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The War Effort of New Zealand

Settlement on the Land

Settlement on the Land.

Land settlement has always been a prominent and popular plank in the platforms of political parties in New Zealand. It was natural that it should have been accepted from the first as a part of the Repatriation policy of the National Government.

The Discharged Soldiers Settlement Act was passed in 1915, and contained comprehensive and generous provisions for the settlement of returned soldiers on the land. Extensive powers of purchase were given to the Land Purchase Board, which could acquire land compulsorily, if necessary. Appropriations have been made by Parliament from time to time for this purpose of sums which, for a small country, must be regarded as enormous. The appropriation made just before the general election in 1919, authorized no less than 12½ millions, in addition to a previous authority of 1½ millions, to be advanced in connection with land settlement for soldiers, and it was estimated that a million pounds a month was required for this purpose. In addition, the Government had authority to spend £2,000,000 per annum on the purchase of land for settlement by returned soldiers. Advances were made to assist settlers taking up land under the provisions of this Act for the purchase of stock and implements, or for effecting improvements. These advances were secured by a current account mortgage and bill-of-sale; and interest at five per cent. was charged on advances made. Under the regulations the maximum amount that could be advanced was £500, but in special cases this was increased to £750; while in the case of bush land amounts up to £1,250 could be advanced. A variety of tenures was provided by page 172this Act, including the ordinary power of purchase for cash, by deferred payments for twenty years, and a renewal lease with purchasing clause. The ordinary tenures of the Land Act were also available.

The Amendment Act of 1917 and its regulations established a new and important principle. Amounts up to £2,500 were authorized to be advanced to soldiers to assist them to buy land privately, if the price was recommended by the Land Board, and approved by the Minister. The interest charged was five per cent. on a current account mortgage, or six per cent. in case of an instalment mortgage on rural land, providing a sinking fund to enable the mortgage to be discharged after 36½ years.

Special assistance was also given for the erection of a town dwelling house, for which an advance might be authorized up to £750, or £1000 for the purchase of a site and dwelling. A mortgage was taken to secure these advances providing for repayment at the rate of seven per cent. per annum, five per cent. of the annual charge being interest on the amount advanced and the additional two per cent. providing a sinking fund to enable the mortgage to be discharged in 25½ years.

Advances were also authorized to discharged soldiers who were the owners or lessees of land for the purpose of improvements, and the purchase of stock, in addition to the the provisions of the main Act.

A further privilege given to discharged soldiers—which was much appreciated—was the preference at ballots under the Land Act or Lands for Settlement Act, They were placed in the same position as landless applicants having children dependent on them, or other qualified applicants who had applied at least twice unsuccessfully.

Large tracts of land were also proclaimed as available for settlement by discharged soldiers exclusively, thus eliminating competition with prospective civilian settlers.

In order to prevent trafficking in land it was provided that no soldier could transfer land acquired under the page 173Discharged Soldiers Settlement Act for a period of 10 years, except approval had first been obtained. The duty of purchasing land was entrusted to a Land Purchase Board, but advances under the Act were made by the Lands Department. It will readily be understood that the task of aequiring rapidly a large number of farms suitable for settlement was not an easy one.

The public demand was emphatic that large areas of land should be thrown open to soldiers at reasonable prices, and 674,858 acres of Crown Land have been proclaimed under the Act. This has been supplemented by the purchase of about 300,000 acres of private freehold land by the Land Purchase Board.

The effect of the enhanced prices of produce resulting from the war was to cause a marked rise in the value of land despite the heavy taxation on landholders necessitated by the war expenditure. Many a soldier who had sold his farm to go to the war found on his return that the occupant would not re-sell except at a price considerably enhanced, and in consequence land-trafficking was denounced by the soldiers, not without justification. Some land-holders sought to foist unprofitable farms on the Land Purchase Board, and the utmost care had to be exercised in making purchases. One of the Land Commissioners reported that in many cases inspection and valuation absolutely failed to reconcile prices asked by the vendors with any reasonable prospect of success for the soldier purchaser, the figures suggesting that a large proportion of owners were more concerned to sell out even to discharged soldiers at the top prices of a somewhat inflated market, than to recognise by reasonable demands, the fact that the value of their lands had been increased by the effort of the Dominion's men on active service. On the other hand there were landholders and patriotic societies who set splendid examples. Valuable areas of land were presented to trustees for the benefit of returned soldiers in the Poverty Bay and Napier districts, and in some instances large numbers of sheep were provided for the new settlers without charge.

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