Slike strani
PDF
ePub

or more

The direct result of the reaffirmation of the Liberal policy was naturally a further development of dernocratic legislation. The Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Act, The Factories Act, The Shop and Shop Assistants Act, and amendments of the Conspiracy Law and Inspection of Machinery Acts all belong to the session of 1894. Perhaps the most important of these measures is the first, which, with its subsequent amendments, creates Boards of Conciliation for certain defined districts, and a Central Court of Arbitration, the award of which may be enforced in the same way as a judgment of the Supreme Court.

The Factories Act of 1894, slightly extended by an amending Act in 1896, consolidates and improves upon no less than four previous measures, two of which were passed by the Ballance Government. Under this Act all workshops, where two persons are occupied, are declared to be factories, must register, pay an annual fee, and submit to inspection at any hour of the night or day; a master and servant working together count as two hands, and inspectors have absolute power to demand such cubic space, ventilation and sanitary arrangements generally as they may consider needful to preserve life and health. The factory age is 14 ; there are no half-timers. In New Zealand, primary education is not only free, but compulsory: any child under 15, therefore, must undergo an education test before being allowed to go to factory work. Children under 16 years must be certified by an inspector to be physically fitted for factory work. Women and children under 18, may not work before 7.15 a.m., or after 6 p.m., nor more than forty-eight hours per week. All factory workers (time or piece) are entitled to the halfholiday, after 1 p.m. on Saturday-in the case of time workers, without deduction from wages. The rates of pay and hours of labour have to be publicly notified and returned to inspectors. Overtime may be permitted by inspectors on twenty-eight days a year, but overtime pay must not be less than 6d. per hour extra. Even the huts in which the nomadic shearer lives while working on a sheep-station are placed under the operation of this Act. The Shop and Shop Assistants Act regulates the hours of business in shops, and provides for one halfholiday a week. It also enumerates the working hours, holidays, &c., of clerks employed in banks and mercantile offices. But these measures were not the only class legislation passed during the session. A measure that found much favour with the local small farmer was the Advances to Settlers Act of 1894. Under it a State Board may lend Government money on leasehold and freehold security, but not on urban or suburban lands, unless occupied for farming or market gardening. The loan may amount to three fifths of the value of the security when freehold, and one-half when leasehold. The rate of interest charged is 5 per cent., but the borrower pays at the rate of 6 per cent., in halfyearly instalments, the extra 1 per cent. being by way of gradual repayment of the principal. Mortgagees must in this manner repay the principal in seventy-three half-yearly instalments ; if able to pay sooner, they can do so. Over three millions of money have been lent under the Act. Other measures designed for the benefit of the agricultural and pastoral community, and passed during the same year, were The Land for Settlements Act, authorising the acquisition of private lands for the purpose of settlement, the Lands Improvement and Native Lands Acquisition Act, and the Dairy Industry Act, the last-mentioned measure regulating the manufacture of butter and cheese, ensuring the purity of the milk used, and providing for inspection and grading for export.

The year 1895 was the culminating point in a period of depression, which had lasted practically since 1870. Although agricultural and industrial production had grown during the interval, the increase had been counterbalanced by a fall in prices of products, and in the value of land. Settlers had for long been forced to go to the financial institutions for assistance, and the high rates of interest were a further source of embarrassment. The breaking strain was reached in 1895, and mortgages were allowed to fall in by many who could no longer hold out against adverse fortune. Values of securities were thereby greatly depreciated, and the Bank of New Zealand, one of the largest of the mortgagors, was compelled to seek assistance from the Government. This was granted by the Bank of New Zealand and Banking Act of 1895, which sanctioned the writing off of the paid-up capital of the bank, together with the proceeds of a first call on the reserve liability, and also the raising of new capital by the issue of preference shares in exchange for Government securities. It was also provided that one of the directors should be appointed by the Governor. In spite of this financial disaster the general results for 1895 were favourable, and the Treasurer was able to declare a surplus at the end of the year, this satisfactory state of affairs proving the precursor of a period of prosperity.

In accordance with the usual rule, the Parliamentary session of 1896, immediately preceding the general elections, was not remarkable for any measures of great importance, the principal enactments being chietly amendments to existing legislation. The franchise was altered by the abolition of the non-residential or property qualification, and residence alone now entitles an elector to have his name on the roll. The results of the census, taken on the 12th April, necessitated a partial redistribution of seats, and a permanent commission for each of the two islands was constituted under the Representation Act Amendment Act. An amendment of the Land for Settlement Act made special provision for the disposal of highly improved lands acquired by the Government, and ordained that preference should be given to applicants not in possession of any land. The labour legislation comprised amendments to the Acts regulating the Inspection of Machinery, Registry of Shipping and Seamen, the Shop and Shop Assistants Act, and the Trade Unions Act. At the end of July a want of confidence motion, tabled by the Opposition, was defeated by 40 votes to 18. During the year a special Committee was appointed to inquire into the banking legislation already on the Statute Books, and into the affairs of the Bank of New Zealand and the Colonial Bank. The recommendations contained in the report of this Committee were incorporated in a Bill, but owing to the approaching termination of the session the measure was withdrawn. On the 26th March a terrible mining disaster took place at the Brunner mine, when sixty-five miners were entombed. Altogether, sixty-seven deaths occurred, for which the accident was primarily responsible, the lamentable occurrence being a great shock to the community. In June heavy foods, accompanied by serious loss of property, visited the Manawatu, Hawke's Bay, and Paeroa districts. The general elections, held at the close of the year, resulted in the return of the Seddon Ministry with a good working majority.

The Earl of Glasgow completed his term of office as Governor, and left the Colony on the 6th February, 1897, amid universal regret from all sections of the community, with whom he had made himself extremely popular. Sir James Prendergast took up the duties of the administration until the arrival of the Earl of Ranfurly, who was sworn in on the 10th August. The early months of 1897 were extremely dry, and accompanied by destructive bush fires, but at Eastertide exceptionally severe storms of wind and rain visited the Colony, and destructive floods were experienced, especially in the Rangitikei and Hawke's Bay districts. In these localities one of the heaviest rainfalls on record was registered, with the result that immense volumes of water poured over the country, sweeping away the settlers' houses, and inflicting serious damage. Several lives were lost, and hundreds of cattle and sheep were drowned, while the railway systein of the North Island was disorganised by the destructoin of bridges and washaways of line that occurred at various points. Off the coast the weather was very stormy, and several disasters to shipping were recorded, the wreck of the “ Tasmania,” at Mahia Peninsular, involving the loss of ten lives. During the year the Premier visited England, in connection with the Record Reign celebrations, and a contingent of New Zealand troops was also despatched by the Colony. One of the Universities conferred the degree of Doctor of Laws on Mr. Seddon, and Her Majesty created him a Privy Councillor. The year generally was a very prosperous one, and those engaged in the dairy industry, helped by the dry conditions prevailing in Australia, exported a record quantity of produce.

The recurrence of bush fires in all the provinces during the early months of 1898 occasioned much damage to stock and crops, and the year opened unfavourably for agriculturists. The long duel between Mr. Seddon and Sir Robert Stout, the uncompromising seceder to the Opposition ranks, was terminated by the resignation of the latter, in February. Shortly after the reassembling of Parliament, a vote of non-confidence resulted in the defeat of the Opposition by 30 votes

to 24. Under the provisions of the Bank of New Zealand Amendment Act, which finally became law in 1898, the number of directors was increased, the office of President was abolished, and the powers of the Government were strengthened in various ways with respect to the control of the institution. Another important measure, and one which met with great opposition in its passage through Parliament, was the Old Age Pensions Act, which became law on the 1st November, 1898. An Act adjusting and altering the conditions under which divorce could be obtained, and practically placing men and women on an equal footing, was also placed on the Statute Book, Royal Assent to the measure being gazetted on the 13th April, 1899. The Mining Act of 1898 was mainly a consolidating measure, but contained some important amendments in its clauses. Other legislation amended by Parliament through the session comprised alterations to the Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Act, and the Kauri Gum Industry Act, while the Government maintained its democratic principles by an Act regulating and improving the accommodation for shearers. A Municipal Franchise Reform Act was also passed. Sir George Grey, who for a great portion of his career had been so intimately connected with the Colony's affairs, died in England in 1898, the news of his death arousing a feeling of widespread regret throughout Australasia. Jn the same year, also, occurred the deaths of Bishop Selwyn, of Melanesia, and Sir Francis Dillon Bell, who was a member of the Executive Council previous to the establishment of Responsible Government, and had for many years been a proininent figure in the public life of the Colony.

Early in 1899 the colony lost the services of another of its foremost politicians, in the person of Sir Julius Vogel, who died on the 13th March. The legislative work of the final session of the 13th Parliament began on the 23rd June, and was of a most extensive character.

In all sixty Bills received the Royal Assent, the Immigration Restriction Act was reserved, and no less than ninety-eight were abandoned after advancing various stages. Included in the democratic legislation of the session were measures providing for the prevention of employment of boys and girls without payment, and for the establishment of a Labour Day. A Wages Protection Act was also passed during the year which is connected in its scope with the Truck Act of 1891. The experimental character the early labour legislation of the Liberal Government was again demonstrated by the necessity of amendment in various directions, the Kauri Gum, Mining, Shipping, and Seamen's Acts all requiring alteration in some particular. As a result of the general elections held on the 6th December the Seddon Government again returned to power with a substantial majority. The first New Zealand contingent, comprising 215 officers and men, was dispatched to South Africa on the 21st October, 1899. Four additioual contingents were equipped and sent away in quick succession during the early part of 1900. The second detachment of 258 volunteers left on the 21st January; on the 17th February a third followed, consisting of 264 officers and men ; and

the fourth and fifth, numbering 1,060 officers and men, left on Marc. 24th and 31st. Various useful consolidating measures were passed during the parliamentary session, chiefly dealing with Municipal Corporation, Public Health, and Land for Settlement. The Act dealing with the Postal Affairs of the Colony established a wide extension of the penny postage system which affected the whole Colony, and came into operation on the 1st January, 1901. The Old Age Pension Act and the Compensation to Workmen Act were also placed on a more satisfactory basis

. European representation in the House of Representatives was increased by the addition of six members, the enactment being post-dated for the next general election. The Native Department showed great activity with respect to procuring the passage of laws granting the Maoris a modicum of self-government, together with a certain power

in the management of their own lands, at the same time sweeping away many of the old abuses.

In October the Earl of Ranfurly paid a visit to Cook Island Group, and at Raratonga proclaimed the annexation of the islands to the British Crown, a step towards their inclusion within the territory of New Zealand. Great activity was displayed in the pursuit of dredging for gold during the year, and a « boom of some consequence arose, though its subsequent bursting for a time injuriously affected the industry.

In January, 1901, the sixth contingent, consisting of 578 officers and men, left for South Africa ; and the seventh, comprising 600 officers and men, and known as the "Rough Riders," was despatched on the 6th April. The Duke and Duchess of York visited New Zealand in June, and were everywhere received with enthusiastic demonstrations of welcome. Letters Patent, issued on the 13th May, extended the boundaries of the Colony so as to include the Cook Islands, the 11th June being fixed upon as the date of this extension. The question of Federation occupied attention during the year, but public opinion seemed to be largely against it. A Commission visited Australia for the purpose of taking evidence, but its report, tabled on the 22nd July, was decidedly antagonistic to the proposal. During the year the eight-hour day principle was incorporated in the Coal Mines and Factories Acts, and an experiment in State ownership of means of production was made by the passing of a State Coal Mines Act. An Accidents Compensation Act, and Advances to Settlers Extension Act were also passed, and the Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Act was amended in the direction of making the Conciliation Boards optional. The Commonwealth Tariff had the effect of curtailing exports to Australia, but this was counterbalanced by the growth of trade with South Africa. The Colony suffered a severe loss by the death, on the 6th August, of Sir John Mackenzie, who had been for many years an ardent supporter of the Ballance and Seddon Governments.

In February, 1902, a further contingent of 1,000 men was despatched to South Africa. At the time of its departure, a ninth was in process

« PrejšnjaNaprej »