Vindication of The Present Land Acts
23 May 1864 Empire (Sydney)
IF it were necessary to offer any arguments in vindication of the present Land Acts, it would be sufficient to point to the return recently issued by the Government; showing their practical results since they, came into operation nearly two years ago.
It will be admitted, both by the advocates and the opponents of those Acts, that these results are far greater than they anticipated.
The latter, of course, have never ceased in their confident predictions of failure; they have invariably and incessantly ridiculed and abused these measures, and asserted that the utter destruction of the land revenue was only one of the many evils they would entail upon the country..
The former were aware that there would necessarily be many difficulties in the way of laws effecting so radical a reform in one of the most complicated matters of administration; and that where there were so many powerful influences at work to their prejudice, it would be folly to look for more than a very moderate amount of success at the outset.
Neither of these anticipations has proved to be correct. On the one hand, we earn, on authority that cannot be contradicted, that the Acts in question, so far from proving failures, have met with the most triumphant reception in every part of the colony; and that the land revenue, so far from being annihilated, has been recruited by a thousand springs, and swollen to a volume it never knew before.
And on the other hand, it is clear that the many difficulties which have beset the introduction of these Acts have not materially interfered with their success, while there is every promise that another year or two's experience will amply suffice to obviate them altogether, it is a matter for complaint that the return we allude to does not exhibit the result in totals as it should do; but we have taken the trouble to ascertain them for the year 1862, and find them to be as follows :-
The number of free selectors was 4088; the number of acres selected was 310,196; the amount paid into the Treasury was £70,049.
And further, we find that, of the whole number of free selectors during that year, there were only 174 who selected more than 300 acres; and that the average for each selector did not amount to more than 77 acres.
It seems to us superfluous to add arguments to figures such as these. Unless they can be contradicted, they are conclusive.
If the set dement of the country proceeds at the rate indicated by this return - if we have four thousand men settling down every year in permanent occupation of the soil - we are fully entitled to say that the most beneficial piece
Of legislation ever passed in this colony is the Grown Lands Alienation Act.
It is beneficial, not merely as conducing to the healthy development of our agricultural resources, but, to take a meaner view of the matter, as conducing to a healthy state bf the finances.
For we see that nearly £80,000 was paid into the Treasury in one year, as the result, of free selection alone.
Now, what would have been gained by the public funds had the acres alienated to conditional purchasers been merely leased to squatters?
The sum total realised in that case, would be considerably less than £5000! And yet we are daily told that the Land Acts have destroyed the land revenue 0f the colony.
The financial embarrassment which weighed so heavily upon us a few months ago was sweepingly accounted for by pointing to these Acts as the source from which it flowed.
To talk of our old land laws as being productive of anything like a proportionate rent for the land unoccupied by squatters, is to talk in the very teeth of facts and figures.
The truth of the matter is, that hitherto the public lands have been given away to men who never made any pretence of cultivating them, and whose "improvements" consisted of nothing, beyond mere temporary erections. We got no value for our land in any shape, so far as a direct return is concerned.
All that we had to console ourselves with was this, that by giving the land away, at a nominal rent, we fostered a most important branch of industry and trade.
By selling it to free selectors, we not only obtain something approaching to value for the land sold, but we also create and foster the most important of all industries, the agricultural; we offer a perpetual stimulus to immigration of the very best stamp; we open a new avenue for labour and enterprise which would otherwise stagnate among us; we enable our population to provide its own bread stuffs instead of draining gold away to import it; and we settle upon the soil a race of men who have given the best possible proof of their desire to become orderly members of the community.
The next argument we shall be treated to will probably be something of this kind; admitting the success of the Alienation Act for the first year or two of its operation it will be insinuated that it will not last much longer, but will be certain to fall off in its yield, like a new gold field.
The population will grow tired of it, as children grow tired of a new plaything - losing all their enthusiasm in the satiety of undisturbed enjoyment.
Agriculture will be found to be a bad spec; the free selectors will have no capital to fall back upon in bad seasons, and a year or two of drought and flood and rust and Pleuro-pneumonia will reduce them all to the condition of paupers.
In their first stage they will be caricatured as a great army of cattle stealers, and in their last as great horde of useless mendicants, subsisting alternately on petty thefts and public charity.
We might continue in this style at some length, but no doubt we shall soon hear these arguments brought for-ward in earnest.
As it is no longer possible to deny the actual success of the Land Acts, all that is left is to enter on a new course of prophecy, and denounce them as failures in the paulo-post futurum.
But evidence to rebut these predictions is already forthcoming.
In the journal of his trip to Deniliquin, recently published in these columns, Dr. LANG made mention of conversations between himself and the free selectors in that district.
He relates that great anxiety existed among that class with reference to the land laws, "their fear being lest those laws should be annulled by the present Government."
Many settlers cross the borders from Victoria for the purpose of availing them-selves of our Land Acts, and will continue to do so as long as they are in force.
An uneasy feeling prevails in the interior with respect to the present Ministry; it is no secret that a majority of the Cabinet, or at least its most important members are opposed to these Acts, end would gladly abrogate them, if they dared to do so; and the result is natural, that menu who wish, to settle on the land regard the Acts as in. hourly danger.
There is certainly no fear that either the present Ministry, or any other Ministry that may Succeed it, will ever, attempt to repeal those laws; and the conviction of that truth will not belong in spreading itself throughout the community.
We cannot conclude without referring to an able exposure of the reiterated misrepresentations of our daily cotemporary on this subject, which we recently published, under the signature "Fair Play.''
The remarks of our correspondent mainly referred to the vexed question of the reservation on the Gocup and Gadara Runs, and he sufficiently showed that the arguments of our cotemporary on that subject were at variance with the truth.
That question, how-ever, is not of such interest to the public as to call for any further discussion of its merits; but we feel great pleasure in borrowing the following passage from "Fair Play":-
"Will the Herald never understand 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 a 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 nothing 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 lands they purchase, or by the increased value which those improvements must give to the neighbouring public estate."