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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 30

Native Land Administration

page 12

Native Land Administration.

He would like to say, partly in his own defence, and partly In defence of the Ministry, that they had not been idle since they took office. They had not been a "feather-bed Ministry," and remained comfortably in Wellington, leaving their Under-Secretaries to carry on the administion, and throwing on them the responsibility of the work of the colony. Both in policy and administration they had grappled with the most difficult questions of the day, and had most satisfactorily solved them. For instance, in the year 1884, when they took office he (Mr Ballance) brought in a Bill to restore the pre-emptive right over 4½ millions of acres of land along the North Island Trunk Railway. That was a very important measure at the time, but they could not do much during that session. In the following year, when they had more time for deliberation, they carried through Parliament what was admittedly the most liberal Land Act in the Australian Colonies, the Land Act of 1885. He did not think that any person could deny that it contained provisions for settlement of the land superior to anything that had been provided or enacted in any colony of the British Empire. In 1886 they grappled with the question of the administration of Native lands, which had been attempted by successive Ministries for 15 or 16 years, and they carried through an Act restoring the pre-emptive right over the whole of the Native lands of the colony. Now, instead of a few men and a few rings exercising sole control over the lands, the Native lands, if they are to be sold at all, must be sold under the Act of 1885, or they must be sold to the Crown. (Applause.) Therefore, he said they had placed in the possession of the Crown, Native lands available for settlement to the extent of 14,000,000 acres—lands that formerly were the prey of lands harks. An Act of this kind could not pass without disturbing vested rights and interests, and without receiving great opposition. He was surprised himself at the paucity of the opposition. Only one or two petitions altogether had been sent to Parliament, and the largest signed petition Bent to the House was a petition tinged and tinctured with fraud and forgery. (Applause.) Even one-half of the names had not been signed to it by the people purporting to have signed it, but some other person had signed for them. Therefore they might reasonably come to the conclusion that this Act had met with the approval of the best Europeans and the best natives of the colony, (Applause.) He did not think that even if their opponents came into office to-morrow they would dare to repeal the Native Land Administration Act, as they recognised the merits of the measure as much as the Government did themselves; Though they may fan the flame of opposition by expressing sympathy with gentlemen who would vote upon their side, yet, when the responsibility was thrown on them to face the difficulty, they will shrink before attempting to meddle with that measure, which he believed was one of the most useful and important ever passed in this colony with regard to the interests of both Natives and Europeans; (Applause)