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MR FERGUS AT QUEENS. TOWN., Issue 7925, 5 June 1889
MR FERGUS AT QUEENS. TOWN.
An acquaintance with the cares and . responsibilities of office has evidently* beneficial effect on members of Parlia* ment. In the speech of the Minister of Defence at Queenstown there was none of the " gush " and « blow " which were once rather characteristic of the member for Wakatipu. Only for the mischief that would be wrought by " 'prentice hands " it would be well « every member of Parliament had to undergo a short course of Ministerial training. It would at any rate teach them to speak with " 'bated breath a about public affairs, and free them of many " blunders and foolish notions." It is disappointing to find that the Government do not intend to introduce an amending Education Bill this session. The omission of the little word " not" in the report of Mr Fergus's speech raised hopes that apparently are not destined to be realised. Tht lines laid down by him for such amendments are strictly in accordance with the popular will, and with the wishes of all who have studied thtf working of the existing Act. What is wanted is uniformity of examination, together with uniformity of appoint* ment, of qualification, and, as far as possible, uniformity of salaries. All these can be effected without invoking the bugbear of centralisation. No possibly plausible argument can be adduced for the want of uniformity which now prevails. And it is to be regretted that whilst Ministers and exMinisters—and, above both, the publie —desire this, there is not to b» any attempt made to improve th» present unsatisfactory t condition of affairs. How far the pronounced opinions of Mr Fisher in this direction may have operated to expedite his exclusion from the Cabinet will possibly be revealed when the House meets. Another matter which Urgently demands rectification is the educational voting system. The cumulative vote has been productive of so much evil that its continuation cannot be regarded with complacency. And there is this danger ahead: that if these things are not speedily rectified the whole system may sustain serious injury. Education, secular and compulsory, let us have by aty means; but let it be regulated by the principles of equality and the dictates of common sense. It seems that the total liabilities of the Colony at the end of the financial year were £152,000, which is a comparatively small balance of account* Fix it how any Ministry may, there must always be outstanding liabilities. It must be understood that, as stated by Mr Fergus, this embraces both ordinary revenue and Land Fund—items which are separated in the public accounts. This is a fair record. In March, 1886, these liabilities amounted to £235,000; and in March, 1887, to £205,489—a floating deficit which was left by the Stout-Vogel Government for their successors to reduce; and this they have apparently done to the extent of £53,000. A grain of fact is worth a bushel of argument; and we commend this fact to those perverse individuals who twist and strain arithmetic in the vain endeavor to show that the surplus if made up of outstanding liabilities, As Mr Fergus pertinently observed—"lt is strange that men in our midst, " who have the opportunity of verify"ing these statements if they like, " persist in running down the Colony " to the utmost extent in their power, " when it is a fact that a brighter and " better day has dawned, and we are " paying our way, living within out " means, and endeavoring to do honestly "to all." This is excellent public morality, as it is also private morality. There is nothing brilliant about it—none of the coruscations of erratic genius; but it is based on jplain com* mon sense, which is more scarce than genius, and commends itself to all. And now that our people have got rid of the Vogelian glamor the prevalence of which was prolonged by the unfortunate adhesion of Sir Robert Stout—they will be able to perceive that nothing is more simply profitable in the end than to keep our expenditure within onr income. It is the old story, humorously but truthfully epitomised by Mr Micawber:—" Annual income, twenty " pounds; annual expenditure, nine- " teen nineteen and six ; result, happi"ness. Annual income, twenty " pounds; annual expenditure, twenty " pounds ought and sixpence; result, "misery." And to this end we mutt " shape our future course."
The selection of Mr M'Kerrow at chief of the Railway Board is scarcelj dealt with ingenuously by Mr Fergus. What the country desires to knew is why the services of an English expert were not secured. The prevailing feeling was, and is, that a man of large experience and acknowledged ability in connection with railway business should have been sought out, and his services retained for the New Zealand railways. This hi the point, and not whether the present Chief Commissioner is all that could be expected. Mr Fergus's Victorian friend, whose advice to engage "a diplomatist" seems to have had such a potent effect on the Government, was not and could not be in a position to understand tha circumstances which induced Par> liament to assent to the Act authorising the formation of the Railway Board. There are ingredients in the present arrangement -waloU are jjn. palatable to the public, and it will
give Mr M'KerrOW and his coCommissioners considerable trouble to alter this. But, as we have already said, they must now luivc a fair trial; and, so far, they seem to be "raduallv approximating to a state of "things" more satisfactory than existed prior to their appointment. That there will be trouble in Parliament is certain, and it is to be hoped that Sir Harry Atkinson will be prepared with a ImUcrapolft«y--ili'fiwr is n ore in his line-than (hat with which Mr .Flints satisfied the Watatipu electors Certainly, if any ollieer of the Now Zealand Civil Service was to be selected, Mr M'Kkhuow's appointment is unassailable. But that is not the point at issue. As to the reform of the Civil Service, there are, as yet, no data to justify an expression of opinion. For such data .the public accounts and the Estimates for the current year will have to be consulted. We can thoroughly agree with Mr Fours that economy should rather be effected by the amalgamation of offices than the diminution of salaries. Good work must be fairly paid for; and, equally, fair pay should secure good work. Where these conditions do not co-exist thero will be on the one hand badlyperformed work, and on the other illrequited payment. The work of the Administration is to ensure these conditions—to keep no more officials than are required by the necessities of the State, to pay them fair wages, and to compel hone-t work. This is the duty of any manager of a private business, and the regulation of the business of the State is in nothing different. One point Mr Fergus did a service in making clearly prominent The cost of the public service of the Colony, he stated, is about one million sterling per annum, exclusive of police and country postmasters, who' are in receipt of from £lO to £2O per annum. Of this sum £648,000 is paid to " railway employes, surfacemen, wages ♦'•men, and postmasters and telegraphists receiving less than £l5O " per annum." The balance of £340,000 includes the salaries of Judges and li higher paid" officials. Unthinking people who prate of fearful extravagance, and mouth millions as unconsidered trifles, are apt to tell us that half a million more could be saved from the Civil Service expenditure. When they have considered the figures set forth by Mr Fergus, perhaps they will " moderate their rancour," or point out the direction in which it can be done. On the whole, there is much to be pleased with in this Queenstown speech. It was moderate in tone, practical in purpose, not abundant in promise, but hopeful in prospect. It was just such a deliverance as beseems a man who is learning the art and has already acquired the rudiments of statesmanship. Setting all petty squabbles aside, Mr Fergus is certainly one of the most promising political colts whom Sir Harry Atkinson has undertaken to break in ; and, if he continues as he has begun, he will yet be a power in the State.
MR FERGUS AT QUEENS. TOWN., Issue 7925, 5 June 1889
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