The Argus at KellyGang 20/7/1869
RENTS OF SHEEP STATIONS
TO THE EDITOR OP THE ARGUS
Sir,-It must be evident to any person who has even a moderate knowledge of business principles, that the present system of fixing the rents of sheep stations is founded on an entirely wrong basis. Classification, in accordance with the description of country held, its capacity for depasturing stock, expense of management, or distance from market, is not even hinted at, and yet all who have had practical experience in sheep farming, know that each of these considerations has a direct influence on the returns. One writer, who in his various letters has brought forward some startling facts, has pointed out that many stations never have any surplus stock to sell, simply because the increase is not more than sufficient to make up the deficiencies caused by disease. Any person who has had experience of fluke can readily confirm this; indeed, the writer alluded to might have added, that unless the entire stock were sold off, and replaced every three or four years, the greater portion would die. Diseased sheep cannot yield heavy sound fleeces, so that in the return from wool also there is a serious deficiency when compared with healthy runs.
As regards expenses, it is clear that large areas of thinly-grassed inferior land, or rangy mountainous country, require not only more expenditure in labour, but in other respects also; for instance, the large outlay for rock salt which poor hilly country requires. A plentiful supply of salt is absolutely necessary to keep the sheep in even ordinary health. Is it reasonable that stations of this description should be classed at the same rental as sound healthy runs which have large lambings, and annually send off drafts of store or fat stock? It must be patent to all that if first class runs can afford a rental of 8d per head, those of the inferior description should not be rated at more than one-fourth to one half that amount. I consider the principle of fixing a rate per head is unjust, unless an equitable classification according to description of country is arrived at.
There is only one really correct mode of arriving at the proper rentals which ought to be derived from squatting stations; and the system which is working so successfully in Riverina is founded on a principle analogous to that which I propose to point out. I believe it will be conceded that the only portion of a well-appointed station on which the Government have any grounds for charging rental, is the Crown lands forming that station. I think it - will be admitted that the Government have no claim to the sheep, nor to the freehold purchased land, nor to the selections, so long as rent is paid on them, nor to the improvements; and yet it is sought to tax the Crown tenants for each and all of these items; and this is the case now, as I can prove by a reference to several stations. Can anything be more unjust? And yet the squatters dare not even object to it, whilst the authorities at the Crown Lands Office have so long been accustomed to the system that they look upon this extortion with complacency; indeed, consider it in all respects perfectly legitimate.
Although the squatters have suffered so much from selection, all the choicest and most valuable portions of their stations being alienated from them, they are expected to pay precisely the same rentals, even where the depasturing capabilities of their runs are decreased to the extent of fully one half, whilst the remainder is, by the abstraction of the best portions, rendered much more expensive to work, and is comparatively of little value. If they remonstrate, they are quietly told to say nothing, or they will fare worse, and thus a "reign of terror" is established. Before an application for reduction is even entertained, a fee of £5 is 'exacted, and this fee is not returned.
In fixing the rentals of the present stations I would respectfully- suggest the following method. First, value a station in its entirety, I stock, purchased lands, and improvements included. This valuation in the case of a sheep station, could be adjusted at rates varying from 10s. to 15s per head for the sheep, according to description of country, chances of comparative freedom from selection, healthiness of sheep, expense of management, or distance from market; and such valuations could readily be arrived at. The Government upset price of £1 per acre might also-be added, where stations include purchased land. For the purpose of illustrating the argument I will take a case, say-
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