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Our Australian Cousins
Chapter XXV


The land question—The burning question of the day—The land settlement—The early policy—Free selection—Objects of the Act of 1861—Abuses that have arisen—Repudiation looming in the distance—Feuds between squatter and selector—How the case now stands—Reasoning by analogy—The land system of India—Its broad and leading principles—How the revenues are raised—The Cornwallis Settlement—The Punjaub system— Periodical assessments—Waste lands reclamation in Oudh and the North-West—The present problem in Australia—No more alienation—Rotten legislation—Recent legislation—The new proposals—General summary.

The burning question of the day in Australia, beyond all others, is-undoubtedly the land question. The land law of the country, and its administration, the revenue derived from the land, the various problems that arise in connexion with the settlement and development of the land—these underlie all the social problems that agitate the community, and to her rotten system of land legislation, nearly all the troubles that afflict the body politic of New South "Wales are directly traceable. Such, at least, is my opinion.

Still, even in these notes some notice must be taken of the most momentous subject now occupying the thoughts and speculations of my fellow-colonists. Even my modest contribution to the literature of the subject may not be without its value, seeing that I am perfectly disinterested. I do not possess a square yard of Australian soil, and I bring to a consideration of the question neither bias nor prejudice.

Everybody is acquainted with the first uses to which the colony was put. The history of the penal settlement is well known. Expired term convicts, escapees, officials, and a few free settlers, holders of free Crown grants, were the first who acquired property in the soil of our colony. Settlement for long was a plant of slow growth, and the progress of the country was tardy, till the gold discoveries attracted the attention of the world. Before this, however, the pastoral capabilities of the new continent had been recognized, the squatting system had been inaugurated, and continues to this day. A pioneer penetrates into some unknown part of the immense territory of the interior, beyond the extreme verge of settled habitation, and there he sets up his abode. He " squats " down, and may escape, for a time, the payment of even the small tax, which the wisdom of Sir Richard Bourke imposed on the squatter, to bring his occupation within the pale of law and order, and to retain the right of the State in the soil intact.

Herds increased, cattle multiplied, squatters spread over the country in ever-increasing numbers, and then came the gold discoveries, which deluged the land with a flood of immigrants, who knew little, and cared less, about policy, statesmanship, future development, or past abuses; and who, so long as they could procure their beef, mutton, and flour, and their " miner's right," did not care to whom the land belonged, or how it was disposed of. So long as they could secure their mining claim and rations they were content.

The runs of the then squatting patriarchs were but sparsely stocked. Population was in excess of the supplying power. Butchers' meat was at a premium, and enormous fortunes were made by these early shepherd kings. This was the case in 1854, and the causes of the sudden increase in value of the pastoral properties are now matter of history. The wool trade grew, and Australia became the land of promise for the Adullamites of all countries. The statesmen of the day began to ask themselves questions about the disposition of this magnificent estate, which old England had, with more than maternal generosity, divested herself of, and made over to her offspring on this side of the line. It was a magnificent bequest. How wofully it has been administered, and how miserably mismanaged, let the present chaotic muddle tell.

As a well-known writer on this subject, to whom I am under deep obligations for much information and valuable counsel, says,1 in more condensed and vigorous language than I can well employ :—

"The form of settlement aimed at by the early governors was one of freeholds and villages, the properties being of all sizes, from the estate of thousands of acres down to the labourer's allotment of forty or fifty. By a graduated" scale of distribution, neither altogether favouring the large nor the small settler, both were provided for, and the method suited those also who were neither capitalists nor labourers, thus avoiding the,marked contrasts now shown everywhere, and the unbridged chasm that divides our two classes of holdings—the station and the selection.

"The frontages to rivers and main roads were economically allotted according to survey rules, and the unsold back country was left open in an easy way, so that the settlers might get the use of the grass for . their stock at small cost.

"This method could not be said to have the merit of perfection; but there is proof that it allowed - full scope to all rural industries; it economized the land, and it decidedly favoured the wholesome growth of population.

"Thus this early policy seems, it may be accidentally, to have, in some measure, hit a fair middle course between the extreme views now held by squatter and selector. The modern squatting theory looks upon population as objectionable, except in the form of vagrant labour, and pins its whole faith to the production of wool and live stock. The selector's theory, on the one hand, aims mainly at the settlement of population, but disregards the natural tendencies of country and climate, and professes (a profession seldom put in practice), to occupy the whole interior in small arable farms.

"With our present light it is-easy to see to what extremes either one policy or the other, having full scope, would lead us. Carrying out the squatter's theory without check, we would have a regular plantation system, with absentee proprietors, and no country population; in fact, not a country or a nation in any sense at all, but a second West Indies, ruled by attorneys, bankers, and overseers. On the other hand, if it were possible to carry out the selector's theory (which practically is seldom attempted), we would have a community perhaps able to live, but producing nothing marketable, and consequently without a revenue, and unable to make railways and other public works.

"Our present combined, or rather, antagonistic methods of squatting Pud selection, act like opposing forces let loose without restraint or foresight. The machinery works at the cost of immense waste, public injury, and private suffering, ruining equally squatters and selectors, wasting the territory, and above all effectually obstructing colonization. Under the old system there was only the one tenure, and that was the freehold grant. The early legislators seem to have known that human flesh and blood were as valuable staples as wool and tallow, and so without straining theory in either direction, they often succeeded, though in a patchy and imperfect way, in founding what turned out to be wholesome and durable settlement.

"The preliminary survey under which these lands were first allotted has proved a safeguard against many evils, and the result appears now in striking contrast to the modern system of selection before survey, since under the early method conflicting claims hardly ever arose and all waste in distribution was prevented.

"Modern legislation,on the other hand,prompts both squatter and selector to pick the eyes out of the country, "and thus has been inaugurated a system of attack and reprisals, as wasteful of the lands as it is hurtful to the union and welfare of the people; and from this source, mainly, is derived the enormous land revenue now coming into the treasury. Swarms of politicians and officials live on the fruit of this discord, and many a ministry has reaped a harvest of place and patronage, and enriched the coffers of the State, by threatening one interest and cajoling the other. If the purpose of our land administration is to colonize New South Wales, then there is much to be said in favour of the early method; if, on the contrary, we want to choke settlement, and to get a large revenue to spend in Sydney, then our present arrangements are admirable; for while the law encourages the selector to harass the squatter, it also supplies means to the squatter to extinguish his adversary. This can generally be managed by spending money freely, though indeed the ultimate result is occasionally fatal to both sides.

"Such, then, was the first form of settlement aimed at, and, as its remains show, with some success; but in 1861 the system had for a generation been displaced by squatting occupation. By this time the squattages had largely got into the hands of owners to whom all these changes of pasture, policy, and tenure, were as old fables. Few of them knew anything of former times. Unlike the first squatters, who took possession of their runs without either paying or asking leave, they had paid heavy prices for stock and stations. Ostensibly they were great proprietors, but being heavily weighted with high prices and interest many of them were working merely for the chance of reversion, and consequently they had no views on land policy except such as were immediately practical and personal to themselves.

"Squatting had, in fact, to a large extent been sucked into the machinery of commerce. Legislation had clone all it could to facilitate transfer and mortgage, in very marked contrast to its ordinary delay and apathy; and this end was served so effectually that it is much easier at the present day to get the transfer of a squattage of half a million of acres, than to get a freehold grant of a plot of ground to make a garden.

"Necessarily it followed that all those views favourable to real colonization which marked the early policy wore virtually abandoned. Under these circumstances free selection arose. It was the instinctive protest of the multitude against what was, as it affected them, national confiscation; but, unguided by reason, it struck not against the system, but against a class; and worked by faction the evils it has caused more than balance the good it has done."

Free selection before survey has been the rock on which the more recent land legislation of New South Wales has split. The author of the Land Act of 1861, Sir John Robertson, has been credited by all, friends and foes alike, as having had a sincere desire to promote settlement and develope the country by planting a productive population on the soil. Surely he could little have foreseen what would be the result of his famous experiment.

The professed objects of the Act of 1861 were doubtless these. First, to promote the settlement of the country, and, secondly, to favour the agricultural industry. In both these directions it has proved a signal failure. Enough has surely been said to show that the great mistake was in not recognizing the already existing grazing industry, which had become legalized by custom, with which all the business interests of the country had become intimately bound up, and round which had been consolidated rights and interests acknowledged by the unwritten law of use and wont, and guaranteed by custom and legal recognition.

What its author fondly hoped from it was the creation of a contented prosperous farming population. What it has actually done is written in the records of fraud, perjury, extortion, bribery, which go to form the voluminous mountains of land-office literature in the colony; in the bitter feuds that rage like Corsican vendettas over the length and breadth of the interior; in the nomadic breed of dummy selectors and licenced extortioners, who only differ from the reivers and moss-troopers of old, in that they levy their black mail by parchments and legal quibbles, instead of by falchion and Jethart axe.

The advocates of the Robertson Land Laws, on the other hand, insist that the system has worked fairly well, that a little patching and tinkering is all that is needed to make the law perfect; that they have settled a farming population on the soil; that they have given an impetus to agriculture and an impulse to profitable tillage, and that the present outcry is factious, hypocritical, visionary, impracticable, Utopian, absurd. What are really the facts ? In an issue of the Sydney Morning Herald, June, 1879, appears the following, which, I think, very fairly states the case:—

"In reply to the argument that the selection of fourteen million acres had not proportionally increased the amount of agriculture in the colony, Mr. Garrett, in a recent debate, contended that a great deal of new land had been broken up in interior districts, but that the result was not perceptible in the statistical returns, because a corresponding amount of old land had gone out of tillage, and that the extension of agriculture in new districts was only checked by the difficulty of getting the produce to a profitable market. This statement is no doubt in the main correct, though it is no adequate defence of the law. During the last fifteen years there has been a considerable transfer of the locale of agricultural operations.

"In the early days, except for purely local wants, wheat could only be grown to a profit on the coast lands, and many a good crop those lands have yielded in favourable seasons; but much of the land was worn down with constant cropping, and the coast wheat was very liable to the weevil, and latterly to the rust. It has been a change for the better to have wheat grown in the more elevated inland districts, because we have got a better article, have had it grown nearer to the squatting country, which furnishes a market for a portion of it, and can bring the surplus to Sydney by rail; and there is also the further advantage that many tenants have become freeholders. But having large agricultural districts to bring into occupation, the rational course would have been to open up those districts to occupation by railroads, and to remove the pastoral occupiers as fast as we could replace them by agricultural settlers. The state could then have got the full value for its land, which would have helped to pay for the railroads, the pastoral occupiers would not have been prematurely disturbed, and the agriculturists would not have had to fight their way against the prior occupants. New Zealand, which, after many experiments and some failures is working its way towards a true conception of the great value of the public estate, and the conditions under which that estate can be most profitably disposed of and occupied, has of late done something towards illustrating the policy of reserving land till it is made accessible by railways, and then selling it when it could be tilled to advantage. In New South "Wales the policy has been to pepper the colony with free selections; a plan which has been less profitable to the revenue, and less productive of improvement and bond-fide occupation, than systematic colonization would have been. The amount of new agriculture to which Mr. Garrett points, and which at present is little more than a substitute for old tillage, is of course well enough in itself; but it is no adequate proof for the purpose of his argument. What he had to show was that the Land Law had worked well for the purpose for which it was intended. He ought to have shown that the country should be reasonably contented to have got as much agriculture in proportion to the population as it had before—that this was a good result for eighteen years' trial of the land system, and that it was a feat of statesmanship to sell fifty acres in order to get one cultivated. We have increased very greatly the expenses of alienating the land, and we have diminished the receipts; we have enormously augmented the complexity of the land administration, so that no Minister or Under-Secretary can compass the work, and an army of land agents has been called into existence to expedite the business of those who can afford to pay them ; we have rendered the tenure of every pastoral holding in the country uncertain; we have set every squatter to fight those of his servants and neighbours who try to select against him, and to employ as his dummies those who are amenable to him. We have spotted every run with pre-emptive improvement and volunteer selections, taken up simply to make the rest of the run as little useful as possible to the state or the other occupiers ; we have forced to auction enormous areas of land, the sale of which has gorged the treasury with premature revenue, and demoralized constituencies by creating a scramble for public expenditure; we have absorbed the private capital of the country prematurely in an unprofitable investment, and raised the rate of interest against every merchant, trader, producer, and improver ; and by alienating to pastoralists the best agricultural land, we have arrested agricultural settlement for the next generation. The one great result which it was sought to achieve, and which we ought to be able to show, is the settlement of yeomanry, corresponding to these immense efforts and sufferings. Are the figures which Mr. Garrett adduced a fair and adequate compensation for the cost of producing them ? "We have succeeded in turning some tillage land into pasture, and an equal amount of pasture-land into tillage. We have shifted wheat-growing from one district to another, and we can boast that we are not more dependent on our neighbours for breadstuffs than we were eighteen years ago. Can we triumphantly call on all the world to recognize that that is a satisfactory result of the alienation of fourteen millions of acres? If not, cadit qucestio.

"If, eighteen years ago, when the people were in the heyday of triumph over the passing of the Land Bill, its exact results at the end of eighteen years could have been placed before them, would they have been satisfied with the prospect? And if they would not have been satisfied then, ought we to be satisfied now? Is it wise to shut our eyes to obvious facts, and say that the system only wants a little trimming and then will be perfect?"

The system has been simply this : the squatter had no fixity of tenure; there has been no systematic survey of the country, such as, for instance, the trigonometrical survey in India. As for a cadastral survey, field by field, that is a thing unknown to Australian farmers. Ostensibly to induce settlement, the whole land has been thrown open to intending settlers, who could select anywhere, under certain easily fulfilled conditions of residence, improvement, payment by instalments, and so on. The administration of the Act has been lax and dishonest, has become so much of a irie*# political tool to be handled by experts, the evasions have become so universal, the political influence of these state creditors has become so powerful, that wholesale repudiation is no longer hinted at, but boldly advocated. Ex post facto legislation is to wipe out all incumbrances and set the selector free, with a clean slate, to select more land at a lower rate of payment, on easier conditions, and with more liberal allowances as to credit.

The story in Australia is as old and well-worn and threadbare as the reputations of some of her leading statesmen. Selectors had no difficulty at first in picking out likely pieces of land, on which they ran up a miserable structure; and while pretending to fulfil the conditions of their contract with the state, they commenced a war of skirmishing hostilities against the squatter. These led to reprisals. The affair from being one of outposts, soon became a general engagement along the whole line. If the farming selector was a bond-fide colonist, he found himself subjected to every annoyance that the wealth, energy, malice, jealousy, or ill-will of his powerful pastoral neighbour could set in motion against him. His fences were destroyed, his cattle impounded, his fields invaded, and every device that ingenuity could imagine was used to disgust him with his holding, and compel him to throw it up. If he were, as was not at all improbable, a scheming knave, he adopted these very tactics himself; and made himself such a thorn in the side of the shepherd potentate, that it ended in his being bought off; and without having fulfilled any of the conditions of his bargain with the state, he accepted the purchase-money—the black mail which his perverse energy had extorted; and off he would go to repeat the same game somewhere else.

This state of things is no novelty to the Australian reader. To bring it more forcibly home to the general reader in England or India, let me give two examples. They are but two out of hundreds which could be adduced, to show how this disastrous attempt at legislation operated, and is even now operating, and how under a system which tolerates such infamous dodgery, nothing but lowered morality and widespread class antagonism could be expected as the natural results.

A squatter in Rivirina had a large flock of ewes lambing in a 6000 acre paddock. Two men selected 640 acres each, in the middle of this paddock, and turned into the paddock 2500 ewes also lambing. The damage amounted to the loss of the whole of the lambs, and the selectors had to be bought out with a cheque for a large amount. This piracy was quite within the limits of the law, and sanctioned by the Act of 1861.

In another district, a squatter had a paddock containing a fine lot of stud bulls. A man selected in the heart of the paddock, and the day after his application > was entered at the Local Land Office, he impounded fifteen of the bulls for running on his land. This also was strictly legal. Of course extortion in this case, as in the other, was the object.

Indeed the only part of the country in which selection has been in any truth successful and legitimate, has been in that tract known as the old settled districts, which was never under the squatting tenure, but which was allotted under the earlier land system of the colony. Even there the largest and best portions of the land having already been granted by the early governors, the localities open to selectors only consisted of back creeks and scattered patches and fragments of land, and the holdings are but cotter holdings after all, or very small and inexpansive farm-steads. Still, this is the only part of the colony where selection may be even remotely claimed as having been successful; but the success merely amounts to an increase of population; in farming industry there has been no advance. The occupants keep a few cows, run them on any one's grass, let them die of starvation when there is no grass. And it would be difficult to show any other pursuit that has sprung up and been successfully followed under this method of settlement. To come back to the feud now raging under the operation of the Act of 1861.

To save themselves, the squatters were forced to adopt the most desperate expedients. They had either to buy up at auction scattered patches of their runs, or put in dummies, make-believe selectors, who perfunctorily performed all the requirements of the law, and having satisfied apparently all the conditions, the selection again merged into the holding of the squatter. The law was evaded, the state robbed of another slice of its patrimony, and the land that should have been turned into a smiling farm, the home of a prosperous yeoman, reverted to the pristine waste of grass and scrub; and the sheep, the dingo, and the kangaroo, divided its dominion between them. Everywhere the "eyes of the land" were discerned by the scheming selector, or snapped up by the desperate squatter. "Where the coveted spot could be purchased out and out, money was raised at ruinous rates, and thus the runs came to be mortgaged to the banks, who watched the fierce strife benignly. Meantime the continued drain began to tell oven on the banks. In this conjuncture, a feat of juggling was done worthy of the genius of an Aberdonian Jew. The land was being bought up right and left. Dummies had to be hired or bribed. Selectors had to be bought off. Ruinous suits had to be defended or initiated. Land had to be paid for in part at least, and deposits on selections had to be made in some degree at least, where the law could not be evaded, or the authorities refused to be bribed and hoodwinked—and as the treasury coffers were full to repletion, the suggestion was made that this money should be loaned back again to the banks.

Bank directors in Australia are nearly as powerful and command almost as many votes as the brewers and publicans, and Government had no difficulty in acceding to the suggestion. So, then, while the treasury gathered in the crisp notes and bright gold with the one hand, with the other they passed it on again to the banks at a low rate of interest, to be circulated once more, and lent out by them at a high rate of interest, So the modern merry Australian game was played.

Then came the bad seasons, when drought supervened, prices fell, and here we are confronted with the inevitable crash that thinking men had long foretold. Suddenly the banks awake to the fact that no more money must be lent upon the land. Suddenly the government begin to cast about for ways and means to redeem the lavish promises of public works for the proletariat, of roads, bridges, schools of arts, culverts, drains, dredges, wharfs, schools, and other bribes, which had been promised to the country constituencies throughout the land as a reward for obedient votes. And so the case stands, the squatters cannot pay up, and the banks cannot foreclose, for the -securities are unsaleable and inconvertible; the Government dare not come down on the banks and withdraw their advances, for commerce would be crippled, credit would be gone, and place-hunters and place-holders would be penniless ! For the present foreign gold has floated the labouring ship of state. But nobody believes that foreign loans will for ever supersede the necessity of dealing with the land question itself. And nobody who has weighed the seriousness of that question believes that tinkering the old Land Act will suffice. A new Land Law is the only true remedy.

It will be well to turn our eyes to any other country where analogous problems offer themselves. In India especially have some of the most perplexing and intricate problems relating to the land been solved. By a comparison of plans, policies, and pursuits, so far apart and widely dissimilar to our own, we may be able to strike on some points that might guide us here (New South Wales) in dealing with the all-important subject of a reform of our land laws.

Let us turn our eyes for a moment, then, to the East. The fundamental principle of the land system of India, that which underlies all others and on which her whole land policy is based, is this. The land belongs inalienably to the State, and must contribute its fair quota to the expenses of government. When we conquered India, we found the land occupied by innumerable petty potentates, princes, nobles, and village communes. There was every kind of title, from that of the most absolute despot, grinding his poor peasantry to the very dust, rack-renting every cultivator, and not only taxing the land with a burden greater than could be borne, but enforcing feudal and military service as well from the occupiers of the soil. As a direct and marked contrast to this, there were innumerable village communes, where the land around the hamlet was held in common, worked in common, and the produce" equally divided among the dwellers in the little commonwealth. There were also vast stretches of land held by the priests, as being part of the endowment of some famous temple or sacred shrine. Guilds and corporations held lands under charter, or by deed of gift. Amid all, however, no matter what the title, no matter how held, a certain amount of revenue was paid by all to the paramount ruling power. Wherever the power of the great Mogul dynasty extended, wherever its authority was recognized, this tribute was raised from the land. When we overthrew the Mogul dynasty, and became the conquerors of India, our soldier statesmen recognized the fitness of this state' of things. When, therefore, they got time to organize a system of government, they resolved that while maintaining a firm sway over the Empire which they had founded by conquest, they would cause the land, as formerly, to support the expenses of a Government which maintained the rights of persons and property, and enabled the cultivators and possessors of the soil to enjoy the fruits of that soil in security, peace, and quietness.

We shall see as we go on how this principle works ; what modifications have been made on it in the Punjaub, the North-West, and other non-regulation provinces. But the fundamental grand principle that the land is the property of the State, to be held in trust for the common good of the nation, and contribute its fair share to the expenses of Government, is never lost sight of. I will endeavour to show how far the application of the same principle, modified to suit our different circumstances, should be recognized, and acted on in any reform of our land policy in Australia.

The land tax is administered and collected by the Board of Revenue. All the country is accurately surveyed and mapped out into divisions, "which are again subdivided till the smallest plot of land is reached. The principal officer of a division is termed a Commissioner ; under him come collectors, who are assisted by deputy-collectors, sub-deputy-collectors, and other functionaries of lower grades. The collector is the chief executive officer in his district. To him are subordinate the police, the magistracy, and the lower grades of judicial officers who administer the law; but his principal duty is to collect the Government revenue.

Every land-holder in his district is registered in the records of his court. The land-holder's title, the extent of his possessions, the amount he has to pay to Government, are all minutely recorded. The landholder can sell or mortgage his property, is free to deal with it as he pleases, so long as the Government revenue is paid. He may split it up and subdivide it, leave it to his heirs, give it away, or dispose of his right in it, in any legal manner he chooses; but he cannot alienate the right of the State to a certain percentage of the profits arising from it. The owner may die, may leave the country, may become bankrupt, may divest himself of all right, title, and interest he has in the land, but the land itself, the actual soil still remains liable in the Government charges upon it. All transactions affecting the land, all bonds of purchase, all transfers, mortgages, deeds, and leases, must be made known to the Collector and registered among his records. Every plot of land is accurately measured and surveyed, and its position, extent, and capabilities correctly known. The hist, as it is called—that is, the contribution to government—takes precedence of every other claim. Should it fall into arrears, the Collector can sue summarily for it. He can attach the property, and sell it in satisfaction of his demand, with, of course, proper legal procedure, and due and formal notice. In return, so long as the government demand is satisfied, you possess an inalienable right to your property, and receive all the support of government m upholding your right.

In Bengal, which is the richest, most fertile, and perhaps the most densely populated province of our Indian Empire, an arrangement was made by the Marquis Cornwallis, when he was Viceroy, which is called the Permanent Settlement. This famous Settlement and the Queen's Proclamation are the Magnce Ghartce of the Bengalees. At the time of the Settlement, every property in Bengal was assessed. What was then considered a fair moiety of the productive value of the land was set apart and arranged to be paid, as the contribution to government. Agreeing to pay this, and taking their title direct from the government with this proviso binding for all time coming, the land-owners received a guarantee that, as long as England was the ruling power in India, this would be the maximum amount claimed by government, and so long as it was paid they would be upheld in the possession of their estates.

It was considered a masterly piece of legislation at the time. It settled once and for ever all the multitudinous investigations, doubts, and litigations that used to beset the government officials; but under a firm and stable government—under just laws wisely administered—the land has so immensely increased in value, that the revenue raised under the Permanent Settlement in Bengal is now a mere nothing as compared with the wealth that is drawn from the soil.

The land-owners who acquired a title under the Permanent Settlement are now rolling in wealth. "Waste lands have been reclaimed, roads have been made, bridges built, rivers have been deepened and confined between vast restraining banks, raised by the finest engineering skill of the age; canals and railways and public works have been constructed at enormous cost; communications have improved, and all the countless triumphs of modern science and invention have been inaugurated, to increase the wealth and develope the resources of the country. And yet the land which reaps this benefit, which has been one thousandfold enriched, whose value has risen out of all proportion to the revenue which it yields—does not contribute now to. the expenses of the government and the revenue of the country one iota more than it did when the Permanent Settlement was made, and before the vast tide of progress and prosperity began to flow.

Tenants who hold lands from the great land-owners, small farmers and cultivators who have tenant rights, who hold under lease, and pay rent to the land-owners, have had their rent enhanced, and competition for land, with improved agriculture and better prices for products, has increased the marketable value of landed estates enormously within the last twenty years. But so long as the land-owners pay the old established assessment that was fixed under the Permanent Settlement they enjoy all the fruits of this enhanced value, and the revenue thus has become inelastic, while the expenses of government have increased, and are still increasing more and more. This necessitated other methods of raising revenue. Some of these, such as the income-tax, were so objectionable and irritating that after a struggle they had to be withdrawn. A heavy customs tariff, however, has been imposed. Necessaries of life, such as salt, are burdened with a heavy duty. The poor, the hard-working, the consumer, are thus made to pay an undue quota of the revenue; and the land, which should bear the main burden of supporting a government, pours in its rich and abundant treasure into the plethoric purse of the sleek Zemindar. These Zemindars are powerful and rich. They, are the aristocracy of Bengal. They possess a monopoly of intelligence and influence with the people, and to ask them now to" submit to a readjustment of the incidence of taxation on the land would probably cause a tremendous commotion. They appeal to Our solemn assurance given with all the dignity and weight of supreme authority' that the Permanent Settlement, as its name signifies, was not for a season or an age, but for all time. It matters not to them that we struggle with a deficit every year, that we must devise schemes of taxation that cripple industry, harass the poor, retard the progress, and hamper the wheels of further improvement and advancement in the arts of peace; progress, commerce, and learning. It is presumably difficult to fleece a Greek or a Jew, and proverbially puzzling how to take breeks from a Highlander; but these feats are comparatively easy when contrasted with the task of making a Hindoo Zemindar or landholder lose sight of self.

Now, human nature is pretty much the same in every land and under every clime. When we shall have sold all our land here, divested ourselves of our birthright, alienated the patrimony of the country from us for ever, and allowed the land to become the property of a wealthy few; in fact, when a land-holding aristocracy shall have sprung up here, as infallibly it must spring up if we allow them to buy the land out and out instead of leasing it, how can we suppose that it will be any more easy then to get them to listen to the dictates of patriotism than it is for the Hindoo Zemindar to listen to them now? Our people use the same argument—"We have bought the land out and out. We can command political influence 'as well as you. Go and raise your taxes on bread, and corn, and oil, and wine, and clothing. You have no more to do with the land—that is ours. You alienated it by your own act, and now you must stand the consequences."

Now, in the Punjaub, in the vast extent of the northwest provinces, and in the fertile kingdom of Oudh, and other parts of India, there were men at the helm of affairs, who had a more prophetic vision, who took a keener glance into futurity than did Cornwallis. They recognized the grand principle that the land itself, and not the land-owners, was the backbone and mainstay of a wise and equitable method of raising a revenue, and the system they inaugurated, and which is now being practised, was briefly this. The landowners held direct from Government, after a careful investigation into their titles, much in the same manner as was done in Bengal. The apportionment of the share which the land subscribed towards defraying the expenses of Government was, however, only made for a certain limited period. It was not a permanent settlement for all time, but liable to be rearranged periodically at fixed and stated times. The ultimate term was settled at thirty years. Every thirty years, therefore, in these provinces the land is assessed under government supervision, and by duly authorized and qualified government officials. If the material prosperity of the district has largely increased, and if the land has shared in the general augmentation of value, the new assessment will be in some degree higher for the ensuing term than for the one just lapsed. If, on the contrary, land has decreased in value from purely natural causes, and not from neglect, bad management, or preventible circumstances, the land-owner may state his case, and succeed in getting his assessment lightened. The tricks resorted to by the wily oriental to throw dust in the eyes of the collector and his assessors are innumerable. For the two or three years immediately preceding a new assessment they will sometimes allow lands to go out of cultivation altogether, and relapse into jungle. They will try to bribe subordinate native officials, and exhaust all their ingenuity in devising schemes by which they may have their lands under assessed.

In both theory and practice, however, the system has been found to work well. After all, the assessment is very light, and it comes back to the landholder in an indirect way, for he levies an equal amount from his tenants; and in this way every one interested in the land becomes a contributor to the expenses of the State, and in such an equable manner that no one feels the burden. As the value of the land increases, the revenues share in the general elasticity. They develope and expand with the development of the agricultural wealth of the country. Direct taxation is avoided, and the incidence of the tax falls lightly on all classes.

In cases where lands are held directly from the Crown the tenant pays rent, as well as the land revenue hist] or, assessment. For example, a farmer holds a small farm from a landed proprietor, for which he pays rent, according to the quality of the land, and the prices of produce ruling in the locality. The proprietor pays to government his assessed tribute or tax on the land, and if he fails to pay this, the government can attach the rents or crops of the farmer, giving him .legal resource to recover as against his landlord. If, on the other hand, the farmer leases Crown lands, with no land-holder or proprietor intervening between him and the Crown, he pays his rent direct into the district treasury, and gets a receipt from the collector.

If he continues to pay his rent, and cultivates the land for twelve years without a break, he acquires what is called a "tenant right," which is a vendible, negotiable right, title, or interest. A farmer with a tenant right cannot be dispossessed.' He can bequeath his tenant right to his heirs and successors. It is a duly sanctioned and recognized title to the land he occupies, and can only lapse by his own act, or by his failing to pay his rent to the Crown.

In determining the rent to be paid by tenants, government officials call for tenders from cultivators willing to settle on the land, and can accept the highest or lowest, as they -please; but the more commonly adopted. method is carefully to assess the lands according to their quality, apd striking an average rental of the surrounding villages, quality for quality, make that the basis for their demand on the cultivator or occupier.

Besides all this, large reserves of forest land are. held exclusively by government,- and are conserved and managed by the Forest Department, whose officials will yield to none in the world for zeal and high scientific acquirements. Reserves are also made for lines of railway, for military roads, for recreation-grounds, and for other public purposes.

Under the Waste Land Rules a grantee, who holds land from the Indian government, is bound to conform to all the requirements of the Act, under pain of resumption. These rules are shortly to the effect that the land must be reclaimed to half its extent within twenty years. At the end of every five years the improved portions are measured. During the first five •years an eighth must have been reclaimed; after ten years a quarter; after fifteen years three-eighths; and by twenty years a half. It i then assessed and a -rent taken from the grantee- corresponding to the average rent of like land in the ten nearest surrounding villages. During the first twenty years the grantee pays no rent whatever, but if any of his measurements do not come up to the required amount at any of the periods for inspection, his grant is at once liable to resumption.

The foregoing is a very rough and imperfect sketch of the main features of the land policy of India. There are a thousand details which it would be entirely impossible to compress within the limits at my disposal here, but my readers, if they have followed me thus far, will now have a pretty fair general idea of how the land is managed in our great eastern empire.

We will now, however, come a little nearer home, and as doubtless most of my Australian readers have the ambition to become at some time or other landowners in this colony, and are, I presume, interested in the well-being of the country, and laudably anxious for its welfare and progress, we will just glance at our system here, and see whether it be the wisest that might have been conceived. At ^present our statesmen and legislators are jubilant and complacent; our treasury coffers are full; we are expending large sums of our accumulated capital on public works and railways. Taxation, too, does not press very heavily on the people ; education is progressing, and all this prosperity is due to the sale of our landed estate. But by total alienation, by forced auction sales, and wholesale renunciation at a low upset price, we are burning the candle at both ends. We are making no provision for the future; we are spending our capital instead of living on our interest. Land can be purchased at an upset price of 11. per acre; nay, so ^ager is our government to get quit of its birthright, to alienate the heritage of the nation, that for five shillings paid down one can get possession of his acre of land; the remaining fifteen shillings being payable by deferred payments extending over fifteen years. What, too, has been done in the matter of reserves ? Look at our townships; what reserves have been made for parks, pleasure-grounds, and spaces for public buildings? What accommodation has been made for our largely increasing railway traffic? In a few short years the land about most of our railway stations will be too confined for the traffic requirements, and the nation will have to buy back at an enormously enhanced price what was formerly part of its own birthright.

Referring to a previous debate on the present tinkering patchwork Land Law Amendment Act, the Herald thus proceeds :—

"Mr. Hoskins asserted a few weeks ago in the house that the evils which existed under the old land system exceeded those which had sprung up under the legislation of 1861. The assertion was singularly at variance with the facts, as anybody who would take a comprehensive view of the general consequences of that legislation would be compelled to admit. There were, however, various grounds for complaint under the old system, and their existence, in a large measure, accounted for that eager desire for change which made the cry of free selection before survey so popular, and swept away all opposition to the law which gave it effect. But these antediluvian evils—these complaints that prevailed before the flood—arose out of weak and defective administration rather than bad law. So much has been admitted by men whose official experience lends their opinions weight. The administration of the old law failed to place in the market—whether as to quantity, quality, or suitability of subdivision— the land that was required for bond-fide settlement. The new law was introduced to cure this defect. As the department had failed to anticipate the demand for land, and had not held it ready in abundance in suitable portions, and in various parts of the country, for sale to the people, it was thought best that the people should be allowed to go all over the country, wherever they liked, and choose for themselves in advance of the department, leaving it to the officials of the state to follow them up, and set all things straight afterwards. This was a mistake. The remedy chosen was not appropriate to the disease. A failure in administration having been the cause of the trouble, the true remedy would have been to make the administration more efficient. Instead of that, the law was changed, and a new system was set up, under which it was made easier for people to go upon the land, but greater scope than before was afforded for "negligent or corrupt administration, and the risks that might accrue were thrown mainly upon the state.

"Free Selection before Survey was supposed to be the very embodiment of simplicity. It has proved in experience to be the source of endless complication, difficulty, and dispute. The intention was to save expense and trouble at the outset. The effect has been to increase both to an indefinite extent. Instead of providing against doubt and conflict of interest beforehand, it has provided facilities and inducements for both; and thus the government, in following. up the selector, has had an amount of work to do in clearing up uncertainties, rectifying errors, and deciding between antagonistic claims, enormously in excess of the work it would have had to do if it had preceded the selector instead of allowing him the initiative.

"It is not, perhaps, surprising that a system which was introduced under a misapprehension of facts and principles should have been administered without regard to the requirements and the dangers of the situation. As the defectiveness of the old adminisrtration was to be cured by a change in the law, it was not, perhaps, very remarkable that the need for vigorous and effective administration under the new law was under-estimated. In reality, there was more need for vigilance and firmness than ever, but for years together the government was asleep as to the new conditions which the law had created, and the waking did not come until after the seeds of wrong had been sown broadcast. We are "now reaping the harvest." We are now bewailing the wholesale alienation of the public lands for the purpose of forming vast pastoral estates and barring settlement. We are now witnessing the application of a check to commercial and industrial enterprise by a tightness of the money market superinduced by the unnecessary and unprofitable investment of capital in the purchase of land. We are now watching the gradual corruption of the political atmosphere by the subordination of public to private interests in connexion with land transactions and the distribution of the spoil. We are becoming familiar with retrospective legislation for the wholesale surrender of public claims, and the chief explanation of all this is, that there has been a worse failure of administration under the new law than under the old. The fault lies primarily in the law, which laid new duties upon the government without providing more definitely and imperatively for their discharge; and, secondarily, in the laches of successive governments, which either did not perceive, or would not recognize, the responsibilities thrust upon them.

"The passing of the Act of 1875, with its special provisions for inquiry and inspection, was the first practical and broad recognition of duties that ought to have been recognized and fulfilled long before. But a great deal of the mischief had then been done, and the awakening which then took place was an awakening to the presence of work in arrears. From that time to this there has been an ineffectual struggle with these arrears, for the load is ever accumulating. The numerical strength of the lands department has been increased. Under Mr. Garrett alone, it has been shown, some four hundred persons were appointed. But, in a business of such magnitude and complication, with fresh transactions every day, there is an irresistible pressure on account of current work, and it has been found simply impossible to work off arrears with the force available. The chances are that, in these days of sponges and retrospection, unless some special effort be soon made, the difficulty will be met by sacrificing public interests in the gross, on the plea that it would be too costly and troublesome to assert them. And, as we are under responsible government, nobody will then be held responsible.

"There ought, however, in justice to the public, to be some serious endeavours to prevent the adoption of so discreditable a conclusion. The present assembly appears to be unwilling to disturb the foundation of the land law. The more reason, then, is there for calmly and courageously facing the situation which that law has created. The colony is now suffering from the defective administration of the new law as it was suffering from a similar cause (operating within narrower limits) under the old one. If the legislature is unwilling now to do what it did then, and change the law, the least that it ought to do is to take measures to enforce vigorous and effective administration. There is a choice between two courses. The government may be allowed to take things easily, let complications, disputes, and uncertainties still multiply, and the heap of arrears accumulate, until it is shovelled up into the scavenger's cart, and got rid of as a mass of festering rubbish. Or the government maybe pressed to do its duty, work off arrears, and keep them down in future at any cost, even if the whole of the money for which the land is sold should be absorbed in the process. There is no intermediate course. The problem cannot be solved by affecting to ignore its exist-• ence. The leading politicians of the hour may say that they are not bound to solve it. But if it is left to solve itself, ambulando, the country will suffer heavily, in money and morals."

This puts the problem fairly before the reader. The question presses for a solution, and there can be no shirking-it.

To revert again to our argument.

When all the state land has been sold and all that is worth buying shall have been bought—when no further cash shall come flooding the treasury from the proceeds of land sales, what then is to be done ? Would it not be much simpler and much wiser to sell the land, if it must be sold, under a system assimilating in its main features to the policy of the Punjaub, or do away with land sales altogether, and establish a system of crown leases? In any case, whatever system obtains, the state should retain the right to a small share of the profits. After thirty, forty, or fifty years, or any period that may be determined, the lands could be again re-assessed or re-leased, and a new settlement made. It would act in much the same way as the Scotch feu system. All lands would be classified according to quality, and contribute a small quota to the expenses of the state. It need not be much; one penny an acre on" the superficies of one district alone in this land would raise an immense revenue. It would scarcely be felt by the landowners.

Is it not a notorious fact now, and a scandal to our civilization and our government, that all the land round the centres of population is in the hands of a few monopolists, who boast that there they have a patrimony for their children, and it can lie neglected, unfilled, and barren, till the expenditure of state money shall have enhanced its value, and made it easy to sell it at enormous profits. The expenditure of public money is augmenting the value of this land a thousandfold, and yet it contributes not a mite to keep up the state. We cry about settling a productive population on our soil, yet, if a bond-fide agriculturist wishes to settle, he must go far away into the back country before he can plough a single furrow, and the expenses of transit eat up all the profits on his produce. The land near the towns is locked up. The state is working for the monopolist. His land is increasing daily in value, not by his own industry, but by the expenditure of state funds, and the inauguration of state improvements ; and the bond-fide tiller of the soil, the hardworking producer, the struggling farmer, is banished to the far interior, and the state reaps not one fraction of benefit from the enormously enhanced value of the land which it has alienated from itself by its suicidal policy of land sales. With a judicious and equitable land tax, the land would have to be cultivated. It would have to yield its produce, and the state would reap the benefit. The land-holder would perforce be compelled to go in for improvements, and, instead of our towns and cities being surrounded with barren slopes and dense scrubs, fenced-in wildernesses of desolation, they would nestle amid smiling fields and cultivated farms. A land tax would relieve us of tariffs, duties, and imports that vex, and harass, and worry us. By the alienation of our state lands, we are mortgaging our very existence as a nation, and wilfully, and recklessly, and sinfully, for the sake of a little immediate gain, destroying all chance of our taking our place in the van of the vigorous phalanx of the nations that ajre to rule the earth at no far-distant future.

As I write (June, 1879) an amending Act on the Lands Alienation Act of 1861—the second attempt at patchwork on that disastrous measure—is receiving the finishing touches in the Upper Chamber, having passed through the popular house. The glaring defects in our land administration had become so notorious, that even infatuated self-complacency and interested partisanship could no longer ignore them. Before the whole wide issue was put before the people — after a comprehensive liberal scheme of electoral reform had extended and equalized the representation of the people in Parliament—this present measure had been promised, avowedly as merely a stop-gap."" " So far, however, from dealing only with matters of detail"—I quote again from a current leader in the .Sydney Morning Herald—"the measure as it now stands contains a new principle of very wide application, and of the very first importance. It introduces the principle of -retrospective legislation, and it alters, as against the crown, covenants formally made between the crown and free-selectors. But to alter the bargain with free-selectors is a matter of such importance that the people at large, who are financially interested in the matter, ought to have a voice in it.

"It is impossible to put exactly into figures the money value of what the people of the colony are asked to give up. We know that about fourteen million acres have been frce-selected, and if the law had been rigidly observed, all selections that are fully three years old would have had their improvements, and residence occupation would have advanced in proportion. We know, however, that this is not the case, and as certificates of conformiti hare not yet issued for a large part of the land, the government is still in a position to insist on its rights, and to get from the favoured purchaser the return which he promised to give in consideration of the cheapness of his purchase. Selection has gone on at a much greater rate of late years than it did at first, and about seven million acres have been taken up since 1875, and for all these lands it is proposed to reduce by one-half the amount of improvement. Adding, therefore, what may be due on previous purchases, the. titles to which have not yet been perfected, we shall probably be below the truth if we estimate the value of improvements surrendered at four millions sterling. This is a large sum, and before the legislature gives up its claim to such an amount the financial effect ought to be well considered.

"That, however, is not all, for the political, even more than the financial, effect should be forecasted. "What is proposed is not merely a change in the law, but it is the first step in the way of making great concessions. "When conditional purchase was first established, it was fondly believed by those who pinned their faith to , the principle, that purchasers would honestly fulfil the conditions, and would never attempt to repudiate their obligations. We have now arrived at a period when they have become numerically strong enough to have some members distinctly representing their class, and other members controlled by them. The first-fruits of this state of things is the proposal to surrender four millions' worth of improvements which it had been bargained the state should receive. In view of this, we may well ask what next? Is conccssion to stop here ? Is it according to human nature that this concession should secure contentment?

Is it according to political experience, that when those who are indebted to the state have got rid of one part of their obligations, they are sure to abstain from trying to get rid of the other part? Who is there can guarantee us that the next claim will not be for the remission of unpaid balances, aud that interest already paid shall count as instalments towards the principal? The claim has already been put forward, there are members who advocate it, and if it becomes a popular cry at the next election with a section sufficiently strong to turn the balance at any disputed contest, weak-kneed candidates will succumb. In that case we shall lose, not the value of some promised improvements, but some millions in hard cash—money that was as honestly due to the state as any charge that was ever paid, and money which we have represented to the world as an asset, and on the strength of which, as part of our resources, we have borrowed money. What we have to consider, therefore, is not merely the immediate effect of the proposed change, but the probability there is of other changes following in the direction of further concessions. When the state once begins to waive its rights, where can it call a halt, and where is the assurance that when it does call a halt people would obey?

"If the claim now made could be shown to be a needed concession to persons who had honestly carried out the spirit of the law, there would be something to set up against the danger of the concession itself. If the land were all in the occupation of struggling yeomen, contending wdth difficulties, and yet resolutely persevering, the state would be entitled to run some risks to help them through. But we know from official statistics that about half the land conditionally purchased has already changed owners, and we know non-officially that a good deal of the balance is destined to change owners as soon as a transfer can be effected. We cannot therefore shut our eyes to the fact that, so far as relates to the greater part of the land thus alienated, the intention of the law has not been, and is not likely to be, carried out; and therefore the greater part of the concession now proposed will not go to bonni-fide settlers, but to the alienees of intermediary speculators. It is said, and doubtless with truth, that there are some bond-fide settlers, to whom the concession will be a help; but we cannot legislate for them without legislating for all, and we have no means of distinguishing the true selector from the sham one. One member, whose official experience should make him an authority, puts the number of the free-selectors at about 20,000. Another, who is more suspicious, and more exacting in his evidence, puts them at half that number. We have no means of judging between them; but, even taking the larger number to be true, we have to remember that the population of this colony is 650,000, and that in disposing of the public estate we have to consider the interests of the whole, and not merely of those who have been playing the game of grab. Is it not reasonable that, before we surrender the claim of the people to four millions' worth of improvements, and before we make the first big hole in the principle of conditional purchase, the whole adult male population of the colony should have a chance of expressing its opinion?"

Let it be admitted, then, that the Land Alienation Act of 1861 has failed in what it professed to do; that it has failed to effeet the settlement of a productive population on the soil; that it is badly administered, is breeding evils that threaten to retard the progress of the country, is wastful and inefficient,—what proposal do I make? what suggestion? To answer this question, I will venture to take another chapter.


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