WHAT COULD A COALITION GOVERNMENT DO?
[By Rev. James Milne, M.A.]
The present position of political parties in the Dominion suggests the query wherewith this article is headed. Party politics, for the time, through the practically equal division of parties are out of the question : or even if, after the ultimate adjustment of ballots, one party should be lound to have a majority over the other, it promises to bo so small as to render government on the usual party lines impossible. Under such circumstances, then, would a coalition government be of advantage to the country? The answer to this question is very doubtful, if legislation of the usual party type is looked for; but it so happens there are two public questions pressing sorely for settlement in New Zealand at present, both of which admit of far more effective settlement by a coalition than by any party government. First, there is the liquor question. It is supposed to lie, outside party politics, and special referenda have been provided for its settlement, to remove it as far as possible from the political sphere. The result in this respect has been deplorable, for the liquor question to-day clonus political issues to an extent which menaces efficient government by any party. r l wo great factions, known respectively as the ” No-license ” and ‘‘Liquor - ’ party, have been warring in the community now lor about 20 years. Triennial trials of strength at the polls have shown victory to incline now to the one side and again to the other. Until recently, the greater zeal was manifested by the No-license party, but throughout the fight the better generalship in gauging and manipulating public opinion has been shown by the other side. At times the controversy has been keen, bringing its heat into deliberations of church courts and causing heart-burnings in quarters into which probably it had better never intruded. Of course, the matter should have been settled by honorable compromise long ere this; but, as it is. such vested interests have grown up in the controversy itself during the time of warfare that it is questionable whether any party government — however strong—could stop the light. The position is coming perilously near to this, if indeed it has not already lieon attained r that this controversy rules the government instead of the government ruling the controversy. This being so, it is very manifest that a coalition government should bo most opportune.
It is fortunately becoming apparent, too. that, apart from extremists, public-spirited contestants on either tido of the controversy would gladly welcome an end of hostilities in a fight whoso continuance is dearly adverse in over-increasing degree! to the political integrity of the country. Lot no party politician suggest that no party would dare to interfere with the results of the liquor polls ; for a coalition could settle the liquor question effectively, and in a way ho party government could ever attempt I It. is not party leadership, however adroit, which is wanted for the closing of the controversy, with its ramifications so widely spread over the entire country, and its roots striking ever more deeply into every strata of society in the land : but a wife statesman?hip, whicli not merely acknowledges the will of the. people, hut bends it to suit time and circumstance. Such statesmanship has far greater opportunity of being put in force under a coalition than under a party government. In view of the liquor controversy, it is good to reflect that ail reforms, to be lasting, must come slowly. Temperance reform, in this respect, is no exception to the rule. A coalition government would he strong enough to introduce some form of State or public control of the liquor traffic —t*.£T.. to .save it irom ocOiticai influence 1 * the traffic under iho State might he placed in the hands of commissioners, ail profits to be paid into the consolidated revenue of the country, and the number of State-con-trolled houses in their respective districts to he settled by option of the people. This decs not mean that districts now dry or prohibited should revert from No-license, but it would mean that every public-house open in New Zealand should bo understate control. The traffic thus should Iso publicly controlled, under conditions conducive to temperance. This is a, reform for whicli the time, is ripe. Its introduction might reasonably be expected to put au end to the liquor controversy for years, and so remove a growing menace to the efficiency of representative government in the Dominion.
Another question in need of settlement, and which could bo more effectively dealt, with by a coalition than by a party government. is that of Bible in schools. There are few questions on which such a variety of opinion exists as to what should be done in the way of finding their solution. Some ’.could confine Bible teaching to the homes of the people, but they are easily silenced by tin- argument that many parents arc indifferent as to the knowledge of Scripture possessed by their children, and that it would be scarcely fair for the young folks to suffer by reason, of the negligence of their parents. Others believe that the Sunday school is the place for Biblical instruction, but a weighty argument brought against their contention is that the teaching imparted under such circumstances i.<* in itself inadequate. A few, from among the many who believe in the Bible being read in State schools, would have the whole book as the text book, and leave its reading to bo done by the teachers. Many believe whole-heart-edly in the platform, of the Bible in State Schools League—be., they would have text hooks containing extracts from Scripture read daily by the teachers to the children, as likewise they would give right of entry to ministers during school hours for ouo honi' per week, to give Scriptural instruction to children of their respective denominations, no children, of course, being compelled to attend against tho will of their parents. There arc certain prepared to fully accept tho first half of tho league's platform, as far as text books are concerned, but seriously object to right of entry, as unfortunately emphasising in the eyes of the children religious differences and clivisions. Others, again, would gladly sec instruction given by clergy of the various Churches, but object to the, introduction of the text books and their reading by tho teachers. These attitudes sum up fairly well the ftosition of all more or less closely associated with tho Protestant Churches. Apart from tho fact that it is set, against tho league's platform, the position of the Roman Catholic Church has not been clearly defined. That this Church, howevor, is uncompromisingly opposed to Scripture teaching being imparted to children in State schools, in any shape or form and under any conditions whatever, can scarcely bo maintained in view of declarations from leaders in that Church. The late Cardinal Moran, of Now South Wales, where tho system of Biblical instruction advocated by tho New Zealand league has been working smoothly for years, declared concerning his opposition to tho system that were the right of entry domed ministers he should not oppose reading from the text books. The writer of this article heard a- high dignitary of the same Church, in tho Dominion, at a public meeting, declare that ■wore >a conference representative of all Churches held ho had confidence that some scheme of Scriptural instruction for the children in the schools could be found which should not be unduly objectionable to any Tho question of how far a child’s moral and ethical training is dependent on Biblical teaching cannot be considered in an articl© such as this. Certainly, religious teaching cannot be imparted apart from Scripture, and religion pertains to, even as it ennobles-, every department of life. This consideration in itself is no mean argument for Scripture teaching in (State schools, on the .ground of education alone.
If the Government bo persuaded that a majority of the people are In favor of iScripturo teaching in the schools during school hours, then their duty is plainly to make provision for such teaching being given, through, reference of the matter in the first place to educational experts, who. after consultation with representatives of all the various parties, should not find it impossible to devise some scheme of Biblical instruction which on educational grounds would not he obnoxious to any. Can it b© for a moment .doubted that the recommendation pf ouch
a commission coaid be far more easily introduced by a coalition than by a party government ? Thus another great matter of contention should be happily removed, which, however noble its cause, undoubtedly greatly affected ordinary political issues at last election; and which, until settled, is likely to influence elections to come. Accordingly, should a coalition government bo able to settle these two questions, as the writer -believes is possible, then for that reason, and for that alone, it is well worth trying.
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WHAT COULD A COALITION GOVERNMENT DO?, Evening Star, Issue 15699, 13 January 1915