LETTERS FOR THE TIMES. No. 6.
To the Editor,
Sir, — Most candidates for a seat in tlie House of Representatives diligentiy inform the electors whose suffrages they invite that while they are prepared to sacrifice themselves upon the altar of their country, the sacrifice has only been resolved upoii after long consideration and severe! mefital struggles at the shrine of -.Munition. They usually, indeed, convey their meaning in less figurative language, and state in plain words that their business affairs are. of such magnitude and importance that a sojourn of four months in the year at Wellington will entail upon them money sacrifice of an extraordinary amount, and it is but right and proper that the electors should understand''that the obligation about to; be- ’incurredvis rather on their side than the candidate’s. Possibly John Bull believes these protestations ; .Possibly he don’t. He. is a simple animal, yet not without occasional gleams of and if .his ; native urbanity of temper prevents, him frofn kicking the patriot, he may, nevertheless, be conscious that certain phrases ;are part of the stock-in-trade of every candidate for political station, and should not be taken au pied de la lettre. ■ Let' tinguish between cases, however., It must be admitted that even in the .General Assembly, demoralised - as. that ,body .is become of late years,'there are gentlemen who do not look upon politics'as ar branch of their business, and have sought a seat
> iiui—bb : therein with'Bie honest intention of doing ‘ their best for the country, and some of . these-liayej without making a boast of the i: jnattcr,'' incurred 'dutch- pecuniary loss 'from the time "given to public, which ought ’to have been devoted to their private affairs. But on the whole. New Zealand politics are not an unprofitable occupation to the bulk of those persons who are engaged in them. The governing families and their connections, of course enjoy the lion’s share of the feast. Sir Julius Yogel, from first to last, and including his salary as Provincial Treasurer of Otago, must have drawn from the public exchequer, at a rough estimate L 30.000, and nevertheless he is clamoring for several thousand pounds of “ commission” for his real or supposed services in connection with the raising the five million loan ; those services having been given in his capacity of Agent-Gene-ral, for which office he gets LI ,600 a year, and which he holds, in defiance of Minis-' terial commands and parliamentary protests, in conjunction with that of the lucrative post of Chairman of the Now Zealand Agricultural Company. Men like Mr. Hall, Major Atkinson, and Dr. Pol-' len, who have held political or high public offices for a long series of years, have also in the course of their respective careers,' made heavy drafts upon the Treasury, the precise extent of which it would bo extremely interesting to learn. The knowledge, howe\cr, is difficult to acquire. Even .an expert in the public accounts find himself bewildered, amid the labryinth of figures, ranged under a multitude of headings, and published at a variety of times, so that when the enquirer imagines that he has really learnt all which these precious accounts can tell him about a particular subject, he is apt feel provoked at finding in some supplement to the accounts published twelve months afterwards, an undiscovered depth of expenditure suddenly revealed. Of course it may be that these leviathans whose maintenence is so costly, have rendered to the public services more or less commensurate with the cash outlay which has been required to keep them going. That is not the point under discussion just now. I merely wish to note the fact that John Bull, in' his colonial pastures, is not the ungrateful beast which his political masters commonly represent him to be ; but rather ' does his inborn generosity of soul lead himtry and silence their perpetual complaints about the loss which they sustain by attending to his needs instead of their own by saying “ help yourselves. ” And they do help themselves. Everybody admits that Ministers are underpaid. That has been an axiom as
long back as I can remember. Nobody ever did, or is over likely to become a Cabinet Minister in New Zealand save from the impulse of a fervent desire to promote the public weal. Every Minister looks with scorn upon “ the demnition ha’penny.” If the services rendered by the successive batches of Minislers which have in turns occupied the Government Benches since Responsible Government first became the order of the day could be valued in money, the amount would doubtless be startling ; but. we all agree that such an assessment is impossible, and that,the salaries and allowances annually gratnted to Ministers are simply to be treated as the timid offerings of an appreciative people, and accepted, not as payment for work done, but as the petty gift which le grand seigneur graciously takes from the hand of the faithful peasant. Still, jail things are relative, and to humble
individuals *like ourselves, to whom the daily struggle for the bawbees is more exciting than fruitful, the sums so paid to the,member’s of the Government do not appear insignificant, but rather splendid; The-salary of the Premier is L 1,750 ayear;;the other Ministers get L 1,250 apieg'c./ To each of these is likewise allotted a handsome - residence, or else a house allowance. /The average cost of repairs to these residences is LSOO a.year. Furniture, too, is also provided at the public cost. If a' . Minister wants a trip to another part of the colony; all ho has to do is'to find some public business requir-ing'-his attendance there, and forthwith he ' can charge the Treasury with his travelling fares'and a special allowance of L 3 3s. a day into the bargain. A steam yacht is at his disposal, and he is quite at liberty to disturb the sleep of the inno-cent-Ashburtonians by the noise of the special train, - in which, sacred from the contact of ordinary mortals, but, nevertheless, at their expense, he is being conveyed North dr South, as the case may be.. i'Uis privileges, however, ramify in many-s directions. If he be of a roving disposition, or possess a soul above butfonk, and ambitious, of diffusing its light over a larger sphere than that afforded by New Zealand, the colony is not likely to object to his despatching himself on a mission to Australia or the United States or England, or the German baths, or any other spot on the globe’s surface where his
genius will be able to move its pinions freely. He will then not only enjoy his salary, his three guineas a day, his steamboat fare, and what not, but will also be able to present a bill for “ extras ” to the Assembly, and get it paid too. On one of his trips to England, Mr. Yogel, then Colonial Treasurer, took his family with him. The colony paid their expenses under the heading “special travelling allowance to Mr, Yogel, LI,000.” These little pulls at the public purse have been successfully made by other persons. Mr. Larnach wanted to go home on his private . affairs, so the last Ministry appointed him a loan agent and gave him L 2,000 for his labors in that capacity, though what he did for the money beyond signing his name to certain documents—l don’t mean bills — no human being can tell to this day. The General Assembly itself is not an
inexpensive body. Its direct average cost to thecountry is about L 40,000 per annum. Last year an extra sesion was held at an expenditure of L 26,000. This was of course an abnormal outlay, although none the less real to the taxpayer. In reality the annual cost of the Assembly exceeds L 40,000, because when it is sitting it inspires all the Government departments, especially the printing, with a nervous activity of a very expensive nature. There must further be taken into account the enormous sums of borrowed money, which, during the past ten years, have been expended on the Parliamentary buildings at Wellington. The ordinaay members of both houses, except the very few who permanently reside in or near the city of Wellington, and are put on half-pay in consequence, get 200 guineas a-piece for their attendance during the session ; and their travelling expenses to and from Wellington cost a pretty penny. _ Those members who sat in both sessions in 1879 received 400 guineas, while the few who were lucky enough to be chairmen of the principal select committees drew an additional L2OO, making LG2O in all —not a bad year’s income in these hard times. Let us stop a moment and take breath, or we shall lose ourselves in figures and in wonder at the munificence of the muchabused taxpayer of the colony. Ere, however, we close the - page, we must remember with thankfulness that virtue, triumphing over inclination, has pursuaded our legislators to dock their own stipend by the ten per cent now so fashionable. It was a hard struggle (see Hansard ), and our gratitude should be proportionately deep.—Yours &c., C. W. Puenell. Ashburton, 15th Sept. ,1880.
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