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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 12

Calling of the Convention

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Calling of the Convention.

The following was the first paper issued suggesting the calling of the Convention. It met with a response of general approbation from all the parties to whom it was addressed:—

230 Elizabeth street Melbourne, 20th June, 1857.

Dear Sir,—As the danger of the Public Lands being handed over, in perpetuity, to the present occupants is imminent—the Bill for that purpose having passed its second reading—I am requested by the Committee of the Victoria Land League respectfully to ask your opinion and advice on the desirableness and practicability of holding, on an early day, in Melbourne, or some central place, a Congregational Assembly of Delegates chosen from every district and town in the colony, to deliberate and determine some plan of united action, by which this impending calamity may be averted, and immediate steps taken to adjust, on a comprehensive, liberal, and equitable basis, the all-important question of the Land, both as it regards the miner, the agriculturist, and the squatter.

I beg to assure you that any suggestions you may kindly offer will be duly appreciated and acknowledged by the Committee of the League. An early answer will oblige.

I have the honor to be, dear sir, your most obedient servant,

To———.

J. J. Walsh

, Hon. Sec.

The following requisition was afterwards published in the public papers:—

Convention of Delegates.

The various districts and towns throughout Victoria are respectfully invited to elect Delegates to meet in Congress, in Melbourne, on 15th July, to deliberate and determine a plan of united action, by which the Land Bill now before the Legislature may be defeated; and steps taken to adjust, on a broad, liberal, and equitable basis, the all-important question of the Public Lands, as regards the miner, the agriculturist, and the squatter.

By order of the Committee of the Victoria Land League,

Melbourne, 22nd June, 1857.

J. J. Walsh

, Hon. Sec.

Several letters having been received making inquiries, among other matters, as to the principles on which the Convention was expected to assemble, and whether it was to be considered as adhering to the views of the Land League, the following circular was forwarded in reply to the letters, and sent generally to all parties to whom the first circular had been addressed:—

239 Elizabeth street Melbourne, 1st July, 1857.

Dear Sir,—By desire of the Committee of the Land League, I have the honor to acquaint you that Wednesday, the 15th of July, has been fixed for the Delegates to meet in Convention in Melbourne; the place of meeting to be the Long Room of Keeley's Australasian Hotel, Lonsdale street; the hour, 6 o'clock p.m.

I beg to draw your particular attention to the necessity of having your district adequately re-presented on this occasion: and, with that view, I would most respectfully ask you to exert your influence in getting the people together with as little delay as possible, and urging the necessity of immediate action.

The Committee decline to assign any number of Delegates to any town or district; they prefer to leave this to the judgment and discretion of the residents themselves. It would, however, be exceedingly desirable that as influential a body as possible be deputed to join in the Convention.

We have received several letters inquiring whether the Conference is to be considered as connected with and adhering to the Land League. We beg to say that we do not consider that any Delegate who attends the meeting is bound to any principles, but to represent the opinions and page 2 sympathies of his district. The object of the meeting is to gather and concentrate the opinion of the country; to defeat the present Land Bill; and to originate such a scheme as will be acceptable to the people and may fitly embody the future land policy of the colony.

At the same time we wish respectfully to impress upon you that the country has already suffered deeply from vague ideas; and that the use of mere general expressions has opened wide the gate to political falsehood and betrayal. All our present members have been returned on the promise of a "liberal and comprehensive" land policy. We submit that what we now want is an "explicit and intelligible" policy, and that the members of the present Convention should be sent forward on principles sufficiently definite to shape a well-defined and decided scheme that the country shall demand as one man.

There are certain leading principles that will be brought for discussion before the Convention. They are already more or less familiar to the public mind. The Committee hope that they will be tested, and made the subject of discussion in the several districts, and that the delegates will come prepared to represent the opinion of the districts upon them. We beg to suggest the following principles for consideration:—

As Regards the Agricultural Settlement of the Colony we beg leave to submit—
1That the actual cultivator should be allowed to select for himself, to the extent of a mo-derate-sized farm, the lands best suited to his purpose, wherever they may be found un-alienated in the colony. We recognise the fact that some lands in the neighborhood of towns and settlements have already been so long withheld from sale that they have acquired an exceptional value, and will need to be specially dealt with; but for the general lands of the country, we submit that it is equally opposed to the interests of the individual and the interests of the State that the industry of the people should be directed to inferior lands while superior lands remain unfilled.
2We submit that the actual cultivator should be enabled to enter upon his land the moment he has selected it, at a known uniform price, withont auction. We submit that the auction system should be retained merely as a means of determining a preference when capitalist competes with capitalist.

As Regards the Unalienated Grass Lands of the Colony, we Submit—

That these should not be subject to any exclusive occupation. We submit that the best use that can be made of them, for the benefit of all, is to have them open to all, as the gold fields are.

We hope that this latter point will engage the especial attention of the Delegates. This Committee begs respectfully to state that they are unanimously of opinion that there can be no effective land reform as long as the unalienated lands are the subject of any Exclusive Occupation for pastoral purposes.

We believe that the opinion of the country is unanimous that the present system of squatting should not be permitted to endure. But Another Question will be submitted to the Convention;—it is this: Ought another system of squatting be permitted to take its place that shall differ from it only in this, that the runs shall be let by auction, and the number of the runs be increased by breaking up some of the present larger ones. The doctrine begins to be mooted that this should form part of a liberal land scheme. The Convention will have to pronounce upon this question. We submit it respectfully now as the opinion of this Committee, that this suggestion should Receive no Countenance from the people; that to exchange 700 squatters, with runs averaging 60,000 acres each, for 4000 squatters, with runs averaging 10,000 acres each, would be to make our last state worse than our first. If an army of occupation, 700 strong, has been found difficult to dislodge, we submit that the country would have little chance in attempting to cope with an army 4000 strong.

As grass lands merely, we submit that the country should no more ren out its grass fields than its gold fields. But the unalienated Crown lands are more than mere grass fields; they are the fields for the future settlement of a population. Unless these lands Remain Open for the choice of the settler as long as they are unalienated, there can be No Free Settlement. If an exclusive grazing occupation is permitted to precede settlement, then the public must stand outside the fence, as now, until it is the pleasure of the Government Board, dominated as it will be by squatter influence, from time to time to go in and cut them a slice.

It is said that a large revenue could be realised by letting the runs by auction; but we submit that this should form no consideration to induce the people of the colony to perpetuate squatting in this shape. In this respect there is no parallelism between an individual proprietor and a State. An individual can make a revenue from his lands only by letting them; a State makes revenue out of its lands by settling them. If settlement is discouraged, every pound of Rent gained is several pounds of Revenue lost: to a State, therefore, rent should not constitute even a temptation to thus obstructing the industry of its citizens.

We have dwelt thus long upon this idea—the introducing a new race of squatters by letting the unalienated Crown Lands by auction—because we believe it to be a coming danger, and one that ought to be forestalled by the Convention.

We do not pretend to enumerate all the subjects that are likely to be brought for discussion before the Convention, but we have been anxious to bring these leading topics early to your notice, that you might afford us the advantage of having them discussed in your neighborhood, and that page 3 your Delegates might come prepared to speak with confidence the opinion of the district they represent.

We ask, then, your particular attention to these points:—
1Free selection for the actual settler at one uniform price, without auction.
2All unalienated Crown Lauds to constitute an open country of pasturage, free to the people.
3No new pastoral tenancies to be created when the lands are resumed from the present tenants.

The further topics of Pre-Emptive Right, Upset Price, Taxation of all Purchased Land, &c., &c., we cannot touch within the compass of a circular.

I have the honor to be, dear Sir, your obedient servant,

J. J. Walsh

, Hon. Sec.