Thursday, May 25, 2023

Littlewood on Public Nuisance, Tax Avoidance, and George Grey in 19th-C New Zealand

Michael Littlewood, University of Auckland Faculty of Law, has posted three papers on nineteenth-century New Zealand.  The first is a short paper, Public Nuisance in Aotearoa New Zealand in 1849.  It “examines the Constabulary Force Ordinance enacted by the legislature of the New Zealand Province of New Munster in 1849" for its revelations into the everyday life of the time.  A second paper, Nothing New under the Sun: Tax Avoidance in Otago in 1856, reports on a tax on river crossings.  The third Sir George Grey’s Machiavellian Constitutional and Fiscal Reforms in Aotearoa New Zealand, 1845–1876:

Sir George Grey (wiki)
This paper examines the evolution of the New Zealand tax system from 1845 to 1876. The key to this period is the New Zealand Constitution Act 1852 (UK), which was devised by the Governor, Sir George Grey, and which divided the Colony into six provinces. There were hardly any roads, so allowing isolated settler communities a degree of autonomy made obvious sense. Grey’s more sinister aim, however, was to retain control of the purse-strings and thus dictate policy generally. In this he was markedly successful: the Act gave the Governor tight control over the Colony’s two main sources of revenue (land sales and customs duties) and also over the military (which he used to confiscate Maori land). The provinces were free to build and operate roads, wharves, railways, schools, hospitals and so on — but they had to either persuade the Governor to supply funding or pay for them themselves.

Twenty years later the difficulties of communication had been largely solved and the Colonial Government, spectacularly insolvent prior to Grey’s arrival, was financially secure. The provinces had served their purpose and in 1876 they were abolished. Since then, New Zealand has had one of the most centralised systems of government and taxation in the world, and the Maori people are still suffering from the catastrophic loss of their land.
--Dan Ernst