The Ashburton Guardian. Magna Est Veritas et Prevalebit. TUESDAY, JULY 19, 1881. A Defect in the Financial Statement.
TOWN EDITION. [issued at 4.10 p. m. j
It is rather unfortunate that in this colony, from the great distances of some of the constituencies from others, there are so many and widely conflicting interests at work upon the action of the Government, that no Ministry ran afford to be thoroughly consistent, or even thoroughly honest. They may know well what is a right principle of action, but they are pretty sure only to carry it into effect so far as it does not interfere with their position. The question of their honesty, no matter who is in office, is only one of how much? If Sir George Grey or Mr Macandrew is in power, there are certain to be plenty of whole swindles of one kind ; if Dr Pollen or Mr Hall, plenty of half swindles of another. We have had an illustration of this laxity in the proposed reduction of the Property Tax to one-half. About a year ago, in obedience to a just demand by many of the ablest thinkers of the colony, it was resolved that property should bear its just share of the public burdens, and, at the instance of the present Ministry, a moderate tax of a penny in the pound on the capital value was imposed. The Ministry then proved in so lucid a manner the perfect fairness of this tax, that even their opponents had little argument of any weight to bring against it. Even as regarded the amount, it was pretty clearly shown that though it would bring in a large amount, it would not press heavily on the community. Now that, partly in consequence of very strict retrenchment, partly in consequence of an exceptionally goodharvest, there is a surplus of revenue over expentliture, pressure has been brought to bcaron the Ministry,and itisproposed to devote a large part of the amount saved to the relief of the distressed large capitalists and property holders of New Zealand. Why, we should like to know? Even the classes affected themselves refrained for very shame sake from clamoring about their hardships publicly, knowing the unanswerable arguments against their grievances ready to hand. In an able article on this subject, our contemporary the Southland Times remarks ;
We think these proposals on the whole most judicious, and the outlook satisfactory. The only criticism we shall offer at present is in regard to the reduction of the Property Tax, which we think a mistake, and the absence of any proposal to reduce the exemption. It is to be noted that a half-penny Property Tax means simply doubling the relative cost of collection, comparing with a tax of a penny. If the tax is to exist at all, it should be made as productive as possible within the limits of moderation, and as little costly as possible. It is not by any means excessive at a penny, and the remission would bo one of the things for which nobody was clamouring. The exemption we have always thought ridiculously high at LSOO, and there is no good reason why it should not be lowered. The only real defence of the proposed reduction of the Property Tax, is that a compromise with trickery and injustice is the only possible policy whereby any Ministry can continue in office. In this particular case one of the most equitable of all taxes is reduced to one half, though it is very certain that the first bad harvest, which of course may come any year, may necessitate its reimposition, and thus all the evil of a perpetual tinkering of our system of taxation be needlessly fallen into.
It may, perhaps, be urged that this saving has been affected, and that there seems on the surface 110 worthier object to which it can be devoted. We deny this altogether. There is one to which far too little public attention has yet been drawn, but which nevertheless every colony in the world, except New Zealand, as well as the mother country, sees clearly enough. We tefer to the urgent need of reducing our enormous and excessive colonial debt. To talk of allowing the L 28,000,000 and odd pounds we owe to remain at that figure, or even to be greatly increased, as Sir Julius Vogel recklessly suggests, is mere madness ; and every high commercial and monetary authority in British journalism knows that it is, and has said so over and over again. Nor is it the fact that by allowing this amount to stand as at present, or even to be enlarged, we are merely throwing the whole burden on posterity. We are doing that, but that is not nearly all the mischief. We are taxing the whole community here annually, so that in any manufacturing or commercial enterprise we have no chance of competing with other colonies or countries on equal terms. Over a million and a half has to be raised every year now to meet the just demands of British bondholders, and every laboring man, every farmer, every merchant or professional man has to pay his quota out of his often hard-earned income. In fact, tire extent of our colonial debt is an incubus which we should at least begin to clear off. For want of a commencement of this policy already Great Britain, notwithstanding her immense capital, her iron and coal, and her splendid machinery, is being beaten out of the market of the world by other countries, where the taxation is less, because the total debt is less. We shall find this also as soon as we attempt to manufacture. We shall be beaten by one colony after another, because our artizans cannot work at equally low rates with theirs and yet keep body and soul together. The United States of America have wisely set us an example. They have already, within the last year or two, reduced their national debt by
about 500,000,000 dollars. It is a good example for us to follow. And as a large part of the sum we owe has been mainly expended on works which have doubled or quadrupled the value of property, property ought at least to make a beginning of clearing off part of the immense burden.