The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 67
Nationalisation of the Land. — A Native Land Policy. — [Dnnedin "Echo," May 6, 1882.] — III
Nationalisation of the Land.
A Native Land Policy.
[Dnnedin "Echo," May 6, 1882.]
A Possible Native land policy is one which will obtain the assent of the more intelligent of the Natives on the one hand, and not be opposed by the force of colonial opinion on the other. Since the year 1876 various parties in the Assembly have attempted legislation by which the Colony might control the disposal or sale of Native land; but all attempts of the kind have failed, from Sir Julius Vogel's partnership idea down to Mr. Bryce's effort to bring the Natives and their land under the dominion of the Waste Land Boards. In not one of these proposals were the Natives consulted, nor did any of them meet with a favourable reception from the Native members of the Legislature. Those who were most interested in having their lands properly dealt with could, rightly or wrongly, see nothing in the proposals but a device to do them wrong. The small and compact body who have made Native land buying their profession were equally hostile; for, though the proposed legislation was crude and unstatesmanlike, it would have effectually disposed of the Native land-shark. But last session something more successful was actually accomplished. The Thermal Springs Act gives the Governor power to lease land on behalf of the Natives who have first leased it to the Government. The sale of the Township of Rotorua is a result. Then the West Coast Reserves Leasing Act vests the disposal by way of lease of no less than a quarter of a million acres of land, estimated by the Native Commission to be worth upwards of £600,000, in the Public Trustee, acting through a resident trustee. In these Acts the Natives are debarred from selling except to the Government. It was remarkable that when one of the Bills was passing through Committee, and when the question was raised as to the power of the Natives to sell to others than the Government, the Native members rose one after another and urged in emphatic language that only the power of leasing should be given.
But as both of the measures were passed to meet exceptional circumstances, it cannot be imagined that the Government would be allowed to step in to-morrow, or next year, and deal with the entire Native estate on the same principle. Yet the system is susceptible of extension. The whole of the Native reserves were to have come under a Bill, which want of time only prevented from becoming law last session. What is a Native reserve? The answer is best given in another question. page 15 What should not he a Native reserve in land leased directly by its Native owners? The best reason for bringing all Native leases under regulations provided to insure a spirit of equity in dealings of the kind, is, that the grossest abuses are continually taking place. A lease is obtained at a peppercorn rent for 21 years. When half the time is expired, the lessee desires a renewal to give him another 21 years' lease. How does he proceed? By small advances among the more influential owners; pressure for repayment; and when they have been properly cultivated, he offers a lump sum down for the new lease, agreeing to wipe out the advance which he has thus used as a lure. The plan is generally successful, and, while Maori nature endures, virtual perpetuities and great fortunes will thus be built up. It is for such a result "ground bait" is so plentifully distributed to obtain even a lease, for if the fee simple cannot be secured by watching and waiting, the renewals will bring the reward. It would not only be sound policy therefore to bring all leased land under general regulations and the control of a department, but it would be a necessary measure of protection against unfair dealing. Whatever may be said to the contrary, it is beyond doubt that the Native is in many respects an infant needing a guardian.
The Parliamentary returns show that the Government had advanced money on, and issued the "proclamation" over, several million acres of land, which is to be abandoned if only the advances can be brought back into the Treasury. We would try to lease this land, if there is not money available for the purchase, and re-lease it in suitable areas—in areas more conducive to the prosperity of the Colony than the Murimotu Block. Otherwise the Native might be allowed to lease direct, if the advances remaining a charge against the rent were spread equally and progressively over the term. In either way the difficulty would be solved. But no member calling himself a Liberal ought to permit a Minister to arrange terms with a land ring on the weak pretence of getting back the advances, as was done in the case of the Patetere Block. Forest reserves should be proclaimed, to be used for the benefit of the Natives on the same principle as under the Thermal Springs Act. What would probably be permitted without a protest in the first instance would be the simple proclamation forbidding the sale of any particular block of forest laud. All else would be a question of mutual arrangement. Where the Natives desired a tract of country to be declared inalienable by sale, there ought to be a power by law to grant the request. It appears that Rewi, if not Tawhiao, would welcome a law which would prevent needy and unscrupulous members of their tribes from parting with portions of the tribal lands. And it is important here to note that the demand for the individualization of the Native title is not the unselfish statesmanlike proposal which may be supposed. page 16 Nothing is more really instructive in politics than to hear the present Premier and Attorney-General dwell on the advantages of individualizing the title. We know what it means, and will now venture to submit a qualification which this politician will not accept—namely, that individualization of title is wise and fruitful of good results only when the Government is the sole purchaser. History will not justify the Waitara war; and true statesmanship will not sanction a practice which places the tribe at the mercy of its worst and most irresponsible members.
We come to consider the question of alienation in its broader aspect. To achieve the great end of having all Native lands leased instead of sold, it is essential that the Natives should go heart and hand with the Government. We have referred to a disposition among the Natives in favour of leasing, which we believe to be very general and deeply rooted. Would they agree to a positive enactment that in future none of their land should be sold? Would such a piece of legislation have any chance of passing? The Waste Lands Board scheme met with the united opposition of the Native members, who did not understand it, and were suspicious. The secret of their assent rests in giving the Natives themselves a large measure of local governmental control. A Native member brought down last session a Bill for the establishment of local Native Committees. The measure was admirably adapted to the wants of his people, and to protect them from many flagrant abuses. In this simple piece of machinery there is the means of securing a more just and beneficial administration of Native land, and at the same time of educating the Maoris in the art of regulating their own local affairs. If a Committee were empowered to lease, not sell, the land of the tribe it represented, it is certain the leasing system would immediately be accepted. Fair terms would be obtained for the land, and we believe it would be disposed of in areas proportionate to the quality and the distance from market. One enormous advantage would be gained: the present debasing, dishonest system of bribing individual Natives to sell, and then using these as decoy ducks for their more intractable compatriots, would be swept away at a single stroke. On the lowest ground, there could not be inflicted a greater disgrace on modern civilisation than does the existing system of inducing the Native to part with his land.
The Native has become by our proposal the landlord, with the right of sale limited to the State. We will suppose that the State considers it to be its duty to nationalize the land from time to time, as the owners are willing to sell—the process is simple, and would not be tardy. Individuals could not injure the tribe when the land was dealt with by a representative body; and as the necessities of many of them would continually be outrunning their income, urging them to sell their portions, they would be adequately protected by converting say half the page 17 purchase-money into stock, to be held by the Public Trustee for their benefit. In this way the work of nationalization would go steadily on. No foreign loans would be required, and there would be no charge on the Treasury, as debentures could be issued from time to time to meet the demand, bearing an interest corresponding with the amount of the rent. If a policy were framed on these lines, we think the welfare of the Natives would be combined with the best interests of the colonists. It is a policy which would be realisable without a large expenditure of political effort, and its value is measurable by what it would go far to accomplish—the nationalization, within a short period in the history of a country, of sixteen million acres of land.