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The Political Situation. Schreiner, Olive, 1855–1920.
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page: 10

RETROGRESSIVE LEGISLATION.

While in all civilised countries where representative institutions prevail the tendency is to move without intermission in the direction of a broadened electoral basis, so that in several of the English colonies to-day we find manhood suffrage, or one man one vote, or adult suffrage; and while even the most backward of European countries are rapidly tending year by year towards these page: 11 conditions—we, I believe, alone among civilised people have deliberately, during the last few years, narrowed our basis,¹ and undone the progressive work of the last generation.

So also while in all enlightened countries during the past sixty years public opinion has been steadily advancing in the direction of doing away with the lash as a punishment for minor offences, we in this country have not only, during the last years, possessed certain individuals in our Legislative


¹ The Franchise Act, introduced and voted for unanimously by the last Ministry, Mr. Rhodes being Premier, raised the monetary qualification from £25 to £75 per annum.

page: 12 Councils who have striven to introduce an Act making legal the infliction of corporal punishment for the smallest offences towards master or mistress on the part of household or other servants, and which, if passed would be merely a recurrence to slavery under a new name—but this Act was voted for by three members in the last Ministry, two of them being Englishmen, and one the Premier, Mr. Cecil Rhodes.

Again, while in all civilised countries the tendency, as each country advances, is to consider more and more the welfare of its labouring classes; to remove oppressive restrictions; to en- endeavour page: 13 deavour by every lawful means to increase their wages; and to regard the labourer, not merely as a means for increasing the wealth of other sections of the community, but to legislate for his welfare, and to regard his happiness as one of the pressing considerations of the State—we in this country have, under the Glen Grey Act of last year, brought in and supported by Mr. Cecil Rhodes and his following, an enactment which compels even the self-supporting and industrious native to work for the white man for a certain time every year, whether he will or no; laying himself open to imprisonment or fine page: 14 if he refuse, even though his going out to labour for the white man should entail the neglect of his own cultivated lands.

So again, with regard to land tenure; while in all progressive countries there is a tendency to obtain and retain as large a part as possible of lands, mines, and great public works as the property of, and to be worked for the benefit of, the nation as a whole—we, in this country, are for ever and completely alienating our public lands, our minerals, our precious stones, and even our public works.

And further, not only are we alienating them within our own page: 15 boundaries, and allowing almost without a struggle a small band of Monopolists to gain possession and control of that wealth which should be ours and our children's to employ for the benefit of the nation that shall be, but we are enabling them to grasp adjacent territories still uninhabited by the white man, so that when the mass of civilised men shall enter into occupation there, they will find nothing of value left for themselves in that state which, by their labour, they will have to build up; the alien will already have set his grasp upon all that is fair or rich. For not as in other countries has the Monopolist risen up page: 16 among us, a growth of our own; he comes from a foreign clime, and sweeps bare the virgin land before him like the locust; and, like the locust, leaves nothing for his successors but the barren earth.

While in New Zealand and other advanced colonies every legislative effort is being made to retain the land for the people, we are quietly allowing ourselves to be stripped bare session after session, and are confiding our possession into the hands of the Speculator and Monopolist.

Lastly, while in enlightened countries there is a continually increasing tendency to raise the revenue, not by taxing the page: 17 primary necessaries of life, upon which almost the whole income of the labouring classes is necessarily expended, but to raise it through the taxation of luxuries, whether by means of Excise or Import dues, we in this country find that not only are our necessaries of life already taxed to an appalling extent,¹ but a heavy additional tax on wheat and flour, and an almost prohibitive tax on imported meat,² is being levied upon


¹ For instance, wheat 38 per cent., flour 59 per cent., unrefined sugar 107 per cent., butter 20 per cent., cheese 43 per cent., candles 59 per cent., paraffin 202 per cent.

² Frozen meat 2d. per lb., wheat an additional 38 per cent.

page: 18 us; while diamonds (forming a monopoly of which the Prime Minister is the head) and the intoxicating liquors, inferior in quality, so largely produced in this country, are allowed to go untaxed.

So also in small matters.

In Australia, where the material welfare of the country largely depends on its wool, it has been clearly seen that to allow the land to be partially ruined by the existence of an easily eradicated disease in the stock was scandalous and immoral; and they have legislated so successfully that in certain Australian colonies the insect which causes the disease has page: 19 been exterminated. It has been felt in those countries that the man who refuses to exterminate scab in his flocks inflicts a merciless wrong and injustice upon his fellows whose flocks his own infect; and the Australians have, by stringent legislation, made such conduct impossible.

It is not necessary to say that in this country all attempts to legislate in defence of the man who endeavours to keep his flocks healthy have been crushed or emasculated.

Many other matters will suggest themselves to every one in which our legislation has shown this retrograde tendency. We have no time now to enter into page: 20 details with regard to such measures as Haarhoff's Bill, which, as introduced, was intended to make it culpable for any aboriginal native, whether a domestic servant, householder, newspaper editor, or clergyman, to be found walking on pavements in our towns; and also to make it punishable for any aboriginal native to be found out of doors within a township after nine o'clock at night unless he or she had been given a pass by the Magistrate or other authorised person—a Bill which also received the support of the existing Government.

On the whole, it is evident that no impartial mind can page: 21 look at the course of our legislation during recent years without realising the fact that while the wheels of legislation in other civilised and Anglo-Saxon communities are tending to propel the car of state forwards, ours are slowly but surely running us backwards.

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