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THE EX-MINISTER OF LANDS, Issue 7934, 15 June 1889
THE EX-MINISTER OF LANDS
It is always well to hear both sides, and the speech of Mr Ballance—exMinister of Lands and Defence—furnishes a favorable opportunity for ascertaining the views of one of the most prominent, though not the most powerful, of the members of the Stout-Vogel Government. By the exclusion of Sir Robert Stout that Ministry fell; and now that he and Sir Julius Vogel have both ceased to be members of the Legislature Mr Ballance remains the chief apologist for his party, if a combination of men holding diametrically opposite views on many important subjects can properly be designated a " party." He correctly states the three questions on which his Government were challenged, and defeated : Taxation, Retrenchment, and Land Settlement. As to the first, he applies the tu quoque ai'gument, and imputes to Sir Harry Atkinson the adoption of Rehoboam's policy. If (he says in effect) we proposed to chastise the people with whips by our tariff our successors have chastised them with scorpions. The only difference between the two tariffs is, he alleges, in the distinction drawn between taxation levied for the purposes of " Protection " and taxation levied for revenue. There is no gainsaying the fact that, so far as the taxpayer is concerned, the result is the same; but there is a considerable difference between the imposition of taxes based on vicious principles and submission to taxation necessitated by the exigencies of the State. The extravagances of the past had to be remedied in some way, and the short cut to increase of revenue was by way of additional Customs duties. A bad, almost an indefensible, way it must be admitted to be, but there was no help for it. Mr Ballance, however, repudiates the charge of extravagance, and declares that if he and his fellow-Ministers spent money in travelling about the country it was " for the good of the Colony"—a point whereon the people of the Colony happened to disagree with them. At any rate, he says, during the course of their administration members of the Cabinet " never enjoyed the luxury of seeing the Melbourne Cup run." This is cruel irony. The personal extravagance of the late Ministry was enough in all conscience, but it is a twice-told tale, and unless raked up by themselves would be forgotten. The main quarrel was as to the cost of carrying on the Government, and here the real'question of retrenchment comes in. Mr Ballance doubts the reality of the retrenchment claimed to have been effected by Sir Harry Atkinson, and asserts that if closely analysed there is not a saving of more than £IOO,OOO, "at the very utmost, " coming under the term of legitimate "departmental savings." This is a very safe assertion to make, since no one can tell what Mr Ballance deems " legitimate." Adjectives are as useful as the French cynic declared speech to be for the concealment of thought. But it is also an admission all the more valuable, seeing the quarter whence it comes, that "at the very utmost" the annual savings of the Government are not less than £IOO,OOO. As to the land question, it would be going over old ground again to discuss the land policy of the Stout-Vogel Government, tainted as it was with the perpetual misery policy of land nationalisation. Mr Ballance and many others will do well to let the dead past bury its dead, and, avoiding the example of Lot's wife, look ahead with the desire of rendering future good service to the country. Nothing is to be gained by raking up old stories, and the public certainly do not care to be wearied with the recriminations of played-out politicians. It is almost unnecessary to say that Mr Ballance found fault with everything the present Ministry has done, or proposed to do. Quite sincerely he believes the Ministry of which he was a member was immaculate, and that their successors can do no good thing. " Codlin's your friend, not Short," is the cry of every Ministry; and "Short's your friend, not Codlin," is the cry of their predecessors. One virtue Mr Ballance possesses in a marked degree—he thoroughly believes in himself and his late colleagues—every one of then". That is quite right. If he did not, who would? The reduction of the number of members does not meet with his approval at all; for he believes that it will operate to drive men of moderate means out of political life. So many members of varying shades of political opinion have recently declared themselves in the same direction that we may be sure an attempt will be made to repeal the Representation Act of 1887. Parliament, he said, was " the "brain of the country, and if they " injured Parliament' the interests of "the people would suffer." In a free country the people are governed as well as they deserve to be, because they choose the men who rule over them; and it follows that, if they find their interests in danger, they have the remedy in their own hands. The demand for a reduction of the number of members was pretty clearly expressed at the last general election. The people have had plenty of time to consider the matter since, and if they apprehend injury to their interests from the reduction they have the privilege and the power of reversing their decision. As yet they have cot made any sign, and it must therefore be assumed that they acquiesce in the measure of 1887.
The closure proposals do not find favor in the eyes of Mr Ballaxck, and he seems to defend the abominable practice of stonewalling, which the adoption of the closure would prevent. As an illustration, he cited an instance of successful stonewalling affecting a matter of some interest to the people of Otago, and in doing so he inadvertently, it may be presumed, let the cat out of the bag, as the old phrase goes. He says:—"The longest speaking "against time was on the Otago « Central Railway Bill. Mr Pykk, "by his energy, had secured the support of a majority in the House, "and the result was the minority "was nowhere, and they therefore < ; set to work to stonewall the "measure, some of the Northerners "on the ground that they would not " five a single acre to Otago unless " they got something for the North of "Auckland line." It could scarcely have been on the same ground that the members for Dunedin South and Waihemo aided and abetted the Northernstonewallers. If MrB.\LLA\CK cannot adduce any better argument than this against the closure rules the sooner they are adopted the better. There was clearly an abuse of the rules of the House by a factious minority in this instance, as indeed there always is in the resort to such practices. We have much respect for the rights of the minority, but under constitutional government their first right is to submit to the majority. It is only where despotism nourishes that minorities rule.
THE EX-MINISTER OF LANDS, Issue 7934, 15 June 1889
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