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MR FISH'S ADDRESS., Issue 7934, 15 June 1889
MR FISH'S ADDRESS.
The member for Dunedin South met his constituents last evening at the Princess's Theatre.
The Mayor occupied the chair, and announced that Mr Fish had called this meeting in accordance with a promise made on his return from Wellington after last session—a promise that he would before going up to the session give the electors an idea of his views on the questions that were likely to come before Parliament. Mr Fish said that having addressed a meeting of his constituents immediately after his return from Wellington, there was no need for him to trouble the electors with a review of the last session. He proposed to say something as to what had happened in the recess, as to measures that were likely to come before the House, and as to his own action when the business came forward. First, aa to the appointment by Government of the Railway Board. The Act giving the power to appoint this Board was passed in the first session of this Parliament. He had opposed that Bill on the grounds that ho thought our railways had been fairly well administered, that there was no analogy between our railways and those of Viotoria, and that it had not been proved that the management by a commission in Victoria hadbeenasuccess. Theßillwaspassocl.buthe did not believe the House would have passed it at all unless they thought the Government would have faithfully carried out the understanding that an expert from the Old Country should be appointed as Chief Commissioner. The Government said that they had made an effort to get such a man, but had failed. That waa strange. The Queensland Government had been deluged with applications for a similar post, but New Zealand ' could not get one suitable man in Great Britain at L 3.000 a year. He thought the Government had committed a breach of faith with the House. As to the constitution of the Board, the system then obtaining had grown up under Messrs Hannay and Maxwell, and in so far as those two gentlemen were concerned it was not likely that they would find serious defects in a departmental system which they themselves had created. If a change was necessary, there should have been a man put at the head of affairs who was a railway expert, and with him the Government should have placed either Mr Hannay or Mr Maxwell—both good men—and the third Commissioner should have been a thoroughly capable man of business. However, this Board had been appointed, and he did not intend to criticise the Commissioners adversely until he saw what they would do. He, however, confessed that up to the present the Commissioners did not appear to have made any radical change in the administration of the railways. The alteration in running the train to Christchurch was not one that met with his entire approval. He thought the travelling public would have been better pleased if tho train started at the usual time, and the running time was lessened by two hours. If the Commissioners wanted to make a change for the benefit of the commercial public they should hare had night trains twice a week by which commercial travellers could Lave travelled. The public would, however, have to put up with the appointment of the Commissioners for some time, and it was not wise to judge too hastily as to what would be the result of the appointment. Another action of the Government which did not meet with his approval was the appointment of a Supreme Court Judge. When tho appointment was made he did not hesitate to oxpress his strong disapproval of it through the columns of the Press, and he also stated that ho should thoroughly dissect the matter in his place in the House. Upon reflection, however, he had made up his mind thus : That the criticism one might give with regard to the appointment of a Judge was far more serious than to criticise the appointment of Railway Commissioners. In the case of the appointment of a Judge of tho Supreme Court, if the criticism was harsh, whilst one could not upset the appointment, one might seriously injure the prestige of the judicial Bench. Ho had therefore determined that he should pursue the matter no further whon tho House met. At the same time, ho might say that he could not understand why the Government had passed over Judge Ward. He had endeavored to find out what the objection was to Judge Ward, and so far as he could learn there was none. It appeared to him that a gentleman who hail occupied the position of acting judge on three or four occasions us Judge Ward had done should not have been passed over, aud the appointment of another gentleman in hii stead required some explanation at the hands of the Government. Another matter that had engaged the attention of Ministers during the recess was that of the Otago Central Railway. It was mainly due to himself and several other members of the House last session that the passage of Mr Pyke's Bill was stopped. He felt when he opposed the Bill that he was strictly doing his duty, and that it was to the interests of the colony—and to that of Otago in particular—that the passage of the Bill should be stopped; and he and those acting with him did a little stonewalling. That extracted from the Premier a promiso that he would visit the line during the recess and judge for himself what should be done, and the Premier had also given what he (the speaker) thought waa quite equal to another pledge—and that was that if he were pleased with his visit he would devise some means by which this railway should be taken to a point where it would prove profitable and develop the country in the immediate future. He (the speaker) strongly believed that the Premier would redeem hiß pledge during the next session of Parliament, and would agree with him (the speaker) that the line should go either to E weburn or to Blackstone Hill. The cost of taking it to there would be L 325.000, and it would open up the Maniototo Plain, the Idaburn Valley, and the Manuherikia Plain, and bring within easy distance the townships of Cromwell and Clyde, bo that produce could be brought down to what would be the terminus of tho railway for a number of years. The question was how to get this L 325,000. He had the hardihood to suggest a scheme, without breaking the pledge of the colony not to go for a new loan into the English market. His scheme was that the Government should issue small debentures say of LSO or LIOO for the money required, and agree to pay interest at the rate of 5 per cent, per annum ; that as the line progressed as the result of spending this money so Bhould available areas of land suitable for settlement in small farmß be sold ; and as the proceeds came in from the land sold the Government should at different periods cancel so many of the debentures. There could be periodical withdrawals, so that in a few years the debentures would become extinguished without leaving a burden upon the colony. Then there was another way the Government might adopt. There was a revenue from the land in this country, say of L 60,000 per annum, and if the Government could see their way to release it from ordinary revenue and devote it to the constructing of this line, they could go on with the building of the line at the rate of LGO.OOO per year. But he thought the first course he had suggested would be the best, as it would not involve any interference with the finances of the country. As to the Exhibition, had it been merely a local affair it would not have been the duty of Government to assist the scheme in the way they had done, but seeing it had become a national undertaking the Government were right in promising the assistance they had promised. The action of the Government in I this matter, he was sure, would meet with the approval of all, for the Exhibition would be a good not to Dunedin alone but to the whole colony, and would cause noc merely a local and temporary increase of business, but would result in permanent advantage to the colony. Another very gratifying matter was the knowledge that we ended our financial year with a surplus, It was not a large one, and some had questioned its reality; but he believed there would be a surplus, that it was a fairly substantial one, and that it had been earned. But at the same time he agreed with the talented member for St. ■ Albans when he said that too much credit for this Bhould notbe given to the Government. It would have been strange indeed if, with the large amount of extra taxation the Opposition had allowed to be imposed, and with the increased prosperity of the colony, there had not been a surplus. The main feature of the Electoral Bill which the Government had said they would reintroduce waa that it
adopted a modification of Hare's system of representation. The present electoral divisions were to be converted into electoral districts, which would contain not less than three nor more than eight of the present divisions. As an example, Dunedin, Roslyn, Mornington, Caversham, South Dunedin, Peninsula, Ravensbourne, Opoho, and Maori Hill would probably be the new Dunedin district, and would, in that event, return live members. The electoral qualification was to be purely residential; persons receiving charitable aid were not to vote; and every elector must take out an electoral right, for which Is would be charged. Public nominations were to be abolished in favor of written nominations, signed by ten electors, and the polls were to close uniformly at 6 p.m. throughout the colony. The mode of voting was to be this: that a voter would have only one vote, but when there was more than one candidate he could indicate hiß order of preference, and when the quotient for the return of one candidate was made up the spare votes would be given to another candidate till his quotient was made up, and so on until all the vacancies were rilled. This Bill would receive his (Mr Fish's) strongest opposition. His chief objeotion was that it made the districts so large that none but wealthy men or their nominees could canvass them. Then, the system of voting was complicated, and owing to this some would lose their votes altogether; and, further, this system would make it extremely difficult for new men to enter the House. He objected also to charging for electoral rights, It was strange that if this system was such a good thing it had not been adopted in older countries. Charitable aid was a subject that he would confess he had not thoroughly mastered ; but it seemed to him that the present system was cumbrous in the extreme, and he hoped that reforms would be effected. Another question of vast importance was that of a land and income tax, instead of the present property tax. He had for many years preached the doctrine of a progressive land and income tax, having always held that a man should contribute to the State in proportion to the protection he engaged from it. The property tax he held to be a tax upon improvements, industry, and thrift, and consequently it was a bad tax. A land tax upon the unimproved value of land would Buit the farmer much better than the present tax, for the property tax was a land tax and a tax upon improvements as well. He had read very carefully the speoches of the Premier in regard to the property tax, and nothing he had said had convinced him (Mr Fish) that what the Premier had said was right, and unless he saw something that would convince him he should decidedly vote for a graduated land and income tax as against the property tax, even if it involved the fall of the Government. But it became a representative not to commit himself irrevocably to a particular line of action, and he might possibly find that existing arrangements could not be disturbed. One had sometimes to study expediency. If he did Bee that it was impossible to do away with the property tax, he should deem it his duty to come down to Dunedin and consult his constituents before giving a vote on the matter. The Government would probably again introduce the Fair Rent Bill. It was a fair Bill, and would be introduced again and again until it became law. He had on a previous occasion expressed the opinion that it was unwise to subsidise the direct mail service, and if the question came up again he should oppose the granting of a subsidy, as tending to strengthen the monopoly enjoyed by the existing companies. It might be advisable to koep both the San Francisco service and tho direct mail service, but he was opposed to subsidies for the carriage of mail matter, which should be paid for at so much per lb, with a bonus for quick delivery, thus allowing the public to choose the route they preferred. If a subsidy were granted to tho Pacific service, he would bo in favor of insisting on a quid pro quo in the slmpo of concessions in the rates for carrying steerage passengers and produce. The question of the reform of the Upper House was going to occupy the attention of Parliament next sessiou. Ho was free to confeßß that it wanted reforming considerably. He had always been in favor of the elective system—that was that there should be a higher franchise, and that the people should elect the members of the House for a certain time the same as they did in Victoria. He did not think tho scheme proposed by the Government to elect the members by the Lower House was a good one. If it was to be a matter of appointing men to the House, men should bo appointed who had done good service to the State, and who had a fair knowledge of political life, but certainly many of the appointments that had been made were not, to his mind, so good as they Bhould have been. The Ministerial quarrel was likely to engage the attention of the House, but he did not think this was a matter that would assume very alarming proportions, as both sides of the House were likely to look upon it as a personal dispute between the Government and Mr Fisher, and to decline to make very much of it. He would support Mr Joyce's Shop Hours Bill if it were reintroduced, but did not think it should be made to apply to small shopkeepers who did not keep employes after 6 p.m. He was in favor of legislation on the subjects referred to in the Disorderly Houses and Offences Against the Person Bills, but deemed these Bills, as introduced last eession, too stringent. As to the Education Act, the present Bill required amendment; the cumulative vote should be abolished, and other alterations made. On the whole, he waß in favor of the Bill Mr Fisher had prepared, and though there were some points ho objected to in it, it seemed to be a great improvement on the present Act. As to tho position he should probably occupy towards the present Government: When he went to Wellington he belonged to the Opposition party, but also pledged to support the Government if they brought in a protective tariff. Such a tariff had been brought in, and he felt bound in honor to support the Government; but that pledge extended to the end of the session and no longer. The Protestion party, he thought, had made a mistake in not tendering their adhesion to Sir H. Atkinson, who then would have been more firm in his advocacy of Protection, and more definite in his admission that he was a Protectionist. One thing that displeased him was that the Premier since the House rose had declared that the tariff of last session was not a protective but a revenue one, and one of expediency ; and the inference from that was that the Premier would on the first opportunity revert to the former position. That, however, he (Mr Fish) did not believe would be possible; but he would have liked the Premier to have boldly declared himself a Protectionist. Frequent changes of Government were to be deprecated, and so also was a dissolution ; and it would be much to be regretted if they had a general election during the Exhibition season. The members of the present Government were fairly good administrators, and as it was not likely they could get a better set of men in office he should not attempt to eject them for merely party purposes; but if they brought down some measure of which ho could not approve, and to which he could not submit, then, as a matter of principle, he should vote against them. He would be mainly influenced in his attitude to the Government by the proposals of the Government regarding the Otago Central Railway, and their disposition to do justice to this portion of the colony in connection with that work.— (Applauße.) In answer to questions, Mr Fish said that the present gaol was unfitted for the purpose, and that we should have a gaol outside the town. He was rather inclined to think j that the management of our volunteers and cognate matters was not so good as it might be. As to federation, he would not only oppose the introduction of British troops, but would oppose federation tooth and nail.—(Applause.) We should proceed on the idea that New Zealand was for New Zealanders; we should aim at making this a nation ; and with the greatest respect for the Mother Country, and the greatest love and reverence for her laws, her freedom and liberty, he would say we should keep before us as our goal in the future federation with the colonies and separation from Great Britain. He quite believed that he was a loyal man, but that was our destiny,—(Applause and hisses,)
Mr liETHAuy moved a vote of thanks and confidence in Mr Fish. Mr M'Greqor secanded the motion. Mr A. Cairns said that before the motion was put he would like Mr Fish to answer certain questions which he (Mr Cairns) had handed in in writing.—(Uproar.) Mr Fish, on looking at the questions referred to, said they were very impertinent, insulting, and unnecessary, and he should emphatically decline to answer them.— (Cheers.)
Mr Cairns then advanced to the front and asked for the attention of the audience while he moved an amendment. Mr Fish had criticised the appointment of Mr Denniston to the Judgeship. He (Mr Cairns) contended that this was one of the best appointments the Government could have made. He had known that gentleman as a lad, and knew the family he came from. Was it a wise proceeding on the part of Mr Fish to oppose that appointment as he had done ? For that and other reasons he (Mr Cairns) objeoted to Mr Fish [The rest of this portion of the speech was drowned in uproar.] Mr Cairns, however, managed to make himself audible in saying that Mr Fish had been openly accused of doing that which, if true, made him absolutely unfitted for a position of trust. As a councillor he wis accused of selling his vote for money——— (Disorder, amid which Mr Cairns ceased speaking). The Chairman asked whether it was advisable that Mr Cairns should proceed on that line. The meeting was not called for the purpose of giving any man an opportunity of venting his spleen. He (Mr Gourley) would not keep the chair at a meeting where a man was permitted to ask insulting questions.—(Applause.) The motion was then put and carried unanimously.
Mr Fish thanked the meeting, and would now tell them the purport of the questions which that elderly gentleman wished to be answered. Those present would be aware that some time ago certain questions were asked of him (Mr Fish), and the answers were apparently satisfactory, as since then the electors had returned him to Parliament. V\ as it fair that a man should day after day bring these things up again, as though they had not been answered ? Shame, he would say, to Mr Cairns'a grey hairs for doing so ! He (Mr Fish) had endeavored, as the representative of the constituency, to do the best for the electors, and had, he believed, managed to please the majority. He could not hope for more. Ho could not expect to please everybody, and would not try to. He could laugh at those who brought these things up against him. Mr Cairns was an old man, and should be thinking of other things now. His grievance was that he (Mr Fish) had put him out of the City Council, and he could not get over it.—(Laughter.)
The meeting terminated after passing a vote of thanks to the chairman.
MR FISH'S ADDRESS., Issue 7934, 15 June 1889
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