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BREAKERS AHEAD!, Issue 7932, 13 June 1889
"Birds in their little nests agree, etc.," and it is indeed "a fearful sight" when Ministers entrusted with the government of the Colony not only " fall out," but persist in washing their dirty linen in public. However, in Mr Fisher's case, he (haying been unceremoniously ejected from the Cabinet) possibly had no option. We have now the full text of his speech before us, and fully the one-half of it consists of self-exculpatory narratives and aggressive diatribes directed against his quondam colleagues. The public who thronged the Wellington Operahouse to hear the ex-Minister detail his grievances were evidently delighted with the amusement provided for them. They were actuated by the same motives as urge a crowd on to witness a dog fight, or any similar intellectual (!) amusement. The reports in the Wellington newspapers bear witness that the audience enjoyed the fun immensely, judging from the continual " laughter " and " applause " with which the speech is interspersed. Some scintillation of the littleness of all this seems to have been hazily floating in Mr Fisher's mind, for he commenced by quoting an apocryphal saying of Napoleon, that all battles were won or lost through the occurrence of some small incident; and then, with inimitable bathos, and amidst much merriment, he went on to say that he would show "how a " Minister of the Crown might lose the "number of his mess through the " occurrence of a small beer incident." Of course he referred to the beer duty cases, in regard to which he has been accused of casting the aegis of his protection over some brewer of small beer. His explanation of this affair is not very lucid; in fact, it is rather clouded by his mixing up the rights and wrongs of the case with eulogistic encomiums on this particular brewer's generosity and charitable conduct. But, anyway, it is quite immaterial to the public, though his elucidation served to " split the ears of the groundlings," who went to the meeting for a bit of cheap fun—and got it. Not more worthy was his detail of the petty squabbles—" simple and childish" he rightly designated them—between himself and Mr Mitciielson about a trumpery railway crossing. One is tempted, when reading these things, to exclaim, as of old : " These be your gods, 0 Israel!" The bare notion of a Ministry becoming disrupted about beer and crossings is enough to render the very name of responsible government contemptible. Not all the florid, sentimental poetry quoted by Mr Fisher—and he quoted profusely—can save the dispute from this stigma. One of his quotations does, indeed, express the sum of it allj-j The world is wide; these things are small, They may be nothing, but they ore all. A sentiment with which most sane people will cordially agree. Upon one subject of a personal nature, however, Mr Fisher was quite right in making a clean breast of it. The "Gasparini affair" has been so utterly distorted that some explanation was due to the public. It will be remembered that two convict escapees from New Caledonia— Cury and Gasparini—were arrested in Auckland, released for the want of sufficient evidence, and rearrested on an extradition warrant issued by the Governor. Gasparini is an Italian—a native of Spezzia—and Mr Fisher is the Italian Consul, or, more strictly speaking, Consular Agent for Italy, at Wellington. In that capacity he acted quite within the scope of his duties, and not at all beyond them, when Gasparini was brought before the Supreme Court. The French Consul—Count Jouffray D'Abbans made no objection to anything done by Mr Fisher at the time; but when Gasparini mysteriously disappeared from the vessel on which he was placed during the voyage to Sydney, M. D'Abbans charged the Minister of Education with having in some equally mysterious manner by his " intervention " been accessory before the fact. Into the details of this quarrel we have not now space to enter. What we desire to emphasise is that whatever Mr Fisher did he did in his capacity as Consular Agent ; whereas the French Consul chose to treat his action as that of the Minister of Education. And Mr Fisher's colleagues, as he alleges, lent themselves to this palpably wrong view of the case. This is a very pretty quarrel, and we predict some amusing, and not at all profitable, scenes in the House when Mr Fisher airs his grievances in Parliament. There are breakers ahead; and it will be strange if a Ministry unencumbered by an Opposition, but devoid of a following, does not strand on a sand-bank of its own creation. Smooth waters are often the most treacherous, and it is the unexpected that always happens. When Mr Fisher had sufficiently sated the gobe-mouches who attended his discourse he turned his attention to matters of more importance, which we will briefly review. Very naturally he laments that his Education Bill has been consigned to the Ministerial waste-paper basket. No one likes to see his work treated in that way. But why does he not bring it in as an independent member? He would gain more kudos if he boldly ventured, on his own responsibility, to bring down the Bill to which he has devoted so much time, and test the feeling of the House upon it. He who greatly dares does much to commend himself to public approval. It will indeed be pitiful if Mr Fisher's
enthusiasm in the cause of education is expended on a railway crossing and fizzles out at a bunghole. Some things he said which the ardent conservators of the existing educational system should note. No less than £90,000, he said, have been spent for or upon schoolhouses by the Education Boards—"more than was "necessary to erect all the school 41 buildings in the Colony in brick or " stone, and £30,000 more than was " necessary for building in wood." It is mild language to denounce this as ho did, as indicating a " waste in the system." But this ig not all. In ten or twelve years—he should have been more precise—"no less than £38,000 have been spent in architect's fees." This, ho says, would have been enough to have built all tho school buildings in the Colony in one year. Here is a chance for the "Skinflint Committee," of which Mr Marsden Thompson is president. It stands to reason that the notion that doing away with Education Boards would necessarily tend to centralisation is an absurdity on the face of it. As Mr Fisher pointed out by his Bill, as recently explained in these columns, " the abolition of the Boards " would put more control into the hands "of the people than ever. It would " take away tho friction between tho " boards and committees, and enlarge " the area of the committees' jurisdiction." His comments on Sir Robert Stout's letter to the 'Wanganui Herald' are very stinging. There are other matters in connection with this question which, embodied in the Bill as drafted, aro not only deserving of but demand attention ; and it will be an unwelcome surprise if MiFisher, or somebody on his behalf, does not force the attention of Parliament to the consideration of an amending Educational Bill.
The ex-Minister made it apparent in many ways that he means to " wade in" when the House meets. "The •'Charitable Aid Act," he says, " should be swept off the Statute Book, •* for a more miserable jumble of ideas •'was never submitted to any legislature." Probably this opiuion will | be confirmed by everyone who has had the misfortune to be concerned in its administration. But what shall be said to this 1 "He found that in "Dunedin there were sixty families of 41 professional paupers, and it was these 4< impostors who stood in the way of "the really deserving poor." What shall be answered to this startling accusation 1 ? Perhaps the indefatigable chairman of the Benevolent Institution will explain. Furthermore he charges his late colleagues with having a doubtful surplus ; and with having mis-spent £IO,OOO on an unnecessary survey of a diversion of the Main North Trunk Railway line by way of Taranaki, "where," he says, "the great useless harbor work is." This remark produced much " laughter." Of course the taxpayers should be rendered hilarious by the notion that the money wrung from them by the tax collector has been thrown away. When will the masses of New Zealand learn to treat such extravagances seriously? But the climax of Mr Fisher's speech was in his eloquent denunciation of the " one - man system of government." The exMinister has tried it, and not being the "one man" himself, very properly denounces the system. Well, there is nothing to be said in defence of it; but even that evil is better than a Cabinet divided against itself. However, all these things will come out in a week or two, and until then we can afford to wait. Only, if our representatives are wise, they will let the contestants in this surprising political combat fight it out between themselves, without interfering in what evidently ■will be a personal conflict oi no interest and of little consequence to the country. •
BREAKERS AHEAD!, Issue 7932, 13 June 1889
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