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Our Australian Cousins
Chapter XXVII


Scheme of land reform by "Capricornus"—Commutation of existing rights—Survey before settlement—Demarcation of agricultural and pastoral areas—Land operations in New Zealand—Railways and public works—Imported labour—Fixity of tenure—Employment of capital—Rents and cesses—Title direct from the State— Local Land Boards—A model land tax—Objections—The right of the State to a moiety of the unearned increment—Centralization—A nomadic race the result of the present system—Tenant-right—Low-cost railways—Foreign capital—Inducements to capitalists—Results of a wise and liberal land reform—Conclusion—"Advance, Australia."

The most practical and comprehensive scheme of land reform I have yet seen submitted is that proposed by the writer ("Capricornus") from whose works I have already quoted. The chief features of his plan I now briefly lay before the reader, whom I would refer to Mr. Ranken's published works' for fuller details, and I can promise any one interested in settlement-work and the question of land legislation much valuable information and wise reasoning on the subject. I can only very briefly epitomize the salient features of his proposed reform.

The first great feature would be a commutation of present existing rights of squatter and selector, on an equitable basis which he fully elaborates in his able pamphlet "The Land Law of the Future." The effect of this would be to define rights and bring back under the direct jurisdiction of the state large tracts of country on which future settlement has been made impossible, by reason of the destructive feuds which have arisen under the operation of the Robertsonian system. The disorder and the process of cure are both fully gone into by our 'author. The future allocation of land is provided for by a system of preliminary survey, under which grazing and agricultural farms, with villages and commonages, public reserves, forests and mineral tracts are defined and placed under local land boards. The unalienated grazing land remains in the hands of the land board, but is rented only under a half-yearly licence, and is brought into the market as population spreads. The fiscal results, as shown by "Capricornus," would produce a permanent land revenue, immensely greater than the present squatting land revenue, and nearly equal to that which is now being produced by the irrational and reckless sacrifice of the public estate pursued under the present suicidal plan.

The general result would be that both squatter and selector would be better off than they were before, while three-fourths of the squatting country, being liberated from the action of the present destructive law, would be open for future settlement, and held in trust in the interest of colonization.

Making allowance for reassessment, at stated periods, Mr. Ranken's plan is on the whole one that commends itself to my judgment. Mr. Ranken's commutation scheme would in fact amount to something very nearly approaching the best features of the permanent settlement of Cornwallis.

Some such scheme as this, to my mind, presents the only fair and equitable method of reconciling the present ruinously conflicting interests, and bringing peace and progress to the distracted country.

The country intended for settlement should first of all be accurately surveyed and its capabilities intelligently ascertained. Agricultural and pastoral areas should be marked out, and capital should be invited to take up land and aid in the work of settlement. Extensive reserves should be set apart for forests, for commonages, public grazing-grounds, public works, and mineral industries. The management of a private estate should in fact be applied in the disposition of the public estate.

Let us suppose, for instance, the American plan of railway grants to be in vogue here. There would be no difficulty in getting the necessary capital. The British investor would rather lend money to his own kith and kin than to repudiating Turks and Pagans. Twenty millions could be raised without difficulty to work such a company as the Indo-Austral trading company, I imagine, or a guaranteed land and railway company, such as we see in New Zealand and elsewhere. Already in Queensland an enterprising junto of far-seeing and energetic men have accomplished by private effort what the government might have only begun to think about some generations hence. They have completed a private survey for a line of railway from the Pacific to Port Darwin. If the right of construction with grants of land along the proposed route were given them, who can doubt but that this enterprise would do more to develope Queensland than all the money spent in immigration and public works have done since Captain Cook landed at Botany Bay?

"What has been done in New Zealand, in America, in Canada, in Belgium, in India, in Egypt, could surely be done here. From the chairman's speech at the first meeting of shareholders of the New Zealand Agricultural Company I extract the following passage, which foreshadows what might be done under liberal land legislation here:—

"The company had nearly 200 shareholders. The number of shares disposed of, including the fully-paid shares, transferable only in the colony, allotted to the vendors as part payment, was 27,233, amounting to 544,660Z. Of this amount 398,665Z. was paid up. It followed that more than half of the share capital was subscribed, and the debenture holders had a security over the property of more than 2. to 11. It had been resolved to offer 3000 shares for sale in India, it having been represented to the directors that there was a great desire amongst Indian officers and planters to become connected with New Zealand with the view of ultimately settling there. The lands of the company would command so ready a sale, so far as they could be subdivided and put into the market, that debenture money would stand in the place of share capital, as far as it might be considered desirable. He need scarcely tell them they would not sell any land without a large profit, and many and vast had been the fortunes made in the colonies by "cutting up." The man with small means tyied it with small pieces of land, the man of large means with large estates; and in each case the profits were enormous. "Cutting up" meant acquiring land wholesale and selling it retail. As settlements extended, as towns grew up, the increase in the value of land was very large. He might give them an example. A few days since they had information of the sale of the Totara block in the Oamaru district. Unimproved land in this district realized from 201, to 30Z. an acre. A few years since it was sold by the government at 11. or 21. an acre. Their land was as good as this land, and was as near to the capital town, Dunedin. And they had a further advantage in position, as this company's lands were so situated as to command with equal facility the markets of Dunedin and Invercargill, the capital towns of Otago and Southland, as well as the goldfields districts. They proposed to give to purchasers easy terms of payment, and they should assist settlers in various ways. Skilled advice would be at,their command; they would be able to obtain advances on their crops; the company would act as their agents for the sale of produce, and might allow ^them on terms to run cattle on the leasehold lands of the company. He should like to call special notice to their intention to offer some of their lands for sale in this country. They proposed to reserve special blocks for that purpose, which would be offered upon terms exceptionally favourable to the settler. They thought it of the first importance to induce the settlement of practical farmers from this country upon the company's lands. They had reason to believe that, owing to the present condition of the agricultural interests at home, many men possessed of experience and moderate capital would be found to prefer freehold lands in the colonies to leaseholds at home, more particularly when thej found even much less capital was required in the former than in the latter position. The company would cultivate as much of its land as might be found desirable on its own account, and carry on also the business of sheep farming. The breeding of high-class stock would also be a branch of the company's operations. The proposal to take cadets seemed a very popular feature. They had already arranged with several cadets at premiums of 300 guineas, and were in negotiation with others; and the company would also act as agents for the sale of properties, as also agents for absentees. When their land became covered with settlements, farms, and towns, it would be difficult to be too sanguine as to the value of their shares in years to come."

What a private company is doing in New Zealand government could easily do here. Capitalists, under a system of grants, could be induced to employ their energies in the same direction in Australia.

Under a system assimilating in character to that at work in the northern parts of India, the waste land could be given out on an improving tenure. The government lease would convey an indisputable right to the soil, negotiable, vendible, and transferable, burdened only with the contribution to the state of the land revenue cess, which at first infinitesimal, or even dormant, would be elastic and expand as value increased. Under a proper classification lands would be assessed in proportion to their productiveness.
Pastoral lands would contribute a merely nominal rent at first, determined by demand for pasture, price of stock, contiguity to market, water, and other modifying circumstances. The first settlement should err rather on the side of leniency. Yet under a fixed tenure, the improvement of runs, such as the laying down of foreign grasses, fencing, conservation of water, road-making and clearing, would proceed with such vigour that the nominal rent of even, say, one penny to sixpence per acre, while it would bring in a much larger revenue than even the forced sale of lands now brings in, would never be felt by the pastoral tenants. Along the lines of railways which, by the guaranteed employment of capital, would reticulate the country as with a vast net, manufacturing villages and mining towns would spring up as swiftly and vigorously as ever they did in America's palmiest days. Along the coasts, as the timber-getters retired deeper and deeper into the forests, the sturdy ploughman would furrow up the soil, as is even now being done in Canada, and fishing and agricultural villages would nestle beneath every sheltering bluff and headland.

Under proper restrictions, such as have been found to work well elsewhere, the millions of India, if the Chinese are objected to, might send their quota of busy pioneers to construct railways, reservoirs, embankments, and roads. Everywhere in their wake would flock the struggling yeomen and toiling hinds of England, panting for a free and plenteous land, where they would enjoy the fruits of their labours, still under the welcome shadow of the British flag, surrounded by brethren, akin in blood, religion, speech, and laws, with patient and intelligent fellow-subjects doing all the preliminary rough work for them. They would still preserve their heritage in the glorious annals of our tight little island, and though dwelling in the Antipodes, would retain the traditions, the historical associations, the Constitution of the older England.

Under the new regime let us imagine a district surveyed in course of such a settlement as has been indicated. Existing interests have been commuted and consolidated, and the exact title of each settler to the land he occupies is finally determined. The rent he is to pay to government has been equitably ascertained, and reasonably apportioned; and its incidence is felt as no more than a spur to the settler to make the most of his land, and apply his labour and capital as efficiently as he can to its development. "Whatever outlay he now incurs is to be for his own future benefit, and for those who succeed him, and is not hanging in the precarious balance of party favour, or at the mercy of every ragged selector who may levy black mail, under threat of an application to the Lands Department for a conditional purchase right. A road cess of perhaps a farthing an acre is being raised, and all the local funds are spent in the district in which they are collected, under the administration of the Local Land Board, or County Roads Trust. This is composed of men who know the wants of the district, and who look on their position as the highest award they can get from their fellows for their public spirit and the coveted recompense for independence, integrity, and zeal for the public service. Not merely the guerdon for unlimited brass—lavish promise, and reckless bidding for popularity, as is too often the case now.

An education cess would be likewise levied and administered, and beyond these no further taxes of any sort would be necessary, unless, maybe, a moderate customs tariff, to reach the mercantile and purely commercial classes. All else would easily and naturally spring from an elastic, ever-increasing, perpetual land revenue.

An equitable system of settlement, under which each title would be granted direct from the state, subject to a periodic rearrangement of the tribute, derivable from the unearned increment of the land, would tend to reconcile all the present conflicting interests, and make it the object of the land-holder to improve his holding to the utmost limit. Having fixity of tenure, the small farmer knows what he is doing. His little capital is not dissipated or absorbed in the payment of a lump sum of purchase-money, half of which may possibly be raised under a ruinous mortgage. On an improving lease he might be allowed, as, say, waste lands tenants in Oudh were allowed, to cultivate rent free for the first two or three years. His improvements would be sufficient security to the state, and a guarantee for his perseverance .Rules could easily be formulated, under which he would have to bring so much land under reclamation within a certain time, the penalty to be resumption. The Local Land Board would act in much the same way as the collector or deputy-commissioner in India. Local government would see that rules were kept. There would be a constant, intelligent, yet kindly supervision—culture would be applied as best suited the requirements of the country. When a tenant had worked up to the terms of his grant or contract, he might be allowed an area equal to that he had reclaimed, or more if necessary, to be held on a small grazing rental, and in this way pastoral and agricultural settlement might go hand in hand where the country was suitable.

All the present objectionable features of our land system would be done away with. To recapitulate shortly, the land would be accurately measured, classified according to quality, productiveness, position, &c. During the settlement the local land office, or revenue court, would be open to receive all objections. These would be carefully considered, and the local officers being acquainted practically with the bearings of each case, any malfeasance or miscarriage of justice would be impossible under righteous administration. Appeal might be allowed in certain cases to the head board of revenue in Sydney. The land would yield, from a rental ranging from a penny to a shilling an acre, a greater revenue than is now received from all the forced sales and suicidal alienation that is going on. Here would be indeed a model land tax, moderate in its incidence, and harmless in its operation. It would be at once the fairest and most far-reaching system of raising a revenue. It would press lightly on the poor. It would make the revenue elastic, as the coffers of the State would participate in the advancing wealth and prosperity of the country. Under a proper system of registration, well organized and righteously administered, it would be inoffensive in its operation, and inexpensive in its collection.

It is constantly objected, to the advocates of a permanent land tax, that land is so difficult to clear here. The expense of bringing it under cultivation is so enormous that it is altogether a different problem to solve from any in India, where the soil is made productive with little trouble or preparation, and where, moreover, labour is so plentiful. Men say that if after all our trouble and expense here, we are still to be saddled with a land tax, we had better not clear the land at all. Is no return, then, to be made to the State for protection, laws, and peaceful occupation ? At first tlie tax need only be proportionate to ths value of the land. At the most it would only bear an infinitesimal proportion to the real value of the annual produce, but this grand principle should never be lost sight of in any system of settlement, and should form a sine qua non in any future legislation on the subject, namely, the inalienable right of the State to a share of the unearned increment of the land; and the liability of the land to contribute a just portion thereof in perpetuity, but liable to preconcerted periodic rearrangements.

Under the present system every man's hand is against his neighbours. A gambling spirit pervades all classes. Men trust to succeed by swindling combinations, by lucky ventures, by audacious speculations and fraudulent insolvencies, rather than by effort and thrift. There is a great tendency to multiply shops and stores, and to float bubble companies, and it is the aim of most workmen to leave manual labour and become petty traders. Hence the multiplication of middle men of all kinds. One great ambition of the restless tradesman is to become a publican, or jobbing speculator; and so hard, productive work is neglected, and the whole community is penetrated by an uneasy desire for swift fortune and rapid acquisition.

There is, again, a prevalent tendency, very much to be deplored, to centralize in the towns. There is even an increasing agglomeration of the masses in the great centres of population. There is really no rural population worthy the name in the colony. Men would rather speculate in land than cultivate it, and the mighty danger of large estates, of the accumulation of the land into few hands, daily looms nearer and nearer, and becomes more menacing. By our "tenant-right" tenure we would give to all comers, the proletariate included, a stake in the country. The workmen in the towns—the merchant, the trader, the shopkeeper, could each send his son to cultivate his little farm, and abundant labour would be procurable under a proper system of imported fellow-subjects to enable him to comply with every condition, with the certainty of a remunerative result to all concerned.

As it now is, we have a vast, ever-increasing class springing up with no stake in the country at all; a nomadic Ishmaelitish race, with no fixed residence, no fixed aim, thriftless, discontented, ill-educated, self-indulgent. Every man in this disorganized growing rabble has his vote. Herein lies the germ of future troubles. A proletariate is growing up, having no stake in the permanent welfare and progress of the colony—congregating in the large towns—having an uncertain livelihood. What are we to do with them? They cannot purchase land under the present Act. They are barred by the residence, improvement, and purchase clauses, and by the scarcity of labour, from tackling agriculture with any degree of success. What, then, is to be done?

Would it not be well, side by side with our settlement, and bestowal of tenant-right titles, on such as wished them, to try also the American plan of inviting foreign capital in the prosecution of public works— giving grants of land, subject to the land cess, in return, and let public companies do for us what they have done, and are doing, for Russia, England, France, America, Belgium, Egypt, India, and all the sensible countries that have invited the aid of the capitalist and engineer.

I would have low cost railways made by British capital, extending over the face of the country, where-ever there was good land. I would in return for the construction of the lines and public works, make over blocks of land, say, alternate blocks of ten miles square to the companies, under similar, though perhaps easier, rules as to settlement and payment of revenue, as the ordinary settlement of the country. I would, under a proper system of careful immigration enactments, allow the companies to import abundant coolie or other labour—found villages and towns. And by opening out and preparing the country, attract hither the hosts of half-starved, poorly paid artisans, mill workers, and labouring hinds, from the overcrowded old country. If it be objected that these are not the men we want in a new land of promise such as ours, 1 would ask would not the stalwart navvy, the intelligent mill-worker, ay, even the industrious, tractable, patient Hindoo, be better as a legitimate State invest-, ment, than the present' nomadic, half-educated, semi-civilized Ishmaelites, who live by levying black mail from their richer neighbours, who swell the ranks of the dissolute and criminal.

Give charters to capitalists; grants of land under condition of the State sharing in the enhanced value of the estate; a permanent settlement to present owners founded on a wise and equitable principle of commutation. Map out your country into areas fit for settlement. Give leases in the pastoral tracts with fixity of tenure, and a fair assessment of rent. Establish your local Boards ; assist immigration ; open out public works of all sorts by foreign capital, and with State guarantees; settle your farmers on the soil, and give them their tenant right; assist them with advances, if need be, from a national agricultural bank, advances to be made under sanction of the local Board, resumption of improvements as security. And then, indeed, Australia might become the paradise of the willing pioneer; the land of promise to the downtrodden, struggling, yet hopeful, self-reliant worker. Then, indeed, would a nation of sturdy yeomen spring to life under the glittering splendour of the Australian sun, and the place of the dummy, the truculent selector, the scheming squatter and perjured politician, would know them no more.

After the first ten years of such a settlement as we have imperfectly tried to suggest, we come back to look on the results. What a change has come over the once arid wilderness of grass and scrub and solitary tangled bush! Capital and labour have metamorphosed the country. Populous towns and smiling villages dot the land. Fenced fields stretch in unbroken leagues, covered with waving crops; and ever-fresh experiments in the government and corporate farms are opening out new industries, and acclimatizing new products every day. The old feud between squatter and selector has died out, and the herds of the former browse peacefully on the uplands, or fatten in the well-watered, well-grassed paddocks, while the curling smoke from countless homesteads curls peacefully into the crisp, still atmosphere, speaking of prosperity and rural content. The farmer and the trader cultivate friendly relations, and commerce and agriculture go hand in hand. Factory chimneys now pierce the sky in every district, and the towns are resonant with the clang and rattle of machinery, giving employment to hosts of hardy operatives, and transforming the raw products of the land into all the countless creations of ingenuity and skill. Tlie country is covered with a network of roads, canals, and railways. Coal, iron, copper, and other mines are being developed. On the slopes of the distant hills young plantations of olives, cork-trees, teak, mahogany, box, mulberry, and other hard woods, fruit-trees, and commercially valuable timbers are struggling vigorously into life. Potteries, tanneries, oil, sugar, and paper mills, tea gardens, coffee, cinchona, and indigo plantations are springing up in every suitable locality. The people—educated into a sense of their responsibilities, and enjoying all the glories and liberty of the British constitution, with an elastic revenue, laws wisely administered, and represented in the councils of the nation by the wisest, most unselfish, and patriotic men in the community, cemented to India and the other parts of the empire by a community of interests, laws, and loyal fealty to Great Britain—are fast taking their place in the van of the rising nations of the earth. Over mountain and sea, from teeming wave and fertile plain, from millions of contented peasantry, comfortable operatives, prosperous farmers and settlers, ascends the prayer that is its own answer, by living hope, and the prophecy that is its own fulfilment, by effort and self-reliance— Advance, Australia.


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