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2-322 (Original)

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author,male,Select Committee on Minimum Upset Price of Land,un addressee
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Clark, 1977
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It appears from the testimony of all the witnesses examined - whether favourable or unfavourable to the maintenance of a high minimum price - and even from the Despatches of Sir George Gipps himself, that the sum of £1 does not in any degree, represent the exchangeable value of an acre of land in New South Wales. The declaration of Parliament, therefore, that land shall not be sold till it realize £1 an acre, is a declaration that land shall not be sold till it will realize more than it is worth; in other words, that except under very particular circumstances, land shall not be sold at all. That such has been the practical effect of the measure will be evident from the following table of the sums realized from the sale of land since the year 1837. [259] [269]
It is also the interest of Government to attract capital. In this also it has signally overreached itself. The principle of a uniform fixed price contains in it this objection, that that price must be tolerably high Since upon it alone the Government relies to protect its interests, but it has the countervailing advantages of certainty of amount and facility of operation. The principle of sale by auction has not these advantages, but it offers to the capitalist the attraction of referring not to any arbitrary standard, but to fair competition to fix the value. The Government has rejected all that is attractive in each of these systems, and retained only what is repulsive. Enough of the fixed price is retained to make the purchaser sure that he will not get the land cheap; enough of the principle of competition to make him uncertain whether he shall get it at all.
The facilities of steam and railway communication are gradually drawing mankind together, and countries possessing wild lands for sale, are beginning to enter into competition with each other. It is becoming daily more impossible to regard this as an isolated question. In determining the price of land, the competition of other countries ought not to be left out of sight. At the Cape of Good Hope, land can be obtained for one-tenth, in Canada for one-fourth, and, as it appears recently, in the United States, for one-fortieth of the Sum demanded for a like quantity here. In utter defiance of the principles of political economy, it is expected that persons will give for our poor and inaccessible land four, five, ten, or forty times the price at which nearer and more accessible land may be obtained. It is assumed that one acre of land in Australia equals in value four in Canada, five in the United States, ten at the Cape of Good Hope, and forty in the territory recently ceded to the United States by the Chacktaw Indians. Your Committee apprehend, that as regards the greater part of the lands of this Colony, it is perfectly immaterial whether the minimum price fixed be £1 or £20 an acre. The former price is shown, by reason and experience, to be utterly unattainable, and the latter is no more.
Your Committee would wish to be understood as by no means undervaluing the great advantages derived by the Colony from pastoral pursuits, but they are desirous of expressing their opinion that the Home Government, by prohibiting the sale of land, has given an undue stimulus to those pursuits, and undue discouragement to agriculture and settled industry. The prohibition of the purchase of land has aggravated that tendency to dispersion which it was designed to counteract. The true policy, in the opinion of your Committee, is neither to stimulate nor check this tendency to dispersion which is the natural precursor of that state of society in which the tendency to concentration arises. Unhappily the Government has not observed this rule. [261] In its anxiety to concentrate the population, it has placed a price on land which rendered it impossible for those who occupied it, to occupy as purchasers. The occupation has been conceded, the proprietorship has been withheld, and thus has the industry of the Colony been forced into the channel most consistent with occupation without title, and the policy which ambitiously aimed at forcing the Colonists prematurely be become villagers and agriculturists, has resulted in compelling them to become shepherds and herdsmen. Had the prohibitory price thus imposed been the result of a sincere though mistaken conviction, your Committee, while deprecating its impolicy, could not have murmured at its injustice. But it is now notorious in the Colony, and can be proved by unquestionable evidence, that it was not with a view to the welfare of New South Wales, but of South Australia, that this obnoxious law was passed. Colonel Torrens and his brother Commissioners, the founders of the South Australian Colony, felt that it would be impossible to obtain £1 an acre for land there, while land of the same quality could be obtained at 5s. an acre here. They felt that whatever were the merits of their scheme, it would not bear the test of the free trade principle of competition, and they sacrificed, without remorse or hesitation, the present and actual interests of the older Colony, to the future and, as it has turned out, visionary prospects of the younger. Thus it happens that 200,000 persons are impoverished, that their interests may not stand in the way of the imaginary interests of 25,000; and while Colony after Colony has been emancipated from the £1 an acre system, New South Wales has been unable to obtain her deliverance, precisely because, to her, that deliverance would be most valuable. Van Diemen's Land is of too small extent - New Zealand is too distant - to impair, by their competition, the working of the £1 an acre system in South Australia. If the land of New South Wales were rich, the continuance of the price would be a matter of indifference; if the land were small in quantity, the reduction of the price would be unimportant; it is the great quantity and poor quality of the land - the very causes which render the high price ruinous to New South Wales, - that constitute its principal attractions in the eyes of the South Australian Commissioners.
But happy would it have been for the Colony if the ruin of her Land Fund, the dispersion of her people, the stoppage of Immigration, and the dissemination of a spirit of just discontent, had been the only results of this high minimum price. The most unforeseen but by far the most serious result of this prohibitory policy is embodied in the Act of the Imperial Parliament, 10 Vic, ch. 10, and the Land Orders issued under it, which have been referred to your Committee by a vote of the Council. [262]
Your Committee have hitherto considered the minimum price of Crown Land as a separate question; they now proceed to regard it in its collateral effects, and to show how the terms on which land is sold influence the tenure on which unsold land is occupied. It was in the power of the Imperial Parliament to enact that land should not be sold for less than £1 an acre, but there, unfortunately, its power stops; it could not make the land worth the sum, nor declare, because it was unsold, it should be unoccupied, nor prevent those who thus occupied it from drawing the inferences which their situation naturally suggested. Those inferences were only too obvious and too reasonable. The squatters, forced to occupy and forbidden to buy - forbidden, by the policy of the Government, to acquire lands by purchase, and allowed to occupy till that impossible event should take place, saw that they had obtained, through the impossibility of purchase, all that a purchase could have given them, and that the Law which rendered these lands unsaleable virtually gave them away to their present occupants. Hence arose a party in the Colony unknown before, who began to feel that they had a vested interest in maintaining the prohibitory price, as a guarantee that their occupation would never be disturbed. The policy of Sir George Gipps, who endeavoured to counteract the growing feeling of security entertained by the occupants of Waste Lands, not by abrogating the prohibitory law on which it rested, but by an arbitrary strain of the powers of the Executive, served only to accelerate the crisis which nothing but a repeal of that law could prevent. The result has been, that the Home Government has been induced to take another step in advance, and by treating the imagination of £1 an acre as a reality, and leasing the Crown Lands to their present occupants till sold at £1 an acre, has in a manner alienated the land possessions of the British Crown in New South Wales. The most cursory perusal of the Evidence appended to this Report, will satisfy any one that this is the opinion of those, alike, who approve and who disapprove of the Land Orders; nay, more, that it is this opinion, in which they both agree, which induces them to approve or disapprove. The settlers object to these Orders, because they confiscate the lands of the Colony; the squatters approve of them, because they see no limit to the term of their occupation under them. Be it for good or for evil, it should clearly be understood that this is the effect unanimously attributed in the Colony to these Land Orders.
Your Committee now proceed to examine these Orders in detail, and first they would observe, that if the minimum upset price of an acre is to be maintained, the lands are substantially divided by these Orders only into two classes - the confiscated and unconfiscated; the former being equivalent to the intermediate and] unsettled, the latter to the settled districts. [263 If land is to remain in the possession of its present occupant till sold at £1 an acre, it matters not whether he hold a lease for eight or fourteen years - whether it is liable to be put up at auction at the end of every year, or at the end of every fourteenth year - or whether he have or have not a right of pre-emption. It is his, and his for ever, not because his title is good, but because no one will be in a condition to avail himself of its defects. The auction will never be demanded, the right of pre-emption will never be exercised, for no one will be foolish enough to buy that which is his own already without purchase. The efficacy of the minimum price of £1 an acre in confiscating is so complete, that the grant of a renewable lease of fourteen years adds little to it. It is only in the event of a reduction in the minimum upset price that any practical difference will arise between the intermediate and unsettled districts. If that reduction be withheld, they may both be treated as one district, a district containing lands alienated from the Crown as completely as by the most solemn instrument of sale.
Now what species of ownership do these leases confer? That it is an ownership little short of freehold appears abundantly from the evidence of those who expect to be their recipients. It appears, therefore, that the danger of abuse is exactly equal in the one case and in the other. The next evil of the system of grants mentioned by His Lordship is, that Government must either suffer all desirable land to be permanently appropriated, or interfere with the free management of private property; In the present instance Government has done both these things; it has appropriated about 180,000,000 of acres of land to about 1,800 persons, and that in a country whose population is not 200,000, and it has endowed this favored class with land at the rate of 100,000 acres per head, in a country where there is one inhabitant to every 100,000 acres; this certainly has the appearance of being premature. The Government has coupled this premature appropriation with a regulation prohibiting agriculture, which cannot be more aptly described, than in the Words of the Despatch, "as greatly interfering with that free management of their own property by individuals, which is so essential to its improvement". The next evil the Despatch mentions is dispersion; and surely a system which allots on an average 100,000 acres to a single individual cannot, so far as dispersion is concerned, be outdone by the wildest abuse of free grants. Government does not leave men to themselves, but enforces dispersion, while it thinks it is compelling concentration. Cooperation, the division of labor, religious and secular instruction, are all out of the question. Your Committee may here remark, that the above enumerated ill effects of the system of grants, however much they may have been felt in other Colonies, have been little experienced in Australia. [264] Hitherto this colony has not had to complain of the accumulation of landed property in the hands of the few to the exclusion of the many, and of the consequent dispersion and stagnation of improvement. It is only since the establishment of the high minimum price, that the Colony has been threatened with these evils, and it certainly does strike your Committee as strange to find the minimum price thus advocated, on the ground of its tendency to prevent those very disorders of which it is the sole and all sufficing cause.
Your Committee cannot acquiesce in the proposition in the Despatch, that a high price of land and the squatting system will mutually support each other. It appears to them impossible the two systems can work efficiently together. They never have done so in this Colony. If the price be high the selling part of the system is in abeyance, and the squatting part alone in operation, and the effect will undoubtedly be, that instead of the high price maintaining the squatting system, it will convert it into permanent ownership. Nor will the squatting system maintain the high price, since it is obvious that the best way to deter men from acquiring a permanent ownership on hard terms, is to give them a temporary occupation on easy terms; if the minimum price be low, the former will be the case; if high, the latter. In no case can the systems of sale, and occupation without sale, mutually support each other. Sale is the antagonist of temporary occupation, and this, in turn, the antagonist of sale. If sale be brisk, it destroys temporary occupation; if temporary occupation be prevalent, it deters sale; they are like the scales of a balance, one of which must be depressed if the other be elevated.