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A public meeting was held at the Town Hall last evening for the double purpose of considering the railway tariff, and also the nocessi y that exists for a separate traffic bridge over the ishburton river. Mr W. C. Walker occupied the chair.

There was a very thin attendance, about thirty persons putting in an appearance.

In opening the proceedings the Chairman said, speaking with reference to the railway tariff question, that he was sorry to see so few present. The importance of the matter they had met to discuss deserved a better attendance, more especially on the part of their farming friends from the country districts. Ho could hardly conceive any more important question than that of the railway tariff. He looked upon it that they were all shareholders in a large concern, and it was not only their business but their interest to see that that largo concern was so conducted that all classes of the community might reap the advantages derivable therefrom. It was not intended that the railways should benefit one class alone, or that one class should pay for their maintenance. He thought that the Canterbury people were rather slow to see their own interests, and at the last general election had perhaps not been particular enough in exacting promises from their Parliamentary representatives on the subject of the reduction of the tariff. However, that night they had an opportunity of rectifying their mistake, and he trusted that what was done on that occasion would help the matter forward materially. (Applause ) Mr John Grigg then read the following resolution ;—“That the present railway charges on agricultural produce are excessive, and that a substantial reduction should be granted.” (Applause.) In speaking to the resolution the mover said that the great point was that they should see clearly that in the fixing of the railway rates there was a fundamental error. The railway should do everything to forward the interest of the people. Who would for one moment contend that roads should be made to produce revenue 1 and what were the railways but roads ? The railways should, of course, pay interest on borrowed money. Five per cent, had been mentioned as a sufficient return on the lines by the head of the department, and yet despite the fact that some Canterbury lines were paying seven 'and a half per cent, interest, a heavily increased tariff was clapped on. They ought to take every constitutional means of obtaining the redress so urgently needed. A special tax, as it were, was levied on agricultural produce, and in the face of the fact that this produce was paying a fair proportion towards the revenue of the country, it was most unfair that it should be thus specially taxed. “ Thrice armed is he who has his quarrel just,” they were told. Now he felt that their quarrel was just, but he could not say that he felt thrice armed. Indeed, he felt as if he was fighting with one arm tied behind his back. Many of the Canterbury members of Parliament, not all of them, took a very peculiar view of this tariff question. Perhaps when another election took place

they would be more fortunate in securing representatives who would fight for them. At present they might almost as well be without any representatives at all. He regretted the attendance was so small, and that so few appeared to realise

the importance of the matter under discussion. He hardly hoped that much good would result from that meeting—directly, that was, although indirectly it might be of much service in getting the question ventilated. He could not think that the Government could continue to act so unfairly as to handicap in the way it was doing the largest'producing industry in the country. They were supposed to be Free Traders, and yet Government was levying a kind of blackmail upon the farmer. They could not exercise too much caution at the time of a general election in their choice of representatives. It was extraordinary the paltry considerations that influenced men at such times. “Is he (the candidate) an Englishman 1” or, “ Is he an Irishman 1 ?” or, “ Is he a Scotchman 1” or, “ Is he a Good Templar 1” were the sort of questions which were asked, while wider issues were left to take care of themselves. Union was strength, of which they had a very good example at the present time in the House in the case of Sir George Grey, who, with a following of about a dozen men, was able to do so much. He merely instanced this to show the value of combination, and had no doubt that if the Canterbury members had only combined to such good purpose as the supporters of Sir George Grey they would have effected the desired reform in connection with the railway tariff long ago. (Applause.) Having touched upon the unfairness of the Middle Island lines being called upon to make good the deficiencies caused by the non-payable nature of the North Island railways, Mr Grigg sat down amidst applause. Mr Purnell was sure that the small at-

tendance did not indicate any want of interest in the question on the part of the farmers, who, as a body, were, he was sure, keenly alive to the importance of a reduction in the railway tariff being effected. The revenue derivable from the Middle Island lines was more than double that produced by those of the North Island, as was shown by the Public Works Statement, which had just been brought down. [The speaker here read an extract from the Statement in support of his as’ertion.] There was not the faintest probability of the North Island lines paying for the next quarter of a century. So far from making any proposal to remedy the unpayable nature of the North Island railways the Minister of Public Works actually proposed to borrow more money for railway construction there. The line from Lyttelton to Oamaru paid per cent. Now so soon as a railway in any district paid the cost of its construetion the tariff upon it ought to be lowered. As the most important class of producers in the colony the farmers ought to receive every possible encouragement instead of being taxed to pay for unremunerative lines elsewhere. He was quite sure that if the Canterbury members would only work together they would obtain redress for the farmer; and why they did not so work together was quite incomprehensible to him. He did trust that the farmers in the district would not fail to agitate for the differential rates. So long as the uniform teriff existed so long would the evil complained of continue. The resolution was carried unanimously. Mr C. P. Cox said he held a petition in his hand on the subject, which would speak for itself. The petition read as follows:—“ To the Hon. the Speaker and the Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled.—The ratepayers of the County of Ashburton beg most respectfully to bring under the notice of your Honorable House the high rates charged on the railways of the colony for the carriage of farm produce. Wo venture to ask for a substantial reduction of the railway charges, as we feel assured that every principle of sound policy will urge the Legislature of tho colony to treat the agricultural producers at least as favorably as, in the present railway tariff, other local industries, such as the production of coal and timber, are treated. We would submit that the farmers of this colony, in having to meet tho competition of other and older settled parts of the world, where railway freights are low, can with justice ask for as reasonable a tariff of charges as are possible with due regard on he other hand to the intrest accruing on he capital cost of the railways aad the

specific cost of the services rendered Furthermore, we would urgs that it is from the increasing quantity of agricultural produce carried by the railways that the present high percentage of profit has been earned ; but that if no greater inducement to production is given by a lower tariff, much second-class land in the colony, and more remote from the shipping porta, very probably may not be cultivated as they might have been, to the serious loss of the colony. We would urge also, that a general lowering of the tariff would result in a general increase of profit from the larger amount of business done by the railways; it being well-known that in many classes of produce, especially live stock, roads and rivers at present compete successfully with the railways, which thereby lose traffic which ought to come to them. We therefore pray that your Honorable House will take into favorable consideration this humble petition, and your petitioners will ever pray.” Mr Cox moved—“ That the petition read be adopted for presentation to Parliament, and the chairman be authorised to sign the same on behalf of the meeting.” Mr Cox, in speaking to his motion, said one fact in connection with the question before them would occur to them all, and that was the success which had attended the running of the Exhibition excursion trains to Christchurch. Those trains were run at reduced fares, and he thought that when the returns were in it would be seen how much more money had been earned in proportion by those trains than by the ordinary trains. After alluding to the possibilities opened up by the prospect of an extensive trade being established ere long in frozen meat, and the necessity, if only on that account, of the concession asked for being granted, the speaker went on to point out that New Zealand was attracting many farmers just now to come out and settle in this country, which was a still further reason why the Railway Department should reform its tariff. A gentleman who lately went Home from New Zealand was so besieged by farmers asking for information respecting the colony that he had to reply to over 100 letters a week, while Mr Grant, of Grant and Foster, had been instrumental in sending no less than 800 farmers to this country since his return Home. (Applause. ) Mr Cox’s motion was seconded by Mr Stitt, and carried unanimously. Mr Thomas Bullock then moved—- “ That the member for Ashburton be requested to present the petition, and the member for Wakanui be requested to support the same, and a copy be sent to all the Canterbury members of Parliament.” Mr Bullock said ho thought it had been conclusively shown by previous speakers that they were asking for nothing but what was fair. The matter had been brought up years ago, but they had had not yet been able to obtain redress for the grievance. He might mention 1 that all store sheep were now driven by 1 road, the railway charges being simply 1 prohibitive. This was a great loss to the 1 country—a great loss to the district. In 1 the years 1870-71, no idea was entertained that the railways would pay the cost of their construction. They were simply to open up the country, and that 1 was all that was looked for. On the nonpaying lines fewer trains should be run. Even in the Middle Island, on some of the 1 northern lines and in certain places in 1 Otago fewer trains might be run with advantage, and were this done the tariff 1 could be more easily lowered on the pay- ' ing lines. The farmers were the back--1 bone of the colony, and he hoped that the ; Canterbury members would combine and do their duty in this matter. Tlie resolution was carried unanimously. The Chairman said the next thing they had to consider was the question of a traffic bridge over the Ashburton river. This matter it had been decided to discuss at that meeting, by his Worship the Mayor, who thought the opportunity a a good one. The Mayor having thanked Mr Walker for so readily falling in with his views with reference to the discussion of the bridge question, proposed the following resolution:—“That the Government be requested to place a sufficient sum on the estimates for the construction of a traffic bridge over the Ashburton river in continuation of the Great South road.” His Worship remarked that they were all aware of the necessity that existed for a separate traffic bridge across the river, and had all probably seen Mr E. G. Wright’s letter addressed to the Minister of Public Works upon the subject. [The letter was published in The Guardian-, of the 10th inst.] One could hardly cross the bridge without encountering six or seven vehicles, and the walk was not a little dangerous unless the horses happened to bo very quiet. It had been estimated by one gentleman that 1,200 persons had passed over the bridge on a certain market day. Sheep could hardly get across at all, and indeed, a flock rarely crossed without a few of them falling over into the river bed. Then there was the loss of time occasioned bj the constant shutting of the bridge. Reckoning that the gates were closed eight times day, and that twelve vehicles were stopped for fifteen minutes each, that was two hours, or twenty-four hours a day in all—which, at 2s an hour, gave 48s per day as the loss to the .district. (Applause.) The town and its immediate neighborhood contained a population of 3,000 persons, who were constantly coming and going across the bridge, and a serious accident would certainly one day occur. No doubt after a few such accidents had occurred the separate bridge would bo built. There was no doubt that the want of it was retarding the prosperity of the district very considerably. The resolution was carried with perfect unanimity, and after the usual vote of thanks to the chair the meeting dispersed, j

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Bibliographic details

PUBLIC MEETING., Ashburton Guardian, Volume III, Issue 698, 26 July 1882

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PUBLIC MEETING. Ashburton Guardian, Volume III, Issue 698, 26 July 1882

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