Arthur Desmond First Speech
Mr. Arthur Desmond's first speech at Hastings 5 July, 1884.
TO THE ELECTORS OF HAWKE’S BAY.
GENTLEMEN, —I invite you to meet me at the Hastings Town Hall on SATURDAY EVENING, at 7.30, when I will explain my views on the leading political questions of the day. A. DESMOND.
Hawke’s Bay Herald, Volume XXI, Issue 6901, 3 July 1884
Mr. Desmond, one of the three candidates for the electorate of Hawke's Bay County, addressed a meeting of electors at the Hastings Town Hall on Saturday evening. There was a large attendance, the hall being crowded. Mr. G. Ellis was voted to the chair and briefly introduced the candidate, claiming on his behalf, a fair and impartial hearing.
Mr. Desmond, who was received with applause, said he intended to speak plainly, fearlessly, and honestly so that as far as to lay in his power he might make his views on the important questions of the day clearly understood.
He would attempt to do this without reference to any particular man, or to any class of privileged men. His reason for becoming a candidate was because he believed the large landowners and, bank manager rings and cliques had ruled the country long enough. It was time others made an attempt, and as a representative of the small settler and the working man he came forward as a candidate.
There was also another reason. Some time ago he was at a public meeting at Clive, where the late representative of Hawke’s Bay County was giving his views upon public questions. During his remarks, he was pleased to say that he hated and despised working men's representatives, and he (Mr. Desmond) from that time determined to come forward and contest the seat.
He wished to point out that the man who said he hated and despised the working man representative must consequently hate and despise those who were represented. This man also said at Clive that working men representatives were working men loafers.
Now it came very bad from this man, language of that kind because he was returned at the last election by working men's votes. This was how he paid them back.
When listening to his words his (Mr. Desmond’s) blood boiled, and he thought that the working men of Clive must have lost the energy and pluck of their forefathers, or they would have pitched the inflated windbag into the Ngaruroro. (Loud cheers.)
They had manhood suffrage and triennial Parliaments, and he thought they should combine once and for ail and return men of their own class. This was the first time he had addressed a public meeting, and he hoped they would give him their indulgence while he tried to explain his views.
He had traveled all over the county and knew its wants quite as well as any of the men who owned 50,000 sheep and the same number of acres. He knew the hopes and aspirations of the class to which he belonged, and also the power wielded by the great land-owners. Let working men be true to themselves, and they might at all times return men of their own class to represent them.
[Mr. Desmond here recited, amid applause, some poetical references to the dignity of labor.]
It had been said in the Napier papers that he came forward, or was put forward, by one candidate to keep out the other. Both parties had accused him of being put forward by the others, but it was untrue. Those who said so did not know him. He saw one of his opponents present, and he challenged him to step out there and then, and deny the statement that he (Mr. Desmond) had been put forward.
[At this juncture there were loud calls for Captain Russell, who was present. After a short time Captain Russell mounted the platform, and, amid applause, said he must deny for himself and friends the statement that both parties had accused each other of putting Mr. Desmond forward. He had heard of such statements but had never thought of charging Mr. Sutton with putting Mr. Desmond forward. Having said that, he also emphatically denied that he (Captain Russell) knew anything more of Mr. Desmond and his candidature than any of those present. Considerable cheering followed this episode, after which Mr. Desmond proceeded.]
They would now understand that he stood alone, and that should be sufficient.
The first question he would deal with would be the duration of Parliaments. They all knew that where Parliaments were longest, there the liberties and rights of the people were least studied; where Parliaments were shortest the amount of individual and national liberty was greatest. Some said that it was necessary to go back to the old style of five-year Parliaments and that triennial Parliaments had proved a failure. He thought that anyone who looked at the increased interest taken in public affairs, as compared with 15 years ago, would see that the arguments were in favor of shorter Parliaments. He was in favor of annual Parliaments. If a representative were not in accord with his constituents, he could be easily removed at the end of a year under annual Parliaments, but if he were a good representative he would be returned year after year. The people would then have a thorough control over public matters, and if a man did not keep his election pledges it would be easy to remove him.
The next question was that of the Civil Service. He believed it wanted re-organization, but not the stupid re-organization of the 10 percent, reduction style, which some people advocated, and which had been carried out. There were in the service a large number of good men, but there were also large numbers who did very little for high pay.
Some of these got large salaries chiefly for signing their names in an illegible way to public documents, while policemen, schoolmasters, telegraph clerks, &c., did good work for poor wages. Those who did little work should have their salaries reduced, and the amount taken off should be added to the wages of those who at present had small pay for much work.
Upon the question of the Customs duties, he believed that these duties should be abolished upon necessaries of life, and only retained upon articles of an injurious nature, such as spirits, opium, &c. All articles of necessary consumption should come in the country free of any duties whatever. Customs duties were clogs upon the wheels of industry. Victoria was called a protectionist country, and yet raised less revenue from Customs in proportion to its population than was the case in New Zealand, and yet it was bragged that New Zealand was a free-trade country. On the contrary, it was most protectionist. The Customs duties were bleeding the people without the latter knowing it.
If a man bought a pair of moleskin trousers for 10s, then, by the operation of the Customs' duties and the properly-tax, he was forced to pay 2s to the Government for the privilege of wearing his moleskins. If the same man bought a pair of watertight boots for £1, then they were 4s dearer to him than if there were no Customs duties. It was disgraceful that men should be compelled to pay in this fashion for the privilege of clothing themselves. There were a large number of sheep farmers in Hawke's Bay, and when these imported articles for sheep dipping they got the duty of the good free, except in the case of tobacco for sheep wash, upon which a small duty was charged. But if a poor woman went to buy a pound of raisins or currants, with which to make for her children a pudding, she paid two pence direct to the Government for the privilege of buying that pound of fruit. She also paid one-fifth in Customs duties for other articles, and yet men who needed the stuff to dip their sheep went comparatively free. Indirect taxation was one of the most impolitic ways of raising revenue because it took so much more out of people's pockets than was paid into the national treasury. The history of Customs duties was a history of fraud and shame. These duties were originally established in England when the landowners were in power, as they were still. As they began to grow into power they took burdens from their own backs and placed them on the backs of the people. They did not add these burdens directly, but indirectly, because the people would have rebelled otherwise. By means of Customs duties, the landowners removed taxation from themselves and placed it upon the people without the latter knowing it. When the first settlers came to New Zealand they brought with them old-world ideas, and they reimposed a system of taxation by Customs duties which had become worn out in the Old Country. There was a new class of people growing up, and the children in our public schools were being taught that they should not pay unjust taxes, and the time was not far distant when Customs duties would be abolished altogether. They were a remnant of feudalism, and as such should not be tolerated any longer.
[Mr. Desmond here recited another poetic passage.]
If they talked of free trade let them have free trade, and not merely free trade in the name. Let the ports be thrown open free to the world so that all nations could send us what was required and could not be produced here, and then there would be free trade in reality.
The property tax was the most iniquitous one because it weighed most heavily on the poorer classes. It ought to be called a labor tax, for the laborers paid the greatest share of it. The whole amount raised by the property tax was £250,000, and of this sum, £200,000 was paid by the industrial classes, and only the remaining £50,000 by land and property, and yet the land of the colony was worth £100,000,000. This tax pressed upon the small settlers, the tradesmen, and the working man, and allowed the non-improving landowner to go free. Let them suppose two runs, each worth £20,000 this year. One owner might improve his run so that it became worth £30,000, while the other allowed, his run to remain in its original state. Round came the tax-gatherer, and the man who had improved was immediately taxed upon the extra value caused by his improvements, and the other who had not improved escaped and was only taxed upon the original value of his run. This was most unfair and tended to prevent the employment of labor because it taxed improvements caused by labor. If two men were in the colony worth £500 each, one might by industry make his £500 into £900. The other might be lazy, and loaf around the public-house smoking and drinking beer. The property tax collector would demand from the industrious man a tax upon £400, while the other lazy settler paid nothing whatever, because of the £500 exemption clause. The tax collector said to the lazy man, in effect, "You are just the sort of man we want. You continue to let one blade of grass grow where one grew before, therefore we will not tax you." But to the industrious settler, he said, "You have improved, and made two blades of grass grow where only one grew before, and have thus done an injury to the community, therefore we must tax you to make up for it." Supposing one of our importers brought into the country £5000 worth of clothing. On that, he would pay Customs duties, and then the property tax. If he failed to sell and had to keep his stuff, for every year the goods remained in his warehouse he paid property tax upon them. When he sold his clothing to the retailer, he charged the amount paid in Customs duties and property tax on to the goods; the retailer repeated the process, and ultimately the consumer paid the whole. Suppose two men with a section each in a town. One might build a large manufactory upon his section, and put machinery in the building, and make his property worth £20,000. The other could allow his section to lie idle, and then the improving man would have to pay property tax on the full value of his manufactory, while the man who let his property lie idle escaped nearly free. Besides, in taxing that manufactory all that was charged was so much taken from the wages fund. Instead of encouraging progress it was discouraged. It was said, "We want trade,'' and yet to hinder trade a tax was laid upon the exchange of commodities; it was said, "We want capital," and yet when capital arrived it was driven away by an attempt to tax it; it was said, "We want to labor in the country," and yet as soon as a laborer arrived he was made into simply a toiling and taxpaying machine. Some time ago there was a meeting of the Jockey Club, and a gentleman named Wellwood, in referring to property tax valuations, said he was taxed upon a piece of land at £35 per acre, and that piece of land was sold at £60 per acre. It was said the property tax was a fair tax, and yet here was a man allowed to go free to the extent of nearly £30 per acre. They had no doubt seen pack-horses with their loads wrongly placed, and consequently only able to travel with difficulty. If the load was adjusted fairly, not only could the horse carry hid load with greater ease, but he might even carry something additional. A heavy load properly placed could be carried better than a lighter load improperly placed. The country was the horse, and the Customs duties were the light load improperly placed, while a land tax would be perhaps a heavier load, but one properly adjusted. Sir Julius Vogel's public works and borrowing policy was economically a sound one as originally proposed, but his program had never been carried out. Sir Julius Vogel proposed that as public works were carried out a certain, amount of taxation should be raised from the land, to pay interest on the money borrowed to carry out the works, which increased the value of the land. He also proposed to settle people on the laud as part of his scheme. Through the overwhelming influence of banking rings and of squatter cliques, those parts of his program were never carried out. (Loud cheers.)
These men wanted cheap labor to shear their sheep, and to take their wool to market — not to see settlement upon the land. They knew that as a class of yeomanry settlers arose up around them the power of mutton and wool would decline. There was yet time to do something towards remedying this state of things and to make the landowners pay something of what they had taken. There was time to impose a land tax and to settle people upon the land, and this must be done. The squatters and bank managers of New Zealand might howl their lungs away, but the people must be settled upon the land. Some said borrowing must be stopped, but these were men who could only see the dark side of things, and not the brighter — they were a kind of social croakers, and should not be trusted by the people. He believed in borrowing for public works because they increased the value of the common inheritance — the land. But he did not believe in borrowing for public works to increase the value of the private property. When land paid its proper share of the burden of taxation, then more money might be borrowed to extend public works. As land increased in value by public works, it was only fair to take part in the increased value in taxation. He did not agree with Sir Julius Vogel’s idea of free or nominated immigration. He did not believe in the Government interfering in the labor market in any way. If the land were not looked up, and if wages were high, men would soon come pouring in in thousands. (Loud applause.)
The men who wanted to see Chinese and coolies here would support the present system, would support nominated immigration, and if not prevented by the people would go in for more free immigration. The land laws of the colony had only been successful in settling the country with sheep, intermixed with the foundation of a woolly aristocracy.
They all knew how large estates were the foundation of an aristocracy. The large estates were already here, and the owners would presently want their titles. But the country did not want an "Earl of Ahuriri," a "Duke of Hawke's Bay," nor a "Lord Heretaunga." (Laughter and applause.)
The land tax was the only tax which would lay fairly upon all classes of the community.
There were three canons of taxation. These were a certainty, ease, and equality. A land tax was certain because the value of land was always increasing as the population increased; it was easy of collection, as a few men could collect it; it was equal because all classes contributed to the value of the land. As the land tax was increased the Customs duties could be decreased, and thus the poor man's wages would be indirectly increased. There was a land tax in New Zealand once, but through the influence of the bank rings and large landowners, the tax had been repealed. When the new House met a land tax would probably be imposed on New Zealand. (Applause.) Sham politicians would tell them it was unjust to take the unearned increment, but these men were already large landowners or were dealing in native lands. The man who said pare of the unearned increment should not be taken was trying to mislead the people. To show them how the unearned increment was brought about he would tell them a story. A sailor some years ago went into an auctioneer's room, and to play a lark with the auctioneer commenced to bid. But the auctioneer played the lark on to Jack and knocked down a section to him for £5, which Jack had to pay. Jack went to sea and sailed all over the world, and at last, came back to the same port where he had bought the £5 section. He found that industrious and improving neighbors had settled all-round the section, and that it had thus become so increased in value as to be worth £20,000. That increased value was due to the efforts of the improving settlers and was not due to anything is done by Jack. Now, to whom did that increased value belong rightfully?
[A Voice: “To Jack, of course." Laughter and applause.]
It did not all belong to Jack.
[A Voice: "Perhaps it belonged to me," and laughter.]
The greater part of it was unearned increment, and if Jack's improving neighbors had taken part in that unearned increment it would not have been unjust to the sailor (Applause) Then another instance was furnished by a landlord who took it into his head to go to bed and stopped there for ten years. (‘Oh, oh," and laughter.) It was a rather curious thing, but he did it. At the end of the ten years, he got up and found the estate worth ten times as much,
[A Voice: "By Jove! I'll start on ten years' bed to-morrow," and laughter.]
What had that man done for that increase? Nothing— it was unearned increment.
[A Voice: "I wish I'd some of it," and renewed laughter.]
Taxing the unearned increment was taking part, by means of taxation, by the community, for the benefit of the community, of the wealth which was the creation of the community. Some argued against it. Some would always be found to argue against anything. "Against stupidity, the gods strove in vain." New Zealand had a population of 500,000 souls, 200,000 being males, and 71,000 freeholders, but only 31,000 farmers, who owned more than five acres of land. These 31,000 farmers had to support all the rest of the community. (Laughter.) The people talked about hard times, but the root of all social misery, trade depression, and low wages was the want of more farmers. An equitable and just land tax would burst up the big estates, give the small man a chance, conduce to national progress, and help along with the car of progress.
After dwelling further on the advantages of a land tax Mr. Desmond went on to speak of absenteeism. He said he would select two notable absentees as examples — Mr. Purvis Russell and Mr. Carlyon.
[A Voice: Carlyon's dead long ago.]
Well, other people called Carlyon held the land, which was left in a state of nature, and the income derived from it spent in England.
Next Mr. Desmond referred to the East Cape and said that all the lands there would have been occupied years ago if there had been a land tax. He would tax Maori and European like — he would not have one law for the Maori and another for the European. (Applause.)
He then reverted again to the evils of large estates, and instanced Italy, Egypt, the Babylonian, Persian, and Roman empires, and Greece, as standing monuments of decay caused through land monopoly. He used a quotation from Tiberius Gracchus, in which the soldiers of Italy were called slaves, and went on to say that the mass of the people of New Zealand was living in a state of slavery.
[A voice: "We're a rummy sort of slaves," and laughter.]
He denounced the Jockey Club and Agricultural and Pastoral Society as sheep farmers' clubs and urged the working men to combine and not to be frightened by Captain W. R. Crossbred and Mr. John Stud Merino. (Loud laughter.) These were only single specimens of the "insect” class of men, but there were whole regiments of them. (Renewed laughter.)
Mr Desmond then made another onslaught on the banks and "land-grabbers," and went in to denounce Mr D. M'Lean, Mr Ormond, Mr Studholme, "several individuals named Russell" and M. R. Miller, as men who owned or " shadowed " vast areas of land, and as a "brotherhood of land sharks." Next, he averred that Mr. Ormond, Mr. Studholme, and Mr. Coleman, with Sir George Whitmore, were negotiating for 200,000 acres of land at Tologa Bay, which should be settled by small men.
[A Voice: That's rubbish — talk about something you understand.]
He averred that Mr. Ormond was showing zeal in getting a breakwater for Napier merely to hide the designs of himself and his brother land sharks at Tologa Bay. (Loud laughter.)
The question of the unemployed was next discussed, Mr. Desmond saying that where land was highest in value wages were always lowest, and where there was most farmers employment was plentiful.
[A Voice: “How about the unemployed in Canterbury?"]
The Government offered 4s 6d a day to married men, just enough to keep body and soul together. New Zealand was called a free country, but the men who accepted such wages were nothing but slaves.
After attacking the run holders again Mr. Desmond went on to say that as he traveled to Hastings in the train he looked out or the window, and what did he see? Smiling homesteads and fields of golden waving grain?
[A Voice: "Why, man, its winter," and roars of laughter.]
Well, he might have seen the smiling homesteads if not the waving corn, but he saw nothing but sheep, grass, and wire fences. If the Karamu plains ware settled by yeomen, Hastings would be a northern Christchurch. Now the scions of a woolly aristocracy drove to Hastings in their buggies and left them there while they went on to Napier.
[A Voice: "Give us some more poetry, old man."]
After again repeating his arguments in favor of a land tax, Mr. Desmond condemned the proposals for the federation of the Australasian colonies on the ground that it was a scheme of the land grabbers to introduce coolie and Chinese labor, and that it might end in a civil war between New Zealand and the other colonies. (Laughter.)
[A Voice: "You’d get a better one at Paki Paki," and laughter.]
If they voted for his opponents they would vote either for a great local moneylending squatter, or a native of the land speculator of Omaranui fame. (Laughter and hisses.)
Mr. Desmond ended by reciting one of Burns poems.
The meeting, which had been gradually becoming noisier, from this point assumed an aspect of low comedy. First Mr. Murdoch appeared on the stage and was greeted with great uproar, laughter, and cat-call, while two dogs fell to fighting in the body of the hall. Mr. Murdoch advanced to the edge of the stage, and, with his watch in one hand, and assuming a tragic air, declared that he would stand there until he was heard. At last, the uproar subsided, and the following conversation ensued.
Mr. Murdoch: I have listened to your speech or lecture and poetical recitations. I can pay you a well-merited compliment on the skill with which you "slated" Mr. Sutton and appropriated his similes and good arguments re a land tax and dished them up in your own language.
[Cries of "Ask a question," and the Chairman asked Mr. Murdoch to keep to questions.]
Well, if you are elected will you —
[A Voice: "Take the honorarium," and laughter.]
That is nearly what I was going to say. Will you bring in a bill to abolish the honorarium?
[A Voice: "You bet he will," and laughter.]
Mr. Desmond replied that he believed in the honorarium, as it enabled a poor man to sit in the House. (Applause.)
Mr. Murdoch: Do you place such a low estimate on your political value as to suppose those who support you would not put their hands into their pockets and pay to send such a man as you — a man of the people, you know — into Parliament? (Laughter.)
Mr. Desmond replied that the honorarium came out of the pockets of the people.(Applause.)
Mr. Murdoch: Do you consider it right to take £200 out of the pockets of hardworking men for eleven days' work? (Applause.)
Mr. Desmond said that the men who helped to turn out the Government in eleven days did more good than if they had sat for three months and kept them in. (Applause and uproar.)
Mr. Murdoch: You have repeatedly used the word people. Now, I'm one of them.
[Mr. Desmond: "You're a very little one," and laughter.]
I have no sheep.
[A Voice: "You have a dawg," and roars of laughter, the uproar is increased by another fight between the bellicose dogs in the hall. When silence was restored Mr. Murdoch continued.]
Do you think it right to confine your remarks to only one section of the people?
Mr. Desmond replied that he called the masses the people — not the landowners.
[A Voice: "No, they're not people," and laughter.]
His motto was "the greatest good to the greatest number."
Mr. Murdoch: I've been asking you questions in the public interest — now for one in your own interest. Are you theauthor of the letter appearing over your name in this morning's Herald, referring to your sisters, your cousins, and your aunts, and your great grandmother's cats? (Loud laughter.)
Mr. Desmond assumed a pugnacious attitude, and exclaimed in an excited manner: If this was not a public platform, and a man asked me that question, I'd take him by the scruff of the neck and put him outside. (Laughter and uproar.)
Mr Murdoch: After that extremely gentlemanly reply I wish you goodnight.
An elector asked what leader Mr. Desmond would follow?
Mr. Desmond replied that he would follow the man who would propound such a scheme as he had indicated, and if none of the present leaders did so he would take the lead himself. (Roars of laughter and ironical applause.) A sudden commotion in the body of the hall resulted in a dapper little man being thrust forward. He was armed with a riding-whip, perhaps as a measure of precaution. He asked Mr. Desmond his views on the Chinese question, and the latter repeated his previous remarks. The dapper little man politely apologized and withdrew. Next, Mr. M'Kenzie appeared and put several questions as to whether Mr. Desmond would support a harbor for Napier, increased grants to libraries, & c., all of which were answered in the affirmative. The proceedings becoming somewhat dull, the uproar recommenced, and Mr. M'Kenzie retired.
No vote of thanks or confidence, was proposed, and after a short delay, the proceedings ended by a vote of thanks to the chairman, proposed by the candidate.
Hawke's Bay Herald, 7 July 1884