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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 30

A Report by the District Committee on the Native Land Act of Mr. Ballance

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A Report by the District Committee on the Native Land Act of Mr. Ballance.

At a meeting of the District Committee and the tribes of Heretaunga held at Waipatu on the 12th of November, 1886, the subject of discussion and inquiry was "The Native Land Administration Act, 1886," passed by the General Assembly of the Colony of New Zealand last Session of Parliament.

The decision of the meeting unanimously was condemnatory of the Act in question. Every page and every section of it was read aloud to the meeting, every paragraph was carefully considered so as to arrive at a proper understanding of the meaning and purport thereof, yet nothing whatever could be discovered in the smallest degree favorable to the Maori and his lands. But it was seen that it was a bad law, a law oppressive and ruinous to the Maories and their lands, a law calculated to thoroughly pauperize the Maori race generally.

The following is an abstract of the conclusions arrived at by the meeting:—

The old law was preferable, inasmuch as it approached nearer to absolute safety. Under it the Maori retained power over his own lands and he alone could determine whether they should be alienated or not; furthermore, the law carefully protected him lest he should be over-reached in leasing or selling his land. In effect the old law said, in reference to Native lands, that there should be no mortgages (i.e., of inalienable lands); no fraudulent purchases; that the Maori himself should page 4 have sole power over his land; that he was at liberty to dispose of it whenever he saw an opportunity of doing so with advantage to himself; that his leasing or selling any land should be invalid unless he had other land left sufficient for his support; that any advances of money on Native lands not passed the Court should have no binding force; that three months must expire after the order of Court before any land could be dealt with; moreover it had to be clearly shown that there had been no fraud or trickery in dealing with Native lands before the Commissioner under "The Native Lands Frauds Prevention Act, 1881," would give his certificate. Such was the character of the old law.

Possibly that law was utterly wicked and unjust, and was therefore repealed and Mr Ballance's Act given to us to supply its place! Well, what does Mr Ballance's Act really mean? It means that full power and control over the lands of the Natives shall be in the hands of the Government alone. The Act says that a majority of the owners of a block of land shall elect a Committee consisting of seven members. Assuming then that a block of land is owned by a hundred Maories, it follows that fifty-one of them may elect a Committee notwithstanding the opposition of the remaining forty-nine. When the Committee is elected by the fifty-one the power of the people (over the land) passes into the hands of the seven—that is, the Committee—and, so says the Act, is by them to be transferred to the Commissioner. Now the Commissioner is a servant of the Government; he is not a servant of the Committee, if he were he would be anxious to act in accordance with the views of the Committee. The land having been handed over to the Commissioner by the Committee, he alone has full power and authority to deal with it as he may think proper, the power of the Committee ceases forthwith; the Commissioner may sell, lease, page 5 or cut it up, as the case may be, and he receives all moneys accruing from dealings with the said land. Such moneys are to be paid to the Commissioner not to be by him handed over to the Maori owners at once. No, indeed. Mr Ballance's Act says that the Commissioner shall deduct therefrom a sum equal to five pounds per cent, for the costs of giving effect to the Act. He will also deduct a further sum for costs of surveying, and a further sum for laying off roads and making roads, also a sum for Court fees on adjudication of claims to said land. What then will be left for the Maori, the owner of the land? But we will suppose that a surplus may be left after these acts of despoliation by the Commissioner. What then? Will the Maories receive it? It is questionable, considering that the Act says that, in order to facilitate the payment of such moneys by the Commissioner to the Maori owners, he may require from such owners a statement showing the relative share of each owner in the land, and not until that is done can the surplus be paid over. If the owners cannot agree in making such a statement he will withhold the money and refer the matter to the Native Land Court for subdivision. Then a further sum will be taken from the surplus (possibly the whole of it) to pay the costs of subdivision. Then, when all these requirements are complied with, and then only, will poor Maori be permitted to see a microscopic portion of the price of his land; perhaps he may see it, perhaps not—since the Commissioner is required by the Act to pay into the Public Revenues of the Colony all moneys received by him accruing from (Native) lands. That proviso may possibly be equivalent to a final leave-taking by the Maories of the proceeds of their lands. Who shall say whether that money will ever be recovered when once engulfed in the maw of the Government? In such a case it would be a simple matter to retain such moneys in payment of rates and dues on page 6 Maori land. The whole tenor of Mr Ballance's Act is to centre the lands of the Maories, and all power and authority in connection therewith, and the management thereof, in the hands of the Government alone; the position of the Maori, the real owner of the land, being simply that of a looker-on. An old Maori proverb says;—"That which Maui's hand has grasped cannot be shaken out again." There are certain sections in the Act which declare that no private person shall purchase or acquire land, or agree to purchase or acquire land, from Native owners save as provided by the Act, that no purchase of such lands shall be legal except those made under or authorized by the said Act, and that any person acting in contravention of such prohibited dealing shall be liable to imprisonment for not less than three or more than twelve months, or a penalty of not less than twenty or more than five hundred pounds—and any land so acquired by such person shall be forfeited to the Crown! This provision is to compel the retirement of all and every Pakeha so that the way may be clear for the Government alone to purchase. Figuratively speaking, the wife belongs to me the Maori, but a stranger takes her; or, the house belongs to me the Maori, but a stranger lives in it. Why are not the lands of the Pakehas brought under the operation of an Act like this?

Those provisions in the Act which seem to incline to the side of the Maories are of little or no importance, they are as dust in the balance; for instance, it is said that the Committee may direct the Commissioner, and that the Court shall make partition of land between owners objecting and owners assenting to the Committee, so that their lands may be separate and distinct. Now, the declaration that "the Committee may direct the Commissioner" is mere bunkum, because the Act says the Commissioner shall proceed "in such manner as he may deem best"—not in such page 7 manner as the Committee may deem best, but as he alone (the Commissioner) may deem best. Then with regard to cutting off the land of owners who object (to the Committee). That is all very proper, so far as it goes; but it will not be a partition leaving the (objecting) owners to deal with their land under any other law—not by any means. It will not be a partition to enable the objecting owners to deal with their lands as they may please. Although there may be a partition a Committee must be elected nevertheless, and before the land of objecting owners which has been cut off can be dealt with in any way it must be handed over to the Commissioner. This being the case, what benefit could result from partitioning the land between the owners assenting and the owners objecting? None whatever. It is merely a bait to entrap those who are opposed to the Act, an attempt to beguile them into quiet submission by leading them into the error of supposing that a course of action is left open for them to adopt other than that of the Committee and the Commissioner.

Another sharp point (lit., tooth) in the Act is that which unduly favors the Government in the purchase of Native lands. It says the Government may purchase "without or notwithstanding the appointment of a Committee." Without doubt the intention of the Act is to close up every avenue by which the Maories might be enabled to lease or sell their lands to persons outside of the Government. Therefore the hands of the Maories are being tied up lest they should turn elsewhere seeking for prosperity and well-being, and no restriction is placed upon Government land purchasing in the hope that the Maories, wearied and disheartened at finding no alternative, will at length close with the Government. According to Mr Ballance, the Act in question was passed by the Parliament for the purpose of assuring to the Maories a larger page 8 income from sales and leases of their lands—this the Act was to bring about, But how can this be effected so long as no restriction whatever is put upon Government land purchasing operations? The Government have the power to purchase any where whether a Committee has been elected or not. Consider the Government land purchases i of old. The island has never been crushed down under the extreme weight of the moneys paid by the Government for Maori lands.

Finally, the meeting agreed that it was a matter of the highest importance that every man should hold on to his land, and that no land should be handed over to be dealt with under the said Act. There is no large extent of land now left in the hands of the Maori that it should become a mere plaything—a subject of funny experiments. Let people in other districts, who may approve of the Act, hand over their lands if they like; as for us, we shall simply look on. There is one great trouble, however, viz.:—the Maories may-reject the Committee and the Commissioner, but the Government, like a hawk flying in the air, can swoop down anywhere. It is not pinioned or curbed in any way, and may at' any time pounce down, taking by Surprise the people who are holding on to their lands, because the law permits it (the Government) to purchase whether there be a Committee or not.

Let all the Maori tribes of the island consider this Act, and if they perceive that its effect will be injurious, let them not hold their peace. Let them cry aloud that the public may hear; because the Minister made an absurdly extravagant statement that all the Maories approved of his Bill, in consequence of which the Parliament passed it. Therefore this Committee and these tribes send forth this protest against the Act, lest it should be thought they are in favor of it.

Waipatu; Heretaunga

, 12th November, 1886.