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SHADOWS OF COMING EVENTS., Issue 10421, 16 September 1897
SHADOWS OF COMING EVENTS.
S<>:.iE three years ago, and again when immediately previous to the last General Election the Premier was emphatic in ! declaring the determination of the Government not to entertain the idea of a public works loan, we ventvired to predict that it would be found impossible to carry on without further borrowing, unless an heroic policy of economy and retrenchment in the ordinary expenditure should be adopted. That was a course which we hardly expected would commend itself to a Ministry who maintain their power and influence by a lavish disposal of good things and of patronage among districts and individuals of the right color. Being deeply and loudly pledged to non-borrowing, Mr SKDDONand his then Treasurer—to do them, so far, justice— set themselves to render borrowing unnecessary by increasing the revenue through additional, taxation, direct and indirect; piling this on until the last straw on the camel's back the camel aptly representing the patient taxpayer—was closely approached. The expenditure, however, grew and grew ; the capacious maw of the great Liberal party had somehow to be filled ; so that, under one pretext or another, large amounts were raised' during the last Parliament, including, in 1896, a million of money avowedly " in aid of certain public works, "and also in aid of opening up Crown "lands, acquiriug Native lands, and " otherwise promoting settlement." Only £250,000 of this loan was allocated to railways, and the balance was devoted practically to purposes virtually much akin to the laying of ground bait in view of the then imminent elections. According to the Memorandum showing approximately the position of the public accounts on March" 31 last, submitted by the Treasurer to Parliament in the April session, there was a total available balance for the current year in the Public Works Fund of £475,000. In the Lands Improvement Account the balance was £222,000, and in the Native Laud Purchase Account £184,500. These balances, the Treasurer stated, "will sufficiently " prove that our resources for the current Vyear in respect to our loan accounts "are ample, and will cover all possible "requirements. 1 ' Only a proportion, however, of the money assumed to be in the Public Works Fund was available for expenditure on railways, and, it may be conceived, would not go very far in carrying towards completion even the more important lines under construction. That these lines should be completed is a matter of grave moment to the Colony, and the people in town and country are waking up to the necessity, if the country is to go ahead, of the interior being opened up by railway communication. It is evidently hopeless to expect that such extensive and numerous works can Ix2 provided for out of revenue : whilst, from what recently was allowed to transpire by the Minister of Railways a very neavy expenditure on the lines now run-
ning will have immediately to be faced. Under these circumstances we are not surprised at the rumor confidently circulated that the right honorable gentleman, who is Premier and Treasurer, is contemplating a grand financial coup—nothing less than the submission to Parliament of proposals for a Public Works loan sufficient in amount to complete all railway lines which have been authorised. With this one stone it would seem evident that he would kill several birds. There would be the immediate prospect of employment for a large number of workers ; country settlers and miners would see their way to a vast improvement in the conditions of their industry; whilst
the free expenditure of public money would give a fillip to every branch of trade and industry. The fact that the increase of the colonial indebtedness would involve a proportionate increase in the annual permanent charges on the revenue would not, it may be believed, seriously influence the public mind, and the Treasurer, no doubt, will be prepared to show that the elasticity of our resources and the certain material advantages accruing amply justify the incurring of further obligations. Taking all things into consideration, we think that there is every chance of such a loan as indicated being authorised by the present Parliament, and that there will be a substantial revival of the Public Works policy of Sir Jclicts Vogel. It hardly requires the gift of prophecy to prognosticate that, should a big loan be authorised, the raising of, the same in the London money market will not be allowed to go out of the hands of the promoter of the scheme. It is understood in well-informed quarters that the arrangement is cut and dried for the Right Honorable the Premier to return to England for this purpose at a convenient time after the close of the session, still retaining, of course, his official position, which would enable him to conduct negotiations with a free hand. The Loan Acts hitherto passed have contained clauses empowering the Treasurer to from time to time appoint an agent or agents for raising the money in Great Britain ; but there is no obligation whatever on the Government to appoint the Crown agents
for the Colony to this specific duty. There can hardly be a question but that, if Mr Seddon has made up his mind to undertake personally the floating of the loan, no objection will be raised by his colleagues; while the consent of the House, if the Government retain their majority, may, of course, be taken for granted—not that such consent is neces* sary, as the matter would be one purely for the Cabinet. We must not be understood as expressing an opinion one way or the other as to the policy of a Public "Works loan. It would be altogether premature to discuss proposals in regard to which nothing definite is known, and without consideration of the Ministerial explanations with which they may be introduced. As yet this new'departure is in embryo, aud for its disclosure we must presumably await the Financial Statement.
SHADOWS OF COMING EVENTS., Issue 10421, 16 September 1897
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