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THE AGENT-GENERAL., Issue 7924, 4 June 1889
When Sir Julius Vogel was AgentGeneral lie .accepted the office of director of the New Zealand Agricultural Company, and on this becoming known to the Ministry of the day he was sternly commanded to elect between resigning the Agent-Generalship of the Colony or the directorship of the company, on the ground that the oflice of Agent-General was “incompatible with other business.” Following the cable message conveying this intimation Sir John Hall wrote as follows, under date February, 1880 “ It has been shown that throughout “ the Colony men holding widely ‘differing opinions upon many other “subjects are agreed in thinking “ that, were the two offices com- “ 1 lined in one person, there would “probably before long result a “ conflict of duties, and that, with or “ without sufficient reason, there would “ follow a weakening of confidence in “ the holder of the most important “ non-political office at the disposal of “the Colony.” Sir Julius Vogel protested against this ruling, and argued that there was nothing incompatible in his holding both offices; hut the Government were peremptory, and compelled his resignation. In September, 1880, Sir John Hall again wrote: “ The Government have felt it “ to be their imperative duty to tele- “ graph asking for a decision whether “ you prefer to resign the directorship “of the Agricultural Company or the “ Agency-General. The views of the “ Government as to the incompati- “ billty of the offices have been endorsed by Parliament”
The foregoing extracts are from the despatches of the Hall - Atkinson Government. It is only fair to say " that their predecessors had taken the same view of Sir Julius Vogel's ambiguous dual position. Sir Geobob Grey, when Premier, telegraphed thus;—“ The Government requests you “to resign the office of director of the “ Agricultural Company at once. Go “ vernment cannot allow the Agent- “ General to take any part in politics “at Home, or in private business. w Evidently, therefore, there has been B general agreement of opinion on both sides of the House that the representative of the Colony at Home shall keep entirely aloof from “ private business.”
How comes it, then, that Sir Dillon Bell has accepted the office of trustee of the Midland Hallway Company 1 The directorship of the Agricultural Company was not nearly so dangerous and conflicting an office to assume as this. At the most, the director would only have been engaged in promoting settlement on the property of the company, from which no possible liability could have devolved on the Colony. But Sir Dillon Bell, as trustee of the Midland Railway, occupies a far more dubious position, and it is one which may involve the Colony in obligations which it should not and does not desire to assume. The holder of “ the most “ important non-political office in the “ State ” certainly should not be suffered to hold any office in connection with a company which, notwithstanding the wicked gift of two million acres of Crown lands by the Stout-Vogel Government, can never promote settlement, because settlement in its track is impossible, nor traffic, because traffic there, will be none. The people at Home will na urally suppose, and have the right to suppose, that the Government of New Zealand are concerned in this wild enterprise when the Agent-General of the Colony accepts the office of trustee in connection with the company. And if any monetary disaster ensues they will look to the Colony for reimbursement in consequence of Sir Dillon Bell's action, unless it is promptly repudiated by the Parliament and the Government. I t is true that the eleventh section of the East and West Coast Railway Construction Act, 1884, specifically disclaims any responsibility : “No claim of any debenture- “ holder, or of any creditor of tM “ company, shall attach to or be “ out of the public revenues of New “Zealand or by the Government “ thereof.” But in 1887 the company were allowed to change the name to “The New Zealand Midland Railway.” How many people in England are likely to know that the Act imposing conditions on an “ East and West Coast Railway ”.. refer to a “Midland Railway”! And how should they understand that the Colony is not responsible for the undertaking when they And its representative in England acting as trustee! This is a very serioUs question. It is a question as to whether we shall have claims amounting to two millions sterling set up against us at some future day. The position occupied by Sir Dillon Bell in this matter is infinitely more incompatible with his official position than the position of Sir Julius Vogel in connection with the Agricultural Company. Parliament and the people endorsed the attitude taken by the Government in Sir Julius Vogel’s case. Parliament and the people must equally insist on the Government, in like manner, insisting on Sir Dillon Bell's resignation of the trusteeship or the AgencyGeneral, There is really nothing less to be dona We cannot afford to incur the risk of being implicated in the aflfeirs of the Midland Railway Company. It is enough, and more than enough, to have given away millions, of acres of land to foster a project scarcely less impracticable than the Pa nama Canal
We cannot afford to become, in addition, participators in the probable losses contingent on the venture : still less can wc share the loss ol reputation that must follow if the scheme falls through. Sir Dillon Hull is a most cautious man, and it is scarcely to bn believed that ho would have taken this step without the concurrence of the Government haying been previously obtained. lie gained his position as Agent-General in consequence of Sir Juuis Vonm.s retention of ih« directorship "t the Agricultural Company ; and thereto! y, having such a precedent before his eyes, it is almost incredible that he should have assumed the function of trustee to the Midland Railway Company unless the Government had sanctioned it. But be this as it may, it will be the duty of Parliament to annul such sanction if, unfortunately, it has been given, and, under any circumstances, to insist that the AgentGeneral shall retire from the position of trustee or resign his office as AgentGeneral, that office being—to quote Sir John Hall again—“ incompatible with other business.” It is extremely suspicious to find the ‘Financial News’ which never loses an opportunity of slandering New Zealand becoming on this occasion an enthusiastic admirer of the policy that endowed the Midland Railway Company with such au enormous slice of the public estate. Praise from such a quarter may well render us suspicious of the influences at work to procure it. We say nothing of the —let us charitably hope—ignorant classification of Christchurch, Nelson, and Greymouth as leading New Zealand ports.” It is a little too much to suppose that the bleak and barren mountains which the railway is designed to traverse are undesignedly described as “ the best settled part of the South Island.” There is something dangerous underlying this sudden change of front; and having the true interests of New Zealand in view, we prefer the malignant hostility of the ‘Financial News’ to its insidious commendations in this respect.
THE AGENT-GENERAL., Issue 7924, 4 June 1889
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