The "Gocup ' and "Gadura" Runs
The Sydney Morning Herald
23 July 1862
New South Wales Parliament. Legislative Assembly.
Tuesday, July 22. The "Gocup ' And "Gadura" Runs.
Mr. W. Forster moved:-
"1 Copies of all memorials addressed to the Executive Government, or correspondence between the Executive Government and any person or persons, having reference to the reservations recently made of or upon the runs known as "Gocup" and "Gadura", in the Tumut district.
2 A return, shewing the date of such reservation, the reasons, if any for the same, the date and duration of each lease of the said runs, the extent to which conditional purchases have been made of or upon the said runs, and a reference to the particular section or enactment of the Order m Council, or of the Crown Lands Alienation Act, or Crown Lands Occupation Act, under which the said reservation took place."
The honorable member said the facts connected with this case had been already incidentally alluded to, but it was necessary that he should, as briefly as possible, recapitulate them in order to show his reasons for moving the production of these returns. In any remarks he had to offer, he hoped the House would bear in mind he was speaking on the authority of information received, and therefore did not bind himself to anything beyond the broad fact which the motion implied.
Two gentlemen (the Messrs. Broughton) held runs in the Tumut district, their leases having four or four and a half years to run. They had no apprehension that the new system inaugurated by the Land Act would affect their rights, but after the passing of the Land Act, a petition (of which they were left in complete ignorance till it was acted on) was sent in to the Government asking that certain lands in the possession of these gentlemen might be brought under the operation of that Act - in other words, declared open to free selection. Now he (Mr. Forster) did not say the Government were to blame for acting on the request, but it did seem that an extraordinary care was taken to keep the matter entirely secret from the gentlemen who were principally interested .
The Government, as he said, took action without delay, and before those gentlemen were aware of what was going on, a proclamation was issued which deprived them of their property. The result had been that these gentlemen were ruined that the run is occupied, not, as he understood, by that class of persons for whose benefit the Land Act was intended, but by neighbouring squatters or their friends. He did not mean to imply that squatters were not to take advantage of the now system of land occupation , indeed he believed they had taken advantage of it to a greater extent than that class whom it was intended to benefit.
He believed that at this moment the large majority of applications for free selection was taken out by squatters or by parties in their interest. At any rate, here was a case in point. He had not objected to the operation of the principle of free selection on the ground that it would injure the squatter, as he did not think that if carried out properly it would injure them in any particular they had a right to complain about. The free holder, no doubt, had a paramount right to the land over the squatter, who had to hold it upon mere leasehold tenure.
But in this case, if he was rightly informed, the land was taken up under conditional selection, which is a species of freehold, but by squatters and their families. He did not think that was the intention of the House in passing the Land Act, or the intention of the hon. member whose reputation rested upon it. It never was intended by the House, or by the public at any rate, that the run of one squatter should be taken from him and be given to another.
It was the grazing right which had this particular effect. If the land had been taken up under conditional selection without grazing right, it could not have injured the squatter whose land was taken up further than the simple abstraction of so much land being taken from him by the freeholder. But in this case, where two or three selections were made by parties whose object was grazing and not agriculture, the grazing right operating with conditional selection, did in fact take his run from him. He did not ask for these papers with a view to an alteration in the land laws, but to enable the House to judge of this question when it came before them in the shape of a claim for compensation.
These gentlemen who had been deprived of their means of living would come to the House and ask for compensation in some shape or other. And from these papers the House would see whether they had any claim. And if any, to what extent. He did not wish to make any imputation as to the political aspect of this matter. With the slight information he had before him he did not wish to infer collusion between the Executive Government and any parties concerned in this matter, but he was disposed to think that the Minister for Lands had acted either upon imperfect information, or in ignorance of the secret machinery set in motion.
He had been informed that these two gentlemen, who were ruined by the course taken by the Government in this matter, were both opponents of the hon. member for the Tumut at the last election - whether active, energetic, or formidable, he was not prepared to say - and that they were given to understand, within a short time after that election, that the course they took on that occasion would be visited upon them.
[Mr Robertson: By whom - by the Government?]
He did not say by the Government. But another fact that he had to point out was, that the parties who had benefited by the course of taken by the Government were supporters of the hon. member for Tumut.
He (Mr Forster) did not desire that from these two facts conclusions should be drawn to the prejudice of any one, but he had a right to assume it as probable from these facts that these gentlemen had been visited in this way by their land being taken from them. He had already expressed it as his belief that this was a political business, in the one case a punishment upon persons for taking a certain course in opposition to the hon. member for Tumut's return, in the other a political reward conferred upon the hon. member's supporters.
He had stated this candidly, and he thought the House would see the necessity, from the facts he had referred to, of looking into these papers in order to see whether this impression was correct. He should be glad if it could be shown that this was not a political job. He had heard nothing to the prejudice of the hon. member for the Tumut but he had a right to suppose that he had some influence with the Government, especially with regard to the public affairs in the district he represented. This matter was involved in some obscurity, and he had no doubt the Government would offer no opposition to the production of the papers.
Mr. Robertson quite concurred with the hon. member in saying that these parties had suffered very considerably by the operation of the law; but if the hon. member bad gone into the matter with attention, he would have found that this case had nothing whatever to do with the operation of the Land Acts of 1861. The lands had been withdrawn from lease, not, however, under the Land Acts of 1861. If any injury had been suffered, the Land Acts were not to be blamed, but the Queen's Orders in Council, under which the Government had acted.
When he introduced the Land Acts of 1861, there was a clause authorising the Government to declare second class districts, within which any land might be claimed for conditional purchase. This would have enabled the Government to throw open districts for sale without interfering with tho pastoral occupants until the land was actually taken up. The squatters would thus have been able to make use of them, at any rate until they were sold. This clause had been passed by this House, but in the other branch of the Legislature it was struck out on the motion of Mr Thomson, at the instigation of the squatting party, who seemed not to know their own interest.
They had been told that they would have to fall back upon the Orders in Council. Those orders provided for the entire withdrawal of the lands from lease; and that was the way in which they had acted here, so that it was not by the operation of the Land Acts, but by the power of the squatting party who had caused this clause to be struck out of the bill, and had thus prevented the Government from providing means for opening the lands for sale without withdrawing them from lease. They had been told that the right way would have been to have declared agricultural areas.
This plan had been recommended by the hon. member for East Sydney, the hon. member for Murray, and those who thought with him, and by the Sydney Morning and the Conservative party. This was a plan that had been followed out in Victoria, where thirteen millions of acre had been withdrawn from lease. In this colony a large portion of the land was under fourteen years' lease, and Parliament had decided that it would be wrong to break in upon these leases, although the lands could be withdrawn from lease under the Orders in Council. He had wished to substitute a mild and moderate mode for that provided by the Orders in Council, but had been prevented from doing so by the squatters. He had no alternative, then but to use the law as it existed. Being in this position, he had endeavoured, as far as possible, to carry out the principle of agricultural areas, by proclaiming, in the first place, an area of 100,000 acres at New England, and another at the Tumut.
The proof that this land was wanted for sale was given by the fact of the large number of acres that had been sold. If he had been driven to this course, who was to blame? Certainly not he, but those who had prevented him from carrying his policy into law. They had not, however, withdrawn thirteen millions of acres, because they did not wish to inflict so large an injury upon the squatters as the withdrawal of this extensive area would have caused they had withdrawn only 300,000 acres in all; and before doing so, he had taken the greatest care, and made every possible enquiry, so as to inflict so little injury as possible.
He had pointed out at the time the enormous power that would be placed in the hands of the Government, and that injustice or the suspicion of injustice was likely to arise; but they would not listen to his arguments, and the pastoral gentlemen, led on by Mr. Thomson put out of the Land Bill the clause that was intended to save them. He supposed it would be admitted that it was right for the Government to withdraw land from lease for sale for agricultural purposes. (Hear, hear.) Well then, that being granted, all he had to do was to show that this land had been properly withdrawn for sale.
The petition of the people of Tumut, praying for an increase of their reserved land was presented in 1855; and in 1858 long before the passing of the Crown Lands Alienation Act - Mr. Surveyor Adams, had recommended that reservation of the land which was now taken exception to.
Both the petition for this reservation and its recommendation by the surveyor were long anterior to the passing of tho Land Bill. The hon. gentleman to whom the hon. member for Sydney East had made reference was the worst possible judge as to whether the land was or was not proper to be reserved, and had not been consulted in the matter.
On the 17th of February last a petition had come down from the Tumut which had rendered it perfectly clear to him that a further reserve should be made at the place, and the reserve had been made accordingly. The papers in the case would serve abundantly to show that sufficient care had been taken to secure a proper selection of land for the reserve. It was all very well for the hon. member to go about traducing members of Parliament in what he understood was now commonly called the "John Smith " style –
Mr. Forster rose to order. It was a matter of indifference to him (as it was, no doubt, to many members) what the hon. member chose to say; but he would wish to knew whether it was in order for the hon. member to say that he went about "traducing members of Parliament in the ' John Smith ' style." He denied the truth of the insinuation, but was utterly indifferent to what the hon. member thought proper to say. He spoke of it merely as a point of order.
Mr. Robertson said that what he had said had been mentioned before, and had not been contradicted. It had been alluded to the other night by Mr. Cunneen.
Mr. Forster had not so understood the hon. gentleman, or he should have taken notice of what he had said.
The Speaker thought the words were not in order, and that it would be well for hon. members to confine themselves to the subject under discussion.
Mr. Robertson, in continuation, said that he did not know whether these persons who took the ground were farmers or not. He could not say whether they were squatters, or sons of squatters, and did not see why he should be appealed to on the matter.
Then the hon. member said that this injury arose from the pastoral right under the Land Law. The Parliament, however, bad affirmed the desirability of giving a small pastoral right to those who had purchased lands, and under any circumstances this land must have gone from the present owners.
There was a matter with regard to this question which he thought the hon. member was not aware of, and that was that these people or their connections had held this land belonging to the people, as a squattage, for forty years. He thought that was a pretty good squat.
If they might not take a run which had been in the same family for forty years, he would like to know what run they might take? What did the Parliament mean, and what did the Queen's Orders in Council mean, if it was not that land which had been held for forty years should be liable to be withdrawn from lease? He could not imagine a case where the Government were more clearly warranted in making an extension. The hon. member, too, had spoken of the grazing right under the Land Act as being objectionable, but he should remember that lands held under that grading right were open for sale, and those gentlemen, if they chose, could occupy a portion.
The hon. member had also endeavoured to make it appear that this matter bore a political aspect, and had told the House that the owners of those runs took an active part in an election against Mr. Cowper, jun., evidently forgetting that one of them was returning-officer. When the hon. member saw the papers, and know the obstruction which had taken place since 1855, he believed he would regret the insinuations he had cast out that there had been any political influence at work in dealing with that land. The House would see, then, that the Government had no other course open to them than that which they took, without abandoning their plain and unmistakable duty.
Mr. Hay thought that when the hon. Minister for Lands stated that this action was taken to carry out representations made as far back at 1855, he must have been aware that an extension of this reserve had taken place since 1855.
The whole of the land on the right bank of the River Tumut, including a great extent of alluvial soil, had been added to the lands open to free selection by the falling in of the leases of intermediate districts. He merely mentioned this to show the value of the statement made with regard to this matter by the hon. Secretary for Lands.
He would also take the liberty of observing further that the hon. gentleman did not seem to be very well aware of the position in which the matter stood as regarded the law, and he had been forward to lay the whole blame upon some action taken by an hon. member of the Legislative Council, because he had altered some portion of the bill he (Mr. Robertson) introduced, which portion, he said, would have prevented such disastrous consequences occurring to individuals as had occurred in the present instance.
He did not think that the provisions the hon. Secretary for Lands spoke of would alter the position of t he matter at all, nor did he think the hon. member was aware of the effect of the course of action he had taken. The hon. member might be a great law maker, but we had lawyers who, he thought, would find a great many holes in the hon. member's Act. It had been already decided unanimously by the Supreme Court that that was not law which the hon. member held to be law - that a reserve of land was not a withdrawal from the holders under lease.
He (Mr. Hay) knew that with regard to these reservations the opinion of two of the most eminent lawyers at the Bar was, that the effect of the law was not what the hon. member supposed it to be, and that it was beyond the power of the Government to withdraw this land from the occupation of those who hold leases of it. This was a stronger case than others in the eye of the law, inasmuch as these parties referred to hold their leases from the Crown. Whatever be the law existing it was the duty of the House to see that the administration of Government was carried out in accordance with it, and when it was found that the law was to the prejudice of the public it was for the Legislature to stop in and alter it. But the Government were not to take upon itself to administer the law in such a manner as was in effect illegal.
When these papers were produced, it would be seen whether the hon. Secretary for Lands had been conducting his administration in accordance with the law. He did not intend to follow the hon. member in his bringing into question the merits of his Land Act, which the hon. member took every possible opportunity of lauding, but might say that he thought it would have been better for the country to have given a more secure tenure to the lease- holder than that sort of holding which would tend to the injury of the land, and make it less useful to those who succeeded him. The object ought to be to legislate with a view to the improvement of the public lands, and not deterioration, as he believed would be the effect of this precious scheme of the hon. member.
Mr. Rusden said that if, as the Secretary for Lands observed, the injury was unavoidable, the House would be satisfied; and if there was any illegality with regard to these reserves, that point would be fully explained when the papers were laid upon the table of the House. He believed the Act was passed chiefly for promoting agricultural occupations; the free selector was to reside upon and improve the land. But how was this to be done, except by fencing in and cultivating the soil? When the Land Act was before the House he had objected to the enormous power it gave to the Minister for Lands, and he now thought it would be well for the House to investigate every case, to see that that enormous power was not abused.
Mr. C. Cowper, jun., had not intended to say anything on the motion before the House, as the case had been clearly stated by his hon. friend the Minister for Lands; but when the hon. member for East Sydney made statements affecting his character he thought it was time for him to explain. He could not believe that the gentlemen referred to had informed the hon. gentleman opposite that he (Mr. C.) had shown any animosity to them, as they were friends of his, and, in support of his assertion, he might remark that he had a letter from them interceding on their behalf in the matter out of which the present motion had arisen.
Also, when they found that squatting did not pay, they conceived that a Government appointment would be more suitable ; and again, they applied to him to ask him to use his influence in obtaining for them what they sought in the event of a vacancy occurring. He thought the honorable member for East Sydney should be careful in making such statements in the House. One of these gentlemen certainly voted against him at his election, but he (Mr, C.) had a sufficiently good opinion of him to believe he voted conscientiously. It was, perhaps, well that the gentleman referred to did vote against him, as he had the support of a more powerful party. He thought he had shown that there was no ground for the insinuation that he had borne animosity to those gentlemen.
Mr. R. Forster said, he was always under the impression that the Land Act was defective in regard to the grazing tenure, and that the power given to the Minister for Lands for the time being was excessive. He thought it was a question whether the Land Act might not be amended. He thought the production of the returns asked for would be beneficial, inasmuch as they would show how the Land Act had operated in the case in question.
Mr. W. Forster thought he had guarded, as dearly a language would allow, against making any insinuation against anybody, the hon. member for the Tumut, and he should be glad to find that the friendship spoken of by that hon. gentleman did really exist. With regard to the hon. Minister for Lands, it appeared he came down to the House, prepared to reply to a vigorous attack, and finding that no attack had been made, he got angry and made an angry speech.
He (Mr. Forster) had said very little about the operation of the Land Acts. He did not think that giving the grazing right was likely to prove beneficial than if the grazing right would be far less beneficial than if the grazing right was given in fee simple. He thought that nothing that had heard from these gentlemen, or had got from papers, would justify him in accusing the Executive Government in this matter.
The defence that the hon. gentleman opposite had made, was rounded upon a misapprehension. He had not brought the matter forward as an attack on the Government, but he thought that great injustice had been done to the gentlemen interested, by the operation of the Land Act, and that was the reason he had called for the returns.
The Question was then put and carried.