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SATURDAY, AUGUST 4, 1894.
A SHILLY-SHALLYING BUDGET.
Hits the Government any real under standing of the position into which the colony has drifted ? This question must necessarily be asked in view of a Budget
which explains nothing, and which gives no stimulus to enterprise in the future. The Treasurer (Mr. Carter) admits with a light heart that in framing his last Estimates he was out of his
reckoning by more than £600,000, but he
declares that this has made no difference to the country. After such a statement one can only wonder whether there is any use at all in trying to form an estimate of the year's income, and in allotting the expenditure accordingly. The result of Mr. Carter's mistake is obvious :—
The expenditure was ... £7,384,961 The revenue was 6,719,623
The year's deficit is ... £865,838
This is the result of a sanguine and optimist Budget in the past. The ac
crued deficit has thus been increased to more than £2,000,000. But Mr. Carter is again hopeful. He has now framed estimates which are expected to yield a surplus at the end of the next finan cial year. The estimated accounts, in cluding, of course, the business of the railways, which is now set forth in a separate table, are as follows :—
Revenue £7,138,719 Expenditure ... ... 7,023,292
Surplus ... £115,427
But what guarantee have we that there will be an increase in next year's income ? The increase must either come from a restoration of prices and a revival of trade or from increased taxation. Mr. Carter does not even venture to say that the fall in prices has been stopped. So far as this subject is concerned his estimate is merely a piece of guesswork, which rests merely upon his own authority and upon no properly reasoned out principle.
Nor is there anything in the Budget proposals calculated to encourage trade or to increase the ordinary revenue. It is true that a few of the duties are to be lowered in accordance with the recom mendations of the Tariff Board. But this board was very much like ToHijar son's ghost in Rttdyard Emm's stirring ballad. It had heard and had read and had been told this and that, but it achieved nothing, and possessed not the force to be either financially vir tuous or vicious. We do not main tain, considering all the vested inte rests which have been created, that the tariff should be completely altered in a day. But a Government that works for the welfare of the colony, that wishes to formulate a definite policy, that has any consistent and coherent plan of action, must work under a financial principal and towards an unmistakable aim. If prohibition has broken down, then we have to consider the duties from the revenue-producing point of view. There is no gain to the country when Ministers halt between two opinions, when their steps are timid and uncertain, when they are swayed, not by any fixed principle, but merely by considerations of oppor tunism. The remissions in the duties are
only paltry. This, however, might have been forgiven had the Treasurer shown the slightest appreciation of the fact that, in the present condition of the colony, it is necessary to work downwards towards a revenue-producing tariff. As it stands, the Budget contains no expression or hint of a financial principle. There is to be a Blight manipulation of the duties. But Ministers do not seem to have
realised that, when prohibition has failed and the income is falling off, (he greet object must be so to adjust the tariff that it will yield the increased revenue. It is an easy thing to ssy that the people have less to spend than formerly, and that this fact
aooohnts for the decline in the Customs returns. With lower duties the money
that they poBsoBa would go further, and, what is of more importance, would be more largely paid into the coffers of the Government. Under the High Tariff system people have to biff doling and implements aadall the^ikeeeMluies of life and work. Rut the Exchequer re ceives no benefit She whole of the prioe is paid ihto the banking accounts of private firms. With a more liberal tariff the Troasurer of the day would receive a larger abate of the money at the Customshouso. And it Is from this broad point of view that a ctatosman is
But whatever relief may be given by the waring of a few duties at haphazard it
' this "4fceg
•'not" taxation which the Treasurer
proposes. It Is almost incredible that1
even Mr. Carter could oonimit euoh a blunder. He confesses that the "primage
duty of 1 per cent, which was imposed ( lost session created a vast amount of die- j
content, and he now consents to abolish it. But in place of this com-; paratively harmless duty we are to have! a charge of 10 per cent, on almost all' articles whioh are not specifically taxed | already. What will be theresult if this
proposition is accepted 1 The cotton i goods, which are bought by the poorer! classes, will he at once raised in price, j
Those who can now only afford to buy the cheapest articles will find their difficulties increased. Will such a policy add to the revenue, or will it in any way encourage comfort and trade and enter prise? Mr. Carter, remarks in an airy fashion that the people may be induced to purchase woollens. This is sheer nonsense, for everything that protection can do has been done for the
woollen 'factories. But let us take another instance. The settlers in the country are allowed a reduction of 5 per cent, in the tax on agricultural imple ments, but they will have to pay a duty of 10 per cent, on keroseno. This .policy is surely conferring a small favour in order to impose a heavy burden. One would almost think that Mr. Carter was Bimply thinking of the interests of the gas companies, as some of the share holders have advocated a duty on kerosene. He has forgotten appa rently how great is the use of kero sene through the country districts where the vagaries of gas-meters are unknown. We have referred only to two items. But the " drag-net" taxation is bound to arouse wide opposition. By increasing the price of many articles it inflicts a hard ship npon a large section of the people, reduces the value of their earnings, and is, therefore, unlikely to make for any considerable increase in the revenue. It will kill dead what little is left of the intercolonial trade. The
argument that it has been tried elsewhere
is futile. In New South Wales it will
probably be abolished, although in that colony it could always be urged that the people were not cumbered with high pro tective duties. The question is whether tmder our system of taxation, and with the necessity before us of adopting a financial policy that will add to the revenue, the *'drag-net" clause of the Budget will be profitable to the Ex chequer and the oommunity. The ob jections to die Budget may be briefly summed up. The Government has not shown that it has grasped the situation ; it has not expounded any financial prin ciple ; it has failed to treat the tariff seriously; it has imposed unnecessary duties; and it has made absolutely not one suggestion for the assistance of the producers, who are struggling against heavy taxation, expensive freights, and low prices.