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THE FINANCIAL DEBATE., Issue 7987, 16 August 1889
THE FINANCIAL DEBATE.
[From Our Parliamentary Reporter. ] WELLINGTON, Aiuicst The above debate was resumed to-day by The Minister of Lands, who spoke at some length in defence of his land administration. He said that at present about three-fifths of the land taken up was under the perpetual lease, one-fifth under the deferred-payment, and one-fifth for cash. Ho defended the ballot system, and pointed to the frequency with which people applied to be brought under the Act of 1887 as proof of the popularity of that Act. Last year 348 more persons took up land under the ordinary system than in 1887. Of the State-aided settlers of 1887 only 56 per cent, now remained on the land, whereas last year’s settlers were all volunteers instead of pressed men, and they took up areas of from one to fifty acres. Last year 354,000 acres of land were taken up, as against an average of 188,000 in the three previous years, and this, too, in areas averaging 150 acres. The cost of the administration of tho department last year was L 22,000 less than that of 1887, and L 29,000 under the average of the three previous years. The condition of the colony with respect to the unemployed was improving, partly because less encouragement was given co the unemployed, and partly because work was only provided for married men, and also, doubtless, on account of the improved state of affairs generally. Last October there were no less than 800 men of this class in the colony ; but as the work provided did not suit tho convenience of the applicants, the number was reduced month by month till now there was only 223 for the whole colony. He showed from statistics that Mr Ballance’s village settlement scheme had turned out a failure, and said the fact was that the settlers selected by the late Government were altogether unsuited for the work. It seemed as though the desire was to plant votes rather than settlers. Mr John M'Kenzie, replying to the last speaker, said that the most liberal portion of the Ministry’s Land Act had been forced on them by the House, notably the ballot system, which enabled a man to get his land at a reasonable price. The reduced coat o administering the department was due t* the fact that much of the land sold had not required survey, that having been done by the previous Government. Of the perpetual lease settlers mentioned by the Minister a large proportion consisted of deferred payment selectors who had changed their tenure, and of leaseholders who had surrendered their original title and taken up the land again at a reduced rental. As to the Otago settlers, if even 50 per cent, remained on their land it would be better than having those people staying about the towns. The present Government had initiated an evil which it would bo very hard to get rid of by encouraging the Crown tenants to surrender their leases. The Minister of Lands had used his position to punish bis opponents and reward bis friends, lie had dismissed a Civil servant in Otago for working against him at the last general election. The Minister of Lands; That is absolutely untrue. Mr M'Kenzie : The man was dismissed on the plea of retrenchment, and the Minister had replaced him by a son rf one of his own supporters. In conclusion Mr M'Kenzie announced bis intention of supporting the amendment, Captain Russell deprecated the tone tho debate bad taken, as savoring too much of vilification of Ministers and their actions, instead of giving credit to them for doing their best. Displacing at the present time a Ministry who had done so much to restore our credit would have a bad effect on the affairs of New Zealand at Home and in other colonies. No good would come of a dissolution with parties as at present constituted, for there was very little difference in their policies. He objected to the proposed exemption of machinery, as narrowing the basis on which taxation rested, and be feared that in this respect the Premier had sacrificed his principles to expediency. The object of the tax should be to collect revenue from as many people as possible, so as to distribute the burdens of the State. The hostile manifestations of the meetings addressed by the Premier at Auckland and Napier were not, he believed, directed against the Property Tax itself, but against taxation generally. This in itself was a very desirable thing, because it showed that the public were awakening to the amount of our taxation, and that they would consequently take an interest in keeping it down. He advocated a reduction of the exemption from LSOO to L 250, with a corresponding remission of taxation upon the necessaries of life. He objected to a land tax as tending to prevent people from settling on the land, He argued that instead of punishing those who sunk capital in the land, and exempting those who invested it in business or kept it in cash, all people who owned that class of property should be treated alike. The Ministry were about the best we could get at the present time, and as such they would receive his support. Mr Hutchison denied that tho Opposition desired a land and income tax, and said that they would accept a Property Tax, if the Premier would only extend the exemption to all unexhausted improvements effected within, say, seven years, and alter the bearing of the tax on joint stock companies. The difficulty of the small farmer under the Property Tax was that his capital was often borrowed, and he was obliged to pay the tax for himself and for his creditor. The Opposition wanted a system of taxation which would tax the profits of capital and capital itself. They also did not admit that they were anxious to embark on a borrowing policy. Mr Ballanoe’s speech did not admit of that construction. As to the surplus, he would undertake to prove to the satisfaction of any accountant that none existed. He would support the amendment. The Opposition had good grounds for believing that the Government were in a minority and would have to retire. If a dissolution ensued, tho policy of the Opposition would not be one of borrowing. Mr Humphuevs announced that he supported the Government. Mr Harkness announced his intention of assisting Mr Moss in his amendment. No policy was offered by the Opposition as an alternative to the Property Tax. For his own part he had, when moving the Address-in-Reply, expressed the opinion that the benefits of the Property Tax were by no means commensurate with its evils, and had declared himself favorable to a land and income tax, but he declined to be dragged at Mr Moss’s chariot wheels, or at those of tho Leader of tho Opposition, The real object of Mr Moss’s amendment was to bring about a restoration of the number of members to ninety-one, and there was no matter of policy in it at all. It was simply framed to catch the votes of those who opposed the Property Tax on principle, and led them into a trap by way of bringing forward a direct issue. He intended to move an amendment to the motion that Mr Speaker leave the chair and go into committee on the Bill, instructing tho Committee to insert a clause repealing the Property Assessment Act, 1885, and the Acts amending the same as from 31st of March, 1890, and directing the Government to bring in a Bill next session imposing a land and income tax. He would invito all the opponents of the Property Tax to support his motion, and in the meantime would ask Mr Moss to withdraw his amendment. Mr Fish said that the Premier’s vigorous speech the other evening had failed to convince him that the Property Tax was good, or that a land and incomo tax would be bad. He was sorry that the Premier had made this a Ministerial question, as it placed some members in an extremely awkward position. He could not help seeing that a largo number of those who supported the amendment were uncompromising opponents of the Otago Central Railway. A defence of the Government action on this line occupied tho greater part of tho hon. gentleman’s speech. If by voting against the Government he could bring into force a land and incotm|bax he would gladly do so, but neither the amendment nor tho Leader ofthe Opposif tion proposed to do so, and he must therefore support the Government. It had been rumored that the Government intended to dissolve Parliament during the recess, but he had been assured by the Premier that there was no intention of doing so. Mr Fishsb chaffed the last speaker with talking on one side and voting on the other.
He advised the Leader of the Opposition.to patent any policy he devised, for it would otherwise be certainly snapped up by the Leader of the Government. He (Mr Fisher) did not understand Mr Ballance to advocate farther borrowing. What he really said was that if the works proposed by the Government must be carried out, the expenditure should be limited to L 309.000 a year. Then Mr Ballance added that his party would not borrow at all if they could help it, so what was the difference between the two parties ? It was not the business of any member of Parliament to decry the fact that there was a surplus, looking to the effect of such statements on the finances of the colony; but the Treasurer, remembering the disastrous effects of his own criticism in 1873 of his predecessor’s financing, should now bo more tolerant of the criticisms of other members than he showed himself to be. As to the Property Tax, it was the most objectionable tax that could be imposed upon the country. The expenditure upon the Ngaire route for the North Island Trunk Railway was altogether unjustifiable. He did not believe that the reason for the non-comple-tion of the Ekatehuna-Wood ville Railway was delayed out of any consideration for the VVellington-Manawatu Railway. The interests of the Napier Harbor Board were really those being considered, for the natural outlet of the Napier district was undoubtedly by rail to Wellington. He denied that the question of the Property Tax was raised out of any party motives, and said that there was quite a chorus of outcry against it from all parts of the country, besides which the tax was adversely criticised in the reports of the English companies, not to speak of the protests of companies in the colony against it. What we really wanted was competitive capital for employment in the colony. At the present there was an abundance of money awaiting investment, only that its introduction was prohibited by the Property Tax. An Act should be passed limiting the maximum of the Property Tax to a halfpenny preparatory to its total abolition, and when the circumstances of the colony improved sufficiently it should be abolished altogether. The professional classes should also be made to contribute through an income tax, which, without being at all burdensome, could be made to yield LIOO.OOO. The one idea of the Premier was to reduce the salaries of the Civil servants ; but surely they had suffered enough in the past two years. The proper way to retrench in that direction would be by the reorganisation of certain expensive branches of the system. He (Mr Fisher) would not support Mr Ballance or anyone else in a policy of farther borrowing until the population of the colony very nearly approached a million: A dissolution was badly wanted, for there were now no well-defined parties; indeed it was the only legitimate solution of the present difficulty. He strongly resented Mr Saunders’s claim that Wellington should be disfranchised on account cf the power of the Civil Service, and said that it was a mistake to suppose that there was any great proportion of Civil servants in that city. The number of officers in the Auckland provincial district was 1,077, drawing L 129,000 per annum in salaries; in Taranaki there were IGO officers, drawing L 21.696 ; in Wellington 1,118 (very few more than Auckland), drawing L 184,000 in Hawke’s Bay 204, with L 25,261 ; in Nelson 245, drawing LSI, 103; in Marlborough 112, whose salaries amounted to L 14.676; in Canterbury 716, drawing L 85.488; in Westland 179, receiving L 22.228 ; in Otago 949, drawing L 114.709. Touching upon Mr Moss’s amendment, ho challenged every opponent of the Property Tax to vote for it, irrespective of its consequences to the Government. The tax was ruinous to the great mass of the people of the colony, and in their interest they should support Mr Moss’s amendment. On the motion of Mr R. Thompson the debate was adjourned till 2.30 next day, the House rising at 10.40 p.m.
THE FINANCIAL DEBATE., Issue 7987, 16 August 1889
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