; Treasury and Deficiency Bills, L 121,700 9s. ; investments, L 67,000; guaranteed debentures, LBO,OOO ; total, L 2,677,910 17s. Id. The liabilities on the same date amounted to L 2,202,574. There were, however, imprests outstanding on 31st July, L 246,486, making L 1,855,988, the net amount of liabilities to be provided for, and leaving a balance of L 821,928, as already stated, for new works and services. The*estimates which T'am about to submit, make a further demand on this balance of L 674,238 —leaving L 147,685 only for future appropriations from the public works fund. The votes for the various works which we now propose are designed to provide for the expenditure up to 30th June, 1881. After that date, and until we are again in a position to become borrowers, the only sources whence we can draw supplies for those purposes will be a portion of the proceeds of land sales, and the saving from estimates for the purchase of native land—a saving which- we have reason to believe may be considerable, but which at present it is impossible to estimate. ” The . hon. gentleman then went on to enumerate the works in the North Island Government proposed to proceed with. These were a line to develop the Kaipara eoa&traffic; the completion of the Thames-.
Waikato railway, as recommended by the commissioners (subject to further consideration by Government) ; the NapierMakutoku line ; the Wellington-Opaki line as far as Masterton, with provision made for the unemployed on the Opaki extension ; station works at Wellington; Poxton section and wharf at Wellington ; works on the opened line at Poxton and Kaiawai ; the extension to Waverley, now in hand ; works at Carlyle for the unemployed ; between Stratford and Hawera ; and the formation at Normanby. SOUTH ISLAND WORKS. The extension of the line from Foxhill to Bellgrove, on the Nelson to Greymouth lino, will be completed ; the Stillwater section now in progress will be finished ; and the Greymouth harbor works carried on. The Picton and Blenheim line will be completed at the Blenheim end, whore there are still some station works unfinished. The section of the main line from Amberley to the Waipara plains is to be finished, the nine miles through the Weka Pass being reserved for the unemployed. A few urgent station works on the opened lines are provided for. .The Waimakariri Gorge portion of the Oxford and Sheffield line, which was reserved for the unemployed about a year ago, will be carried on as the demand for work may require The extension of the Opawa branch towards Pairlie Creek will also be carried out by the same means. The Ellesmere section of the Little River and Akaroa branch is to be completed. The general expenditure proposed on the Otago main line is for the completion of the stations and other works now in progress. Duntroon branch is to bo finished across the Marewhenuia the bridge (over which is already built. The formation on the first section of the Livingstone branch, recently resumed to give workto he unemployed, will be finished by them. The sections of the Western railways now in progress will be completeted, the Hindon section of the Otago central railway which was opened to the unemployed about a year ago will be reserved exclusively for hem, as it is now almost the only suitable work in Otago, in which large numbers can be employed. At present there are about 700 men at work there, and although this number will, in all (probability, decrease during the summer months, I feel there is a prospect of a complete cessation in the demand which will be made on us for this kind of employment, and wo have, therefore, made provision for supplying it on this section! The hon. gentleman concluded with an expression of his high hope for.the colony’s future.
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