The Act of 1893
The result was the Alcoholic Liquors Sale Control Act of 1893, which created the licensing system virtually as it exists in New Zealand today. Licensing districts were to be identical with parliamentary electorates, with licences to be granted for three years at the discretion of the Licensing Committee. Severe restrictions were placed upon the conditions under which new licences could be issued. The triennial poll was extended to cover the issues of reduction and no-licence. Over half of the electorate had to vote for any poll to be valid, and no-licence had to secure three-fifths of the votes to be carried. If no-licence were not carried, however, the votes for it were added to those for reduction.
The Act erected severe barriers for the prohibition forces, but great optimism prevailed in late 1893. Women were able to vote for the first time and it was confidently expected that they would cast their votes for prohibition. The result was encouraging to the alliance: No-licence had won more votes than either continuance or reduction, but not a majority of the total vote.
|Results of Licensing Polls|
|Year||Local Continuance||Local No-licence|
|National Continuance||National Prohibition|
|Local Continuance||Local No-licence|
|National Continuance||National Prohibition|
|1919 April||National Continuance 264,189||National Prohibition 253,827|
|Year||National Continuance||State Purchase and Control||National Prohibition|
In spite of the success of prohibition in the total vote, it was frustrated at the local level. The results of the local polls in 1893 were as follows:
33: Polls invalid.
2: No proposal carried.
1: No-licence carried.
The district voting for the abolition of licences was Clutha. This was the prohibitionists' first victory.
The size of the vote commanded by the prohibitionists was a severe shock to the Government and to the licensed trade, and from that point liquor became a national political issue. For the first time the strength of the prohibition movement on a national scale was brought home to New Zealanders. Prohibition sentiment, now a mass movement, had been quietly growing during the 1880s. By that time the movement was fully committed to prohibition and it approached its task with evangelical fervour. Although a number of churches and many individual clergymen helped the movement actively, it cut across denominational lines. Even thousands of Roman Catholics, whose church was anything but sympathetic to prohibition, joined the movement after the visit of Father Hays, an American.
The participation of many clergymen probably helped to give the movement its evangelistic flavour. Religious arguments and references were freely invoked in temperance literature, and prominent figures, such as the Rev. L. M. Isitt and the Rev. Edward Walker, helped to stamp the movement with a religious imprint. At the same time, however, agnostic humanism was also strongly represented in the movement by such figures as Sir Robert Stout and F. A. de la Mare. The emotional feeling generated by the liquor question was very great. As Pember Reeves wrote in The Long White Cloud, “it … introduced an element of picturesque enthusiasm and, here and there, a passion of hatred rarely seen before in New Zealand politics”. Some prominent temperance advocates were certainly the least temperate of public men in their speeches and campaigning, and it is probable that the movement alienated much moderate opinion by the extravagance of some of its assertions and demands.
This was offset to some extent by the politically radical flavour of the movement, which emphasised the demand for “the right of the people to decide” and for the settlement of the liquor question by simple majority vote. The alliance's tilting at the powerful liquor interests was also an indication of its crusading spirit. It was easy for the movement to argue that its proposals would benefit the working man and improve his welfare by the diversion of money away from unproductive liquor consumption. T. E. Taylor and many other prohibitionists in Parliament, were left-wingers in the Liberal Party and they carried on a running battle with the leadership on social and economic matters.
Besides Taylor, other prominent prohibitionist leaders during the movement's heyday were the Isitt brothers, Frank and Leonard, both Methodist ministers and excellent speakers, Sir Robert Stout, and the Rev. Edward Walker, the alliance's organiser and parliamentary agent.