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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 29

Its Liabilities

page 4

Its Liabilities.

In many districts, this expenditure has been anticipated: railways have been made in and to them, and immigrants brought in, so as to make even the inferior land worth buying at the public price, which was not so before. This is notably the case in the "land districts" of Canterbury and Otago, which were formerly two of nine separate "Provinces," each of which, as a district, still maintains its own distinctive land regulations, price of land, and land fund.

A large amount of debt has been incurred by the Colony, in order to make, in those two districts alone, 632 miles of railways now open for traffic—a property which cost upwards of three millions to create—besides 100 miles more to be opened by the end of next June; and also a large expenditure on roads, bridges, public buildings, and harbour and other works, and on the importation of labourers and their families—85,000 souls into the colony, 21,314 into Canterbury alone. The Land Fund of those districts, especially that of Canterbury, from sales of public land, is very large. In Canterbury alone, the Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce stated on the 28th August, 1877, that 323,720 acres had been purchased "during the last 12 months," yielding £617,440 to the Land Fund; and the sales at Christchurch have continued since then at the rate of from £10,000 to £20,000 and £30,000, and sometimes £'10,000 weekly.

New Zealand does not, like the United States, possess a boundless extent of public land. The Surveyor-General has furnished Parliament with an estimate of the acreage and value of the unsold land belonging to the Colony on the 31st. August, 1877. It consisted of 29,341,748 acres, which he valued for public revenue purposes at £16,079,125; besides the Fiord County, whose area is 1,903,335 acres, but which, as not sufficiently explored, he does net attempt to value. That county, however, is believed to consist of the most rugged, and unless minerals should be found in it, "worthless land in New Zealand; and 2s. 6d. an acre is probably a fair present value to put upon it. This would bring the value of the whole public landed estate to an amount a little exceeding sixteen and a quarter millions. The land sales during the last four months of the year will have reduced it again to about sixteen millions. So that, at the end of 1877, the public landed estate of the Colony could hardly be reckoned upon as worth more than two-thirds of its public debt, which recent financial statements describe as likely to be twenty-four millions by the time all the public works already authorised shall have been completed.

Moreover, the more land becomes private property, the less becomes the annual rent paid to the State by runholders. The Canterbury pasturage rents alone amounted at one time to £50,000 a year. The late Colonial Treasurer estimated them at only £38,000 for the current year.

The Land Fund in each district ought to be held liable for at least the interest and sinking fund of the borrowed money spent in making the land in that district valuable; the balance, if any, (after an exceptional deduction, to be named further on) to be spent on public works within the district, or in immigration to it. Not only for the whole cost of "peace, order, and good government," but also for the repayment of a large portion of our indebtedness, it is clear that we must chiefly rely on the