THE ASHBURTON COUNTY WATER WORKS BILL.
Abridged from the Hansard report. Tuesday, 3rd August, 1880. Mr. Wright moved, That the amendments made by the Oominitte in this Bill be agreed to. Mr. W. J. Hurst rose with considerable reluctance to oppose the motion ; but he entertained the feeling that the House ought to watch with extreme jealousy the conferring of further borrowing powers upon local bodies during the present financial position of the colony! He admitted that the object of the Bill might bo a desirable one, but at the same time he strongly felt that it was highly inexpedient that the House should at present grant the borrowing powers asked for on what was-merely the rateable power of the district. After referring to the scope of the Bill, Mr.. Hurst said he thought no harm could arise from delaying the passing of: this measure for twelve months. The House would then be in a better position for dealing with the matter. He would point out that the security given was not sufficient. He knew' that the answer to that would be that the House had nothing, to do with the question of security-; but the lender of the money relied upon the passing of Bills as being to some extent a security. He did not oppose the Bill on local grounds, but on financial, grounds. . As a- member of the Committee, he felt it his duty to direct the attention of hon. members fairly and frankly to the Bill. A communication had been received by the Premier from the Chairman of a Road Board in the : district, covering resolutions condemning the proposed work, and asking'for delay in order to receive a petition being signed in opposition to it. , There was ample provision in the Bill for taking a vote of the inhabitants of the district on the question, but it seemed to be one on which the inhabitants of the district were not united. The people living in the portion of the district nearest to the hills, and who had a supply of water, did not require the Bill; but the people living on the lower portion of the plain, where they could nbt get water, desired the passing of the Bill. This district had only been settled for about five years at the outside, and the people who took up land there did so with a perfect knowledge of the difficulty of obtaining a water supply. The House would not be exercising its functions properly if it did not jealously watch the granting of farther borrowing powers, as it was a matter in which the reputation of the colonly was involved. A similar measure ivas passed through this House last session, but the Legislative Council excised from : it the borrowing powers, and he hoped they would do the same thing with this Bill. This House should not leave to the Legislative Council the duty of throwing out'these borrowing Bills, but should take its proper share of the duty. Having given expression to his view of tire inattef, he would accept the decision of hon. members on the voices, and if given against him he would not divide the House.
Mr. Hall happened to know something of the district to which this Bill referred, although he did not reside in it ; and perhaps the House would allow him to state the circumstances under which this Bill was brought before the House. It was introduced as a private Bill, and therefore the fullest notice had to be given with respect to its provisions iri the district which it affected. That had been done, meetings of ratepayers had been held in various parts of the district, and no doubt the House would hear from the mover that a large majority of the ratepayers had consented to the passing of the Bill. The object was to provide the tract of country between the Rakaia and the Ashburton, which at present had no running water, with water; —to lead the water from the upper parts of the district, which were provided, into the lower part,, for the use of stock and for cultivating the land. At present no water could bo obtained, except by sinking sometimes to a depth of two hundred feet. It was true that this district had not been largely settled for any number of years; but that was no reason why the Assembly, should not allow the settlers, who wore a hard-working, industrious body of men, to raise, on their own resources, such money as ivas necessary to bring water to the land. That was all that was asked for, and water was as : urgently needed in that district as roads elsewhere. ; The settlers did not come to the Legislature and ask for any assistance. ’ They merely asked that they might have permission to raise L 50,000, upon the security of their own rates, fora specific and most xiseful purpose. It would be a cruel injustice to those people to refuse-them the request they made. Much as he sympathised with the hon. member for Auckland City West in his desire to preserve the credit of the colony, he thought hon. members would be taking a very unstatesmanlike view of their duty if they should indiscriminately refuse such applications as this. The Bill had been very carefully considered by the Select Committee, who had made alterations in it, and recommended that, with those alterations, it should pass, and he trusted the House would not discourage private enterprise by refusing to pass it. , The hon. member for Auckland City West referred to a petition from one part of the district against the passing of this Bill. Such a petition had no doubt been sent, and he (Mr. Hall) had received a letter on the subject, but he disagreed with the statements in that letter. The petition came from a road district near the hills, which was not now in want of water, but the: settlers did not care for. their neighbors getting a water supply. This ought not to influence the House in passing the Bill.:
Mr. W. J. Hurst said that all he asked for was that some delay should take place, in order that a largely signed petition against the Bill might be presented to the House.
Mr. Hall could state that the question had been agitated for two years, so that there had been ample time to oppose the Bill. He therefore thought the demand for further time unreasonable. The House should help hard-working fanners to improve their properties, when they did not ask for any monetary assistance from the colon}'. He trusted that the House would agree to the report,
Mr. Gisborne asked whether it was usual to introduce a private Bill’to-amend a public Act, as was done in this case, This private Bill altered the existing puR lie Act very materially in many respects. That might be a regular course, but wascertainly a very inconvenient one. Furthermore, this Bill, which was called a private one, asked for the authority of the Assembly to enable a body of ratepayers to borrow L 50,000 without any precaution being taken, as in the case of municipal and other bodies, that no claim should be made on the colony, or that they should not go upon the London money market. Mr. W. J. Hurst explained that provision was made in the form of tile .coupons that the colony should not be responsible. Mr. Gisborne said that was all very well, but there was no such provision as proposed by the Colonial Treasurer in his Financial Statement with respect to local borrowing, in the Bill. However, what; he wanted particularly to call attention to was that the Assembly might pass a public Act one session, and next session a private Bill could be introduced, which was sent to a private Committee, and there virtually disposed of, without going through the usual course that public Bills had to be submitted-to.
Mr, Speaker said the course : was. .quite regular, because a private Bill had to go through a much stricter ordeal than a public Bill. Notice had to be given in the
Gazette to all the parties interested, and a Select Committee had to make careful inquiry into all the provisions. Mr. Macandrew thought that one very good reason why this should be a private Bill was that if it had been a public Bill there would have been very little chance of its passing this session or any other session. So well was the machinery of the Legislature adapted to the circumstances of the colony that the best course for any private member wishing to get a Bill passed was to make it a private Bill, whatever might bo its nature or object. Mr Shephard said this Bill was very carefully gone through by the Select Committee. The borrowing power had been cut. down from LIOO.OOO to L 50.000, and many stringent provisions .had been inserted in the Bill. ' With regard to the petition referred to by the honorable member for Auckland City West, he might state that it was in evidence before the Committee that it came from persons whc, being already provided, or certain to be provided, with the water which the Bill would.give to the district generally, sought to shut out their neighbours. The evidence showed that the productive power of the district would be largely increased by giving the people authority to tax themselves for the purpose of raising money to carry out this useful work. It would also be for the benefit of the colony at large, by enabling a part of the colony to produce a larger amount of revenue by means of direct and indirect -taxation than could be got from the land in its present unproductive state. . TTe believed the Mouse would be doing well to grant the moderate borrowing powers which the Bill now contained; and if this experiment succeeded, as no doubt it would do, it would be well to adopt, the same course in regard to other parts of the country, as it would go far to increase ! the colony’s wealth by giving facilities- to settlers to improve, their land.
: ; Mr; : Wright could confirm: what had fallen from the hon. member for Waimea 'arid: the Premier.. The Bill was intro-, duced last' session, and was assented to bj the House, but the borrowing pbwers were cut out of it when it went to the Legislative Council. That necessitated his coming again to the Asseriibly. The settlers of the district- had been called upon by circulars to express, their assent to or dissent from the measure, and of those who returned the ■ circular 106 assented arid twenty-six dissented, so that four-fifths of the parties concerned in this water supply scheme were quite willing that the Bill should pass, and that they should pay for the accommodation which should be afforded. With reference to the letter from the chairman of the Mothven meeting, referred to by the hon. member for Auckland City West, he might state that it was got up at a meeting at which only eighteen ratepayers attended. Under the powers granted last session the County Council were incurring considerable expense in carrying the water-supply to Methven; and now those generous people, having got all they wanted, sought to prevent their neighbors getting what they: required by; further, borrowing.; As to the district being newly settled, he might inform the hon. member for Auckland: City West that it sent out nearly 30,000 tons of grain last year, and that the ratepayers; proposed , to -raise a special rate of 6d. per.acre to meet, the interest and sinking' fiihddf the amount they proposed to' borrow. : Th'e thinking the,work qf, the highest value,; gave, them power to raise a special rate of 2s. in the pound. The'House must recollect :that the settlers in these dry plains were not now paying 2s. in the pound, but 20s. ‘ in the pourid, to get water ; and at best theyi could only get a much smaller supply thanjthey would if this Bill were passed. • Amendments agreed to. Wednesday, Aug. 4. : Mr. Wright moved that this Bill be' read:a third time. Mi-. W. J. Hurst felt bound to repeat the remark he made on the previous day —namely, that tins was the beginning qf. a new borrowing policy, after the had already realised 1 the firtancial position it occupied in the eyes of the world. It would be remembered by the House that another Bill of a similar character was recently passed ; but the reason for the passing of that 'Bill ’ was 'that' some L 250,000 had already been expended, and that if the House did not giye further borrowing powers the money already spent would bo wasted. But this was a first expenditure: —a new departure, and. it involved a very serious principle. The Premier said on the previous day that the House would be inflicting a cruel wrong if they did not allow this money to be borrowed ; but it appeared to him (Mr. W. J. Hurst) that the colony had come to a: sad pass when it was obliged to pledge its credit for the purpose of improving land by means of irrigation at this early period of its history. That was the meaning of the Bill ; and the importance,of it, to his mind, lay in the fact that this might ultimately become a colonial liability, as it assuredly swelled the; aggregate indebtedness. Sufficient consideration bad not been given to the Bill by the House. : It was read a .first time and a second time without coiriment, and was referred to a Committee consisting of five members of the House. And what what was the evidence as to the necessity for this Bill ? Simply the evidence of the mover of the Bill and one other gentleman who happened accidentally to be in Wellington. And what was the effect of that evidence % That it would be a good thing if this money were borrowed, and that the purposes it would serve would be beneficial to the district ; and thejsecurity they were to give was a certain rate to be levied on this laud. But suppose circumstances of depression overtook the district or the colony, he was not sure that the security would be at all sufficient; yet our passing of this Bill would to some extent be regarded as a guarantee by the English money-lender, that we had investigated the matter carefully, that we had put our stamp upon it, and that it was a safe thing to invest money in. That was the construction that would be placed on the passing of this Bill. The Colonial Treasurer had brought down a scheme to give borrowing powers to local bodies, and limiting the borrowing power to the colony ; but why not allow such bodies * tb borrow ! indiscriminately ? If Acts of this kind were to be introduced they, ought to be jealously guarded. What was the effect of this Bill 1 That this local body could go into the London moneymarket and float debentures to the extent of L 60,000. But had not the colony entered into an undertaking that it woiild not trouble the London money-market for three years 1 ■ If they passed this Bill, givirig authority to borrow L 60,000, they might as well go in at once for another three millions. His own opinion was that .they ought to stay their hand until they, were again in a financially sound condition. With a property tax staring them in the face, increased Customs duties, and further rates for the maintenance of roads and bridges in consequence of the withdrawal of the subsidies, they! ought not to place increased burdens bn the peopleßy allbwing this ‘measure ito’ proceed. A delay of twelve or eighteen months : would do no harm, and they wquld do no wrong by throwing out the Bill.. The Statement of the Minister for Public Works, which would probably be delivered that evening, would, he expected, show very clearly .that the colony was not in a position to enter upon works of this kind. He had the utmost confidence in the future of the colony, but if over there was a time when caution and prudence should be exercised, that time was the present, and the House would be studying its best interests by preventing the passage of the Bill. He was not opposing it factiouslyi; ha was merely dis-
changing what he conceived to bo a duty to the colon} 7 . Sir George Grey would like to know whether the Government, having now begun to realise the financial position of the colony, and this being a case in which private persons were anxious to borrow money, had considered the question of introducing a Bill to prevent any private person borrowing money until the finances were in a sound state.
Mr. Hall asked the hon. gentleman what his authority was for saying that the Government had only now begun to realise the financial position of the colony. Sir G. Grey said the speech of the hon. member for Auckland City West. Mr. Mali said that that hon. gentleman was a worthy and conscientious supporterof the Government, but he was not the mouthpiece of the Cabinet. But soon after the Colonial Treasurer took office he explained to the House in his - Financial Statement* that the Government' then realised the financial position into which the colony had been brought by their predecessors, and the country then became aware of the gulf to the brink of which those gentlemen had brought the colony * of Afew Zealand. The Government did realise that ; and the country realised the position, and had thoroughly realised who was responsible for that position. That was his answer to the lion, member for the Thames.
Mr. Wright said the lion, member for Auckland City West had been apeakingpn a subject with the merits of which hb was totally unacquainted, notwithstanding the fact that he was a member of the Committee which considered the Bill. . The hon. gentleman spoke of the district as a poor district. Ho (Mr. Wright) would only say that it would have rejoioed him very much if he had foundi land of the same quality in . the Waikato and other; parts of the Auckland. Province he: had' - recently visited. The hon.-gentleman was evidently not acquainted with the nature’ of the land in the Ashburton-District. •* The hon. member further aluded to the opposition which was shown to the borrowing powers being granted to the Dunedin Harbor Board. There, was no parallel whatever between the two cases. In the case of the Otago Harbor there was a very large sum of money—a.quarter of a million —already spent, and with very doubtful * results. In this; however, the work was of a totally different character, and the ' object of the Bill was to enable a number of industrious settlers to borrow collectively a certain sum of money with a view of improving their estates, and to that extent to place them in a much better - position to n eet the additional burdens which 'the State was about to lay upoa > them in the way of taxation. -The hon. ' gentleman also spoke of the want of evidence before the Committee. Now, the> strongest evidence ;they couhLhave of the desirability of this measure was the fact’ ’ that; four-fifths of the landowners and others who would have to pay the rate had assented’to the proposal. When, the hon. ‘ gentleman said the Bill had passed through ■. the House rapidly, he overlookecLthe-fact _ that a Bill pass ,-d the House last, session. - with borrowing powers for LIOO,OO0 —’ substantially, the same Bill as this one, which sought to obtain borrowing powers for half that amount • i ; ■ Bill read a third time.
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