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AN EX-MINISTER ON THE SITUATION., Issue 7905, 13 May 1889
AN EX-MINISTER ON THE SITUATION.
There have not been many pre-ses-sional speeches delivered during the present Parliamentary recess. A dull calm seems to have fallen on matters political. This may be the result of content, induced by the sunshine of returning prosperity; or it may be the presage of a coming storm. At present it is difficult to forecast the issue when Greek meet 3' Greek in tbe arena of debate, and the difficulty is increased by tlie apparent reluctance o£ members to meet their constituents and disburden their minds of the opinions they entertain. One of the few who have broken through the rule which seems to prevail is Mr Edward Richaudson, an ex-Minister, from whom words of weight might fairly be expected. But Mr Richardson, although he has twice been a member of the Administration, is not a man of much weight, either in the House or out of it. He is a plain sensible member, who rarely speaks, and is not chargeable with brilliancy when he does. Perhaps, like the sailor's parrot, he thinks a great deal; but if so he keeps his thoughts pretty much to himself. His recent speeches at Rangiora and Kaiapoi do not contribute much to the stock of political knowledge; but his position as an ex-Minister commands attention to them. He explained his position as a supporter of the Government policy last session by alleging that it was identical with that propounded by the Stout-Vogel Ministry, of which he was a member; only, he said, Sir Harry Atkinson went farther than they had proposed to go; and he bestows a side-cut on the other side by declaring that, thanks to the Opposition, the Government remained in office. If this is correct, Ministers occupy a very humiliating position, of which next session will be the test. There are no great questions of policy now to be brought forward, it is true; but many questions must necessarily crop up which will necessitate Ministers either holding their seats on suffrance or appealing to the country, unless they are strong enough to hold their own without the help of the Opposition. As to the dissensions in the Cabinet, which are so freely reported to exist, they must be accepted with many grains of salt. Mr Fisher has either left his colleagues or been dismissed. We shall know all about that in good time; and, as Mr Richardson remarked, till both sides are heard before the House of Representatives it would be unwise to express an opinion. The charge made by him that it was "no "uncommon thing for two or three " members of the Ministry to be outside "in the lobbies working their utmost " against Government measures," is a very serious thing; and, if the allegation is to be accepted in all seriousness, it indicates a possible reconstruction of the Cabinet. A Government divided against itself cannot stand. But we shall require clearer proof than has yet been furnished before we yield credence to the existence of such an undesirable state of affairs.
Mr Richardson complains that up to the present time only one, and that the least important of the measures that the Government propose to introduce next session, the Public Works Act Amendment Bill, has yet been circulated amongst members. There is no convincing reason why the whole of the most important proposed measures should not be so circulated during the recess. If this were done they could be considered carefully and at leisure, instead of being hurriedly scanned amidst the turmoil of active legislative life. Nor can it be doubted that the result would be beneficial, if prudent legislation is the end aimed at. Every Opposition has urged the propriety of this course being adopted, and every ex-Opposi-tion occupant of the Ministerial benches has omitted to carry the theory into practice. The fact is, that in politics, as in a game of cards, it is not deemed wise to show your hand, however much you may try to force the hand of your opponents. Mr Richardson is doing the forcing business now, because he is an "out." When he was an "in " he was never remarkable for showing his own hand. But these little strategies are permissible in political warfare. He deprecates any meddling with the Civil Service Act unless a " fair and reasonable classification " is secured a phrase which may mean anything or nothing. But following on this there comes a still more dubious utterance "that when the House meets the "Government will be able to give "good reasons for many of the ap- " pointments they have made." Here is the shadow of one point of attack upon the Government. Another is the intimation that members will want to know "how the surplus has been " obtained; what works, the moneys " for which were voted, have been left "undone; and what payments were " held over the end of the last financial "year, and are chargeable to the "present." Here are the materials for a formidable indictment of Ministers. It is accentuated by the condemnation implied, if not expressed by Mr Richardson, of the composition of the Railway Board. " I feel sure," said Mr Richardson, "that " the Act authorising the creation of "the Board would not have been "passed had Parliament been aware "that the Government intended to "appoint three local men in theser- " vice of the Government More espe*
"dally was it expected that an expert "of hi"h standing would have been "appointed Chief Commissioner." And he states, par parenthese-" At least «two such men, to my own knowledge, «' mi»ht have been got from England. Now* if this be a fact, and not an effort of the imagination, the AgentGeneral must have have been in league with the Premier to prevent an English expert from being appointed; for over and over again Sir Fuaxcls Bell reported that no first-class man would accept the appointment at the salary first offered, nor even a' an increased salary. Wo confess that •we have not been able to understand how it has happened that New South Wales and Queensland have secured high-class experts to manage their railways, whilst New Zealand failed entirely to do so. But for an explanation of this, with other things, we must await the opening of Parliament. Meantime, we thoroughly concur with Mr Richardson that, the appointments having been made, there is nothing for it but to give the Board a fair trial. Mr M'Kerrow and his colleagues are on their trial, and they must be judged of their fitness by the manner in which they deal with the great trust devolved upon them. The reduction of the number of members is unequivocally condemned by Mr Richardson. He regards it as " a very conservative and illiberal " Act, to take away any portion of the " representation which the people now "have"; and alleges that "if the " members are reduced to seventy-four, »' the districts will be so large that it " will be impossible for any man to go 41 over them during an election contest, " and if they do so at any time, the " expense must be so great that only " men of means can undertake it." This argument has been used before, and it is the strongest that can be urged against the proposed reduction. Truly, if it is the function of a representative to busy himself with every trumpery detail of local wants and grievances within his district, it will be beyond the limits of possibility for any man to undertake the burden in country districts. But the true and proper remedy is to enlarge the scope of local government. The work of legislation will never be properly carried on whilst the question of roads and bridges is suffered to be paramount. If all such matters were relegated to local councils, as they should be, the representatives of the people, relieved from such encumbrances to free action, would be in a better position to attend to their primary duties as lawmakers, the tone and status of Parliament would be raised, and the local work would be hetter done by local men inlocal councils. Por all legislative purposes seventyfour members are quite sufficient for a population numbering 700,000 at the outside. The Hare system, which was embodied in the Bill introduced last year, does not seem to meet with popular approval, but a modification of the Bystem —the constitution, for example, of large districts with three or more members—would certainly be preferable to the existing single electorate plan, which has been tried and found wanting in the important element of securing the best men as members of Parliament. We deprecate the presence there of men whose little popularity depends on their bagging public spoils for their constituents; and that reform is necessary in this direction the events of many Parliaments must have convinced all the thoughtful portion of the electoral body.
AN EX-MINISTER ON THE SITUATION., Issue 7905, 13 May 1889
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