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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 12

Appendix. — Speech of Mr. Haines in the Year 1852, at Geelong

page 30


Speech of Mr. Haines in the Year 1852, at Geelong.

The Council desires to record the following speech of present Chief Secretary, Mr. Haines, delivered in the year 1852, at Geelong. They think the document worth preserving, as a monument of the inconsistency and bad faith of the authors of the Government Land Bill.

Mr. Haines said he should first of all proceed to read a few extracts from the Orders in Council bearing upon this important question, and as doubts might arise in the minds of some persons as to their real purport, it became highly necessary that every individual in the country should be made thoroughly acquainted with their import. Time would not allow him to read the whole of these Orders in Council, but in selecting some which bore more particularly upon the question, he should take care that the meaning should not be garbled by means of his not quoting their context both before and after. Mr. Haines then proceeded to read to the meeting the sixth section of these Orders in Council, and observed that by that ordinance the Crown lands of the colony in the unsettled districts were effectually locked up from the public, and only made available to a certain exclusive class for the lengthened period of fourteen years. In the intermediate districts the time was limited to eight years, but in both instances it might he again renewed, to the exclusion of the public generally, and to the advantage of one particular class of the people. The effect of these orders would he to prevent any person coming into competition with the lessee. He was under the impression at the time they were framed, that is five years ago, the supposition was that the Crown Lands in the interior of the colony would not be required for occupation like those situated nearer to the sea coast. Such indeed might have been the case formerly, but the late discovery of gold had considerably altered the case. (Cheers.) These lands were about to be thrown open, it was true, but not thrown open to public competition, but merely to a distinct body of men, who are to have the unjust privilege of purchasing the most choice spots at the minimum price of 20s. per acre, (cries of "shame, shame.") He would ask is this fair dealing? (Cries of "no, no.") The favored few were not people who were merely in struggling circumstances, or poor; oh no, they were the individuals who enjoyed more wealth than any other section of the community. The squatters waited until the most favorable opportunity for their raising corn and the other necessaries of life had arrived, and most assuredly, if they obtain the advantages they now seek, they will secure the monopoly in corn as completely as they have that of wool. (Cheers.) The public lands adjacent to the gold-fields were of the utmost importance to the colonists at large, and if put up for sale would meet with ready purchasers from the agricultural and laboring classes. From their proximity to the immense population at the various diggings, they would be preferred to any other for the purpose of laying out small farms, and so reduce the exorbitant rates now paid by the diggers for almost every necessary of life. (Cheers.) If the various provisions of these orders were calculated to act fairly on all branches of the community, without great alteration, there would he an end to the matter. He was not antagonistic to the welfare of the squatters, some of whom he counted among his most intimate friends, but he could not remain inactive when he saw the Government of the country disposed to secure their particular interest at the expense of all others. (Cheers.) The pre-emptive right of these gentlemen, of which we have heard so much, and which is a monstrous invasion of the British Constitution, has already been acted upon even before the leases have been issued. He was no lawyer, but could safely say that such gentlemen who had exercised a pre-emptive right before obtaining their respective leases, have purchased an imaginative property which has never been legally vested in them, and which is not worth a farthing's purchase. They have certainly anticipated their position. The Governor may be called upon by the Orders in Council to assess the value of the Crown Lands, but no provision has been framed rendering it compulsory on him to do so. With respect to the purchasing of lands in the intermediate districts, he would simply make the remark, that, before such land, according to the obnoxious orders, can be exposed to public competition, the lessee, or in other words, the squatter, is to have the chance of picking the best portions, at 20s. the acre. (Cries of "Shame, shame.") In the face of this one great disadvantage, the people would have the option afterwards of securing the inferior portions, by a spirited competition, at perhaps from three to four times the amount paid by the favorite lessee. (Groans.) The number of persons present on this occasion convinced him of the great interest that was felt on this subject. He could have wished, however, the serious consideration of so momentous a question had been delayed for a day or two longer. He had only had intimation on the previous afternoon, and had hardly time to bring more decisive arguments against the iniquity of issuing page 31 the leases. At the present day the squatter grew his mutton and wool upon land contiguous to the more humble fanner, and this upon land which cost him nominally a fraction of half a farthing an acre. Now, at the very least, the farmer has paid 20s. per acre for his land, or was living upon a tenancy at the rate of 2s. per acre per annum. It is to be wondered, then, that these two divided interests should regard one another with a jealous and suspicious eye? This is the case unfortunately in most instances, and though the agriculturist has purchased and paid for his land at so much disadvantage, he cannot, unless his ground is well and securely fenced in, impound the squatter's stock when found trespassing; but the squatter, in his turn, who has obtained the run at so moderate a rate, can do this, and has but too frequently used his power, to the great annoyance of his neighbors; and this has been more frequently done from vindictive motives than from the legitimate desire of preventing trespass. As regards manuring or improving land, the squatter would have a great advantage in turning stock on the ground, whilst the farmer would have to feed his stock upon artificial food. He could adopt no alteration of crops, and would be reduced to the necessity of turning his agricultural land into pastoral. He would ask, what advantage would he be likely to derive under present circumstances from his doing so? (Cheers.) He felt no hesitation in affirming that if the leases were issued to the squatters, and the privileges which they are anticipating granted, then it would cause the ruin of the agricultural farms, and afford a monopoly in grain similar to that which has so long been enjoyed by that class in the article of wool. With regard to the only real argument or objection that he considered worth while attending to against suspending the Orders in Council, the alleged breach of faith involved, he would say, in answer to those who affirmed that promises ought to be held sacred, that they should in the abstract, but should they, in the particular instance now before them, when the carrying such promises into execution would involve disastrous and unhappy consequences upon a whole people? (Cheers, and no, no.) It must be remembered, also, that these promises had been extorted from the British Govern-ment by misrepresentation. On the same principle, it might be said he was bound to pay a promissory note which had been surreptitiously obtained from him. Before he (Mr. Haines) took his seat in the Legislative Council as a nominee, his first inquiry of Government was regarding the issuing of the leases; and the information from that quarter was that they would not be issued. Upon this condition alone did he take his seat in the House; but, since the commencement of the present session, he found that Government had altered their views upon the subject, and they were determined to issue the obnoxious leases, upon ascertaining which, it became his duty to vacate his seat. (Hear, and cheers.) Previous to the gold discovery, neither the squatter nor the Government were anxious to have the leases issued, or the lands put up for sale. A short time ago, a certain gentleman of his acquaintance requested his assistance in the purchasing of land in the intermediate district; on application to the Government, he was plainly informed that no lands could be disposed of until they had been offered to the squatter. But from the altered condition of the colony, and its accumulating population, the squatters perceive that, if they do not at once get their leases, they never will. A few months more, and the Government dare not issue them. With respect to the returns relative to the squatting question called for by the elective members of the Assembly, their non-production has been attributed to the inefficiency of the printing department. He would not hesitate to say that, when they do come forth, such a budget of corruption will be presented to the public gaze, as will astonish the most indifferent and careless observer. The people have only to resist this measure for two or three months longer, and the day will be their own, and this without any violent commotion. They should remember that, if this great object is achieved now, it may be done peacefully, but if not, he prayed to heaven he may not be present to witness the result. (Loud cheers.) He would now propose the first resolution, "That this meeting considers the Orders in Council, which have been framed under the authority of the Act IX. and X. Victoria, opposed to the advancement of the colony and the welfare of the vast majority of the community."

W. H. Williams, Printer, 94 Bourke street East, Melbourne.