The Land Laws and the Calumniators Thereof
18 May 1864 Empire (Sydney)
Sir,- The Sydney Morning Herald has, by articles published respectively in their issues of the 10th and 13th instant, revived, the question of the reservations of land, made by the late Government for sale and settlement from the Gocup and Gadara runs.
True, these articles are driven to the abandonment wholesale of the old charges so recklessly and unscrupulously made by the Herald some months ago, that the late Secretary for Lands had corruptly and maliciously caused the reservations in question; and even go the length of saying that he acted on the reports of officers, well acquainted with the land, and, on whose opinion he was entitled to rely; and also of acquitting him of "any intentional unfairness," or of dealing with the case in an arbitrary manner."
Still, as has ever been the case with the Herald's articles,; either on the Lands Act, or on their administration by Mr. Robertson; the boldest and most palpable misrepresentations of a character calculated by their utter recklessness to deceive and mislead and to prejudice the public against both, are continued.
It surely cannot be possible that the venerable, the respected, and respectable senior proprietor of the Herald can desire that misrepresentations should appear in his paper; yet give me any one of the many hundred articles that have appeared in the Herald on the subject before and since the Land Acts became law, and I will undertake to show, not only that its scope and tendency is calculated to mislead, but that statements having no foundation in fact, are put forth and continued time after time as facts undoubted and admitted, and used apparently so insidiously as almost to preclude the possibility of any person unacquainted with the truth arriving at any other conclusion than that to mislead, to misrepresent and to prejudice, were the main objects of the writer.
The articles of the 10th and 13th iterate, and reiterate, an erroneous statement, to the effect that the law requires that reservations of the kind made from the Gocup and Gadara runs should be submitted to parliament in a schedule for one month before being acted upon; and that the parliament not sitting at the time, the illegality of the reservations is suggested.
In one of the articles the words used are "the land was withdrawn from lease under the fifth clause of the Crown lands Occupation Act.
But that clause distinctly states that no reservation or dedication can be made without an abstract of it having been laid before both houses of parliament one calendar month previously.
Parliament was not sitting at the time, and this condition therefore was not fulfilled."
The statement that there is any condition of the kind necessary under the fifth, or any other clause of the act in question, or of the Orders in Council, the only laws that can by possibility have any control in the matter, is utterly untrue.
Still, no doubt the Herald will continue the statement, as others equally erroneous have been continued for months and for years - unless, indeed, Mr. Fairfax examine the clause himself, which might obtain much wanted reformation, for either from incapacity, or from a singularly mischievous disposition, the gentleman who is employed on the Herald to write articles of the kind is not to be depended upon.
The Herald tells us that the committee appointed by the Legislative Assembly to inquire into the matter of the reservation from the Gocup and Gadara runs, reported that the reserve was excessive, and that the complaining squatter deserves compensation.
The Herald calls this a virtual censure on Mr. Robertson's administrative action.
The Herald might have added, if the object had been to give the whole truth, that the report was never adopted by the Assembly, that those who drew it up never dared even to make such a proposition, and that the probability is that if they had it would have been kicked out, in the same way that a similar matter introduced under the same auspices, during the same session of parliament, was kicked out.
As to whether or not the reserve was excessive is a matter of opinion.
According to the Herald the land withdrawn from the Gocup and Gadara runs amounted to 42,000 acres; of this 6000 acres have been sold, requiring for grazing right 18,000 acres more; in all 24,000 acres of the 42,000 have been disposed of in less than two years, irrespective of what may be required for working gold, for commons for gold fields, and for public purposes of all kinds.
The lands withrawn altogether for the Tumut reserve is, according to the same authority, 122,000 acres; the lands sold within less than two years 13,000 acres, requiring for grazing right 36,000 acres; in all 48,000 acres have been disposed of, also irrespective of what may be required for gold fields, for commonage for diggers, and for public purposes of all kinds.
It had been well if the Herald had made inquiry of Mr. Deas Thomson as to what proportion of the millions of acres known as the Murray River reserve, made by the Government of which that gentleman was Chief Secretary, have been disposed of, before it practically invited a comparison.
It will be within the knowledge of many persons that the great complaint alleged against the Land Act by the Herald was, that lands leased under it remained, notwithstanding such lease, open to sale conditionally or otherwise.
The Herald advocated agricultural areas being withdrawn from the squatter's runs by the Government.
The advocates of what has been called "free selection" held that where persons were willing to purchase land and make homes for themselves, no mere pastoral leasehold should be permitted to prevent it, and that it was desirable to do away as much as possible with the necessity in the case of future leases that any Government should be called upon to determine that any particular squatter's run should be open for sale, while his neighbour's should not be subjected to such liability; besides it was argued that by allowing sale of portions of a run, not-with-standing the new leases, no more than was actually required need be withdrawn, none but the land actually sold, and the grazing right thereto belonging, need be taken from the squatter.
The, Herald, and some other people not capable of seeing further than the length of their noses, persisted, notwithstanding these and other arguments, in advocating the agricultural areas system.
Well, in the case of the Gocup and Gadara stations, which having been held under the Orders in Council and thus not open to sale unless withdrawn from lease, as therein provided, the agricultural areas system is necessarily in full operation, and we see how the advocates of that system howl under the infliction, although they cannot, and do not, attempt to deny that the land is eminently suitable for agriculture and settlement.
The fact is, hit high, or hit low, it is all the same, nothing will please the views of some people, but abstaining from selling land altogether excepting to the squatters.
Had the lands of the Tumut been held under the provisions of the present Land Act, (which the law provides shall be the case whenever the leases are renewed), instead of under the Orders in Council, all that would have been withdrawn from the squatters would have been the land sold and the legal pastoral right, and that required for gold fields, for commons, and for other public purposes, and no more.
Thus some 60,OOO or 70,000 acres would still have remained in the hands of the squatters, until they were actually required for settlement, and the proof of its being so required would be the fact of purchasers paying their money for it.
The committee, it seems, advocate compensation to the owner of the Gocup and Gadara runs.
I would ask them, first, are they aware that those runs were held on lease at a nominal rent, with the condition of their being withdrawn at any time, without compensation, in the manner they have been withdrawn?
Second, are they aware that the holding bas been thus permitted by the Government to hang on for more than twenty years?
Third, how many of the members of the committee, who agreed with the report, would be largely benefited in a pecuniary point of view if the Government of the colony now for the first time adopted the principle of compensation in cases where lands may be, or may have been withdrawn from lease in accordance with the terms of the lease?
Fourth, it would be desirable to know also the probable amount of new taxation that would be required to meet all such claims.
The Herald tells us that Mr. Lockhart has been silly enough to say that he knows one selector who has taken up land in the names of all his children, and that the residence qualification of a conditional purchase is very lightly thought of.
I would like to know from Mr. Lockhart, or from the Herald, whether they are aware that the Government cancel all claims for conditional purchase where the conditions provided by the Act are not complied with to the satisfaction of the Secretary for Lands; that in such cases the money is forfeited and the land submitted to auction, and that this has been frequently acted upon, and is still being acted upon?
And I would, like them also to say whether in making the statements they have made, they were aware that before any grant can be given to any conditional purchaser all the conditions of the Act must be complied with, to the satisfaction of the Secretary for Lands, and that as the three years allowed to enable any such grant to issue legally have not yet in any case expired, they must have very un-reliable data for saying that persons have obtained land without complying with the conditions.
The Herald has a fling, as usual, at the revenue portion of the matter, and endeavours to make it appear that damage has been done in that regard.
It forgets that if the 43,000 acres reserve had not been made, sales to the amount of £6000 could not have been effected, and forgets also that, on its own showing, the pastoral rent was but £80, and that on the same authority the pastoral holding had been reduced less than one-half of its stock-bearing capability, so that it may be assumed that the rent is now £40 a year.
Thus out of lands previously yielding forty pounds a year, £6000 worth of sales have already been made.
But says the Herald (pitching the interests of the owners of the station overboard) more might have been got at auction!
Will the Herald never under-stand that the Legislature of New South Wales, and all enlightened men, here and elsewhere, have long since seen that a price may be paid for land of far more value to a new country than direct money return; that the residence of the owner and the improvement of the land, should be considered as a part of the payment for it, and that persons covenanting thus to reside and to improve, are fairly entitled to have that fact taken into consideration at the time of purchase, and to have the land on terms more favourable than those who pay for it in money, and no hiog but money, and who give no guarantee of collateral advantage to the colony, either by the development of our resources, by the improvement of the land) they purchase, or by the increased value which those improvements must give to the neighbouring public estate.