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3-205 (Original)

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addressee author,male,The Age,un
Newspaper Article
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Newspapers & Broadsides
Clark, 1975
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What has squatting done - what is it doing now - what will it ever do - for Victoria? How often have we put these questions? And how often have we placed on record our convictions, and the proofs of our convictions, that squatting was slow death not merely to the prosperity but even to the very existence of this colony, as a self-sustaining community. But we have for the most part presented the question in its political and social aspect. Its commercial aspect - that which refers to its direct monetary value as an institution, professing to utilize a large portion of the public material resources of the country - has not, however, been hitherto put before the public eye in that balance sheet fashion, which supplies the plainest and most easily understood view of the matter. And fitly enough it has been reserved for a commercial man, who is also a member of the Legislature, first to bring the question under the notice of the public in that way which is at once the most intelligible, the most striking, and the most mercantile method. The able communication from Mr. ROLFE, the member of the Upper House, which we published in our columns yesterday, put this squatting question before the public fairly upon its merits as a matter of profit and loss to the country as respects pounds, shillings, and pence. [107] And if there is any one, who has read that communication, that can come to the conclusion that squatting should not be put an end to, as being a gigantic evil of the most ruinous kind to the common weal, such a perverse opinionist is not a person to be reasoned with on the subject. He is beyond the reach of reason. None, in fact, but a madman, or one immediately interested in the maintainance of the evil, will refuse to admit that Mr. ROLFE makes out a case against the squatters which is wholly incontrovertible. He condenses the facts and figures disclosed by the latest official returns on the subject; and he shows the following startling results. Out of the 31,467,816 acres in the hands of the squatters as licensed runs, the yield or produce obtained for home consumption in the colony and for export, is of the net value of only £1,997,469, or at the rate of 1s. 34d. per acre. And for the exclusive privilege of thus keeping down the produce of the soil of the country to the smallest quantity and value possible, the squatters pay a fee of twopence per acre to the Government. And at this incredibly low figure they hold in their possession the whole of the available or accessible public lands of the country - an area, in fact, comprising more than one-half the extent of the entire territory which constitutes the colony. Let the public for a moment dwell upon these two facts. A small body of individuals occupy the whole of the land of the colony at a charge or rent of 2d. per acre per annum, and the entire value of the produce which they take out of this vast tract of land is 1s. 3 .5d. per acre per annum. Is it any wonder we are a poor, insolvent community? We seem to have undertaken, as a community, the task of solving the problem of how to subsist in an organized 'state of society upon the scantiest sustenance conceivable, pretty much after the style of the Yankee's horse, which by practice had come to be able to live upon one straw a-day.
Thirty millions of acres and upwards - a region of country larger than Belgium and Holland put together - possessing some of the most fertile soil, and one of the finest climates, in the world, producing as its utmost yield, food and other commodities to the value of 1s. 34d. per acre! Would the thing be credible if it Were not supported by the irrefragable testimony of official and carefully compiled returns? In the United Kingdom, the average rent which those who occupy the land as farmers, grazers, &c., pay to the owners of the soil is about £2 per acre per annum. In Australia it is 2d. per acre per annum. In the United Kingdom, besides this charge for rent to the landlord, the soil also bears, in addition, such charges as tithes, assessed taxes, county rates, poor rates, and so forth. And yet, with all these burdens upon it, the soil yields, in addition, food for millions of people, and likewise a good living and handsome profit to the agriculturist who tills it, or the grazier who feeds his stock upon it. With us here in Australia, the entire charge upon the land - no capital having been even expended in purchasing the fee-simple - amounts only to the paltry sum of 2d. per acre, and yet those who occupy 30,000,000 of acres of it on these absurdly low terms cannot supply half-a-million of people with food, nor take more produce out of the soil than what is of the value of 1s. 3.5d. per acre. [108] How many hundreds of tons of gold should we raise annually to save us from national bankruptcy under such an extraordinary system of State economy, if persisted in? There is something positively so monstrous and so passing belief in such a condition of things being tolerated by a civilised community for any length of time, that we find it necessary to reproduce some of Mr. Rolfe's figures, in order to satisfy the public that there is no exaggeration whatever in the way we put the matter. Mr. ROLFE says: - I find by the last returns, thirty one millions four hundred and sixty seven thousand eight hundred and sixteen acres of Crown lands were held by squatters in runs, and the quantity of stock upon this land in March, 1860, was as follows: - Sheep, 5,119,230; cattle, 387,845; horses, 17,187; together, 5,524,262. According to these returns, it takes five acres and three quarters to keep one animal. We imported for the year 1859 from the adjoining colonies: - Sheep, 415,937; cattle, 126,144; horses, 4,446; together, 546,527. The amount paid by the squatters annually for these 31,467,816 acres is, by assessment, £250,000; and by depasturing licences, £20,000; together, £270,000, being an average of rather less than two pence per acre.
The extent of country occupied by the squatters, and the annual charge they have to pay to the Government for that occupation, being thus shown, together with the amount of the capital invested by these "Sons of fortune" in their occupation of the soil, the next consideration is, what is the gain realised by the country out of this branch of industry, in the form of produce for home consumption and for export. And Mr. ROLFE shows this in the following statement:
The articles for export from this source are wool, hides, skins, tallow, bones, horns, and hoofs.
The exports for 1859 were:- [...]
Then if we add to this the value of the balance between the imported stock and that slaughtered for consumption, we shall arrive at an approximate benefit to the community. The cattle slaughtered were, in 1859, 165,730; the imported cattle were, in 1859, 126,169; the balance is 39,361, which taken at an average of £6 per head, will be £237,366. The sheep slaughtered were 745,457; imported, 415,939; leaving a balance of 329,518, which at 15s. per head will be £247,158. Adding these two amounts to the exports will be £2,436,111, apparently the value of produce raised by squatters in this colony, that is to say, exported, £1,952,087; consumed us the colony, £484,524. [109] [...]
We have extracted fully from Mr. Role's communication the figures which he has taken from official returns, and upon which he founds his indictment, from the mercantile point of view, against the squatters and the squatting system, in order than an intelligent commercial man's opinion upon that system, as a- paying concern, may stand out clearly on its own merits before the public eye. And in so marshalling the heads of the mercantile argument on the topic, we know that we put the matter forward in the way that will have most weight with all classes of the community. [110] Let them then consider the subject well, and ask themselves if such a wretched result as is there placed before them is enough to induce them to tolerate the maintenance of squatting one moment beyond its natural term of existence in the present year of 1861?