Dad in Politics and Other Stories

Chapter X.

The Land Betterment Bill

Steele Rudd

(A. H. Davis)

DAD had now been a member of Parliament for several years, and had gained a reputation for fearless, violent debating, and for hard, practical commonsense.

The continuous Government, which had ruled the country interminably—a Government which had been impeached and impaled in Parliament and on platform—howled and hooted down by its opponents as a band of political bushrangers and enemies to the country and every one in it—had fallen, defeated by the ambition of some of its followers—followers who all along the line had supported and applauded its actions, whether good, bad, or indifferent. For the prospect of position and power they promptly deserted and joined the Opposition. Even its Speaker cleared out of the chair one night by the back way, and was missing in the morning. In a casual sort of way he became Premier of the new combination, which called itself the “Coalition Government”—the Government of “Reform and Progress”—then it sat down and formulated a policy. When the document was finished it looked well. They hoisted it high above Parliament House; brandished it over the heads of the electors; said it would right all the wrongs that had been done by the old Party; declared its mission was to relieve the people of the weight of further taxation; to bring about high wages and cheap food and clothing and lots of work for the poor man; to release civil servants from their load of retrenchment; to build a network of light railways throughout the land—in fact, to GO STRAIGHT, and be a good, righteous, honest Government, and God knows what! And in this grand garb —with this glorious Policy in its two hands—it went forth to the country.

“Our manifesto,” said the new Premier, “is the same as our opponents’, but with this difference—we mean it; they don’t.” And in its excitement the country believed him, and sent his party into power with a large majority, a lot of shouting, and several big, noisy banquets. Then once more the country threw up its hat, and hurrayed before finally sobering itself, and settling down to wait for the new prophets to perform their miracles—for the promised prosperity to set in, for the millennium to come up over the horizon. And while it held its breath and waited, the new Parliament got together and met much in the same way that the old one used to meet. It was a great and glorious occasion. The band played. People crowded into the House and thronged the galleries. The Chamber presented a new and strange appearance. The Government side of it was crammed. Had any more been returned by the people to support that Premier, they would have had to sit outside and support him on the steps. Numerically, that Government was formidable. The dozen or so remaining of the old defeated party were in possession of the Opposition benches, and none of them seemed to enjoy their promotion. Some of them looked sorry, some sad, some bored, some bitter, some battered; altogether they looked like the sole survivors of a great wreck.

The proceedings opened with prayer and adjourned in wrath. For several weeks they opened and adjourned in like manner. Then one evening a piece of policy—the part that they had left behind in the drawers when they went to the country—was unfolded, and business commenced.

The Treasurer, a sturdy, pompous, Cromwellian sort of politician with a Scotch accent, rose and began his second reading speech on “A Land Betterment Bill.” He explained all the beauties and perfections of that bill; said he had a lot of faith in it; that it was to be the salvation of the country, and was confident that members would find the principle embodied in it simple and easily understood. “Whoso maketh a thing,” he said, ‘’whoso createth a value, to him that thing or value belongs.” (Loud cheers from the Government benches.) “Let me illustrate my meaning,” he went on. “Suppose John Smith buys 100 acres of land at £1 per acre; and suppose further that he improves and clears that land, or spends money or labour on it equal to £4 per acre, then everyone must recognise that John Smith has a property right in that land to the extent of £500.” Everyone did; they got up and cheered the prophet. “But,” he continued confidently, “further suppose that a railway is built into the district where that land is, and the value of John Smith’s holding is increased thereby in value from £5 to £8 per acre, then it must be clear to everyone that if John Smith has a property right in the £5 per acre which he created, the community which added another £3 per acre to the value of the land has a property right in that increased value——”

“’Tis a lie; ’twould be a robbery!” Dad shouted.


“Order!” the Speaker cried. “The honourable member must not impute——”

The rest of the rebuke was lost in a loud “Hear, hear!” that came from the Government.

“So long as John Smith can fairly claim,” the Treasurer went on, “that his land is only worth £500, then this bill does not propose to ask one penny from him, but when John Smith himself admits that the community has added a value to his land, then this bill will ask half of that value from John Smith——”

“My God!” Dad exclaimed, throwing his head back and opening wide his mouth. (Loud, derisive laughter from the Government, and “Order!” from the Speaker.)

“I submit that the equity and moderation of such a proposal,” the Minister resumed, fanning the air with pages of his written speech, “cannot be disputed” (hear, hear), “and, as Mill pointed out, the claims of the community——”

“Who th’ devil is Mill?” Dad shouted, leaning forward in his seat. (Great laughter.)

“Order, order!”

“Windmill!” responded the member for Pine Tree in a loud voice from a distant part of the Chamber.

More laughter, and again “Order!” from the Speaker.

“Yes, the Treasurer is the mill,” the member for Targo rasped out from the Opposition side, “and the honourable gentleman representing Pine Tree supplies the wind.” (Loud laughter from members generally —from all except the member for Pine Tree.)

“Order!” the Speaker demanded angrily. “I must ask honourable members to allow the Treasurer to proceed with his speech without interruption.” (The merriment ceased.)

“The claims of the community in this respect,” the Treasurer went on, “would long ago have been recognised but for the ascendancy of landlords; and the judgment of Mill——”

“What th’ devil have he to do with it?” Dad roared, jumping to his feet.

“Order! Order!” from the Speaker. “Chair! Chair!” from different parts of the Chamber, and “Sit down, you ox!” from the representative of Pine Tree. Dad shook his fist in the direction of the latter and yelled:

“Not fer the askin’ of an ass wud I sit down!” (Renewed merriment and laughter in the Strangers’ Gallery.)

The Speaker lifted his eyes, and stared threateningly at the strangers—and the police began to get active. Then he turned his attention to Dad.

“The honourable member for Eton,” he snapped, fanning like an infuriated commandant, “must resume his seat, and I warn him not to continue interrupting the House.”

“How can any honest man sit down while——”

Order! Will the honourable member resume his seat?”

A member seated near Dad induced him to obey the chair.

“It’s meant for nothing but robbery!” Dad blurted out, as he dropped heavily on the cushion.

Order!” the Speaker fired back, and once more the coast was cleared for the Treasurer.

“The judgment of Mill,” he rolled on, “is not only in accord with human nature, but is also in strict accord with historical fact——”

“Well, if Mill’s statement has your-re approval,” came from the member for Targo, “wha-at more is required? Let us pass the bill, and get on with the business.” (Laughter, and “Order!”)

“’Twill never pass!” Dad hollered, struggling violently with the members for Cow Yard and Cattle Creek, who had some difficulty in keeping him from taking the floor again. “Never, while there’s a bit o’ breath in me body!”


“Yoush wrong,” the member for Fillemupagen hiccoughed at Dad. “Will pash—same ash ships pash in (hic) nightsh.” (Boisterous hilarity, and loud appeals for “Order!” from the Speaker.)

“I have no objection,” the Treasurer retorted angrily, “to honourable gentlemen interrupting me by making interjacksions reelevant to the matter before the Hoose, but I objaikt, Sair, to people eenterrupting like drunk men in the back yaird o’ a bush shanty.” (Commotion.)

“Mr. Speaker, I rise to a point of order!” squealed the member of blue ribbon fame. “I take exception, Sir——”

“Mis’er Spikker,” the member for Fillemupagen broke in, “I ri’h (hic) poin’ order.” (Great merriment.) “If’sh hon’ble gen’el’em saysh I’m drunksh, he’sh liar.” (Disorder, and cries of “Shame!” and “Withdraw!” intermingled with laughter, loudly echoed back from the galleries. )

“Order! The honourable member must withdraw such remarks!” the Speaker demanded with fearful firmness.

The member for Fillemupagen sat down silent and sullen-looking.

“I ask the honourable member to withdraw his words.”

“All righsh,” the offending one murmured, “I wishdraw” (hear, hear), “but it’sh a lie.” (Laughter.)


Once more the Treasurer got under way, and explained the meaning of “unimproved value” and “betterment.” “No person,” he said, “is to be charged for betterment until that person admits the betterment. The owner’s valuation will be taken, and the Treasurer cannot alter that valuation; and there will be no litigation about it. But” (here Dad shifted in his seat and leaned forward to catch all he said) “the Treasurer may advise the Crown to resume the land at the owner’s valuation, with 10 per cent, added for compensation——

Aha!” Dad snorted, “Aha!” (Laughter from Government supporters, and “Order!” from Mr. Speaker.)

Then the Treasurer quoted Mill again, and read chunks of wisdom from Pepys’ Diary, and concluded by saying that he himself was fully persuaded that, if the bill became law, it would be “a great gude—it would be an unmixed blaisin’ an’ the lastin’ joy and salvation o’ th’ country.” (Loud and enthusiastic cheers from the Government.)

The Leader of the Opposition and the member for Targo rose in turn and pelted the bill; then Dad caught the Speaker’s eye.

“Sir,” Dad commenced in a a loud, aggressive voice. (Laughter and guffaws from the Government end of the House.) Dad paused and glared at the scoffers till they were silent, then proceeded: “I was sent into this House by honest, sensible farmers and selectors—men an’ their wives who have been struggling all th’ days of their life on the land—an’ I was sent to look after their interests an’ ter tell any Government that tries to make bad laws for them—that tries ter bring in mischievous legislation—just what I think of them.” ( Hear, hear! ) “An’ I tell this Gover’ment that this bill” (Dad raised his clenched fist above his head), “that this bill is nothing but broad daylight robbery!” (Down came Dad’s fist like a sledge-hammer. )

“Nonsense!” from the Treasurer.

“’Tis not nonsense!” Dad yelled back. “This bill is nonsense; and all the rot you have been telling this House about it is nonsense! With your prattle about things what someone called Mill have to say! What’s the good o’ that?” (Opposition laughter.) “What have he to do with people’s land?” (Loud laughter, and “You don’t understand it,” from the Treasurer.) “I do understand it!” Dad shouted. “Do you think I don’t understand when a man tries to put his hand into my pocket, that he wants to help himself to something he never put there?” (Opiiosition cheers.)

“He wouldn’t find anything there, only pumpkin, if he did,” interjected the member for Sandy Gallop.

“He’d find more there than he’d find in yours I” Dad snorted. “I’m not like ye—I didn’t come here fer a livin’.” (Cheers and laughter from the Opposition.) “I won my independence workin’ and battlin’ on the land.” (Hear, hear.) “I went on the land, Mr. Speaker, when I hadn’t enough to buy a billy-can with—when there was no railway, and when there wasn’t another settler within ten mile o’ me” (applause), “an’ I would ask the Minister that brings this bill here to tax selectors with if he knows anything about land? If he knows what selecting in this country meant to the pioneers of it, and what it means to this day?” (Opposition cheers, and cries of “Rot!” from the other side.) “I stand here and tell him he knows nothing of it. He comes here a new chum with his head stuffed full of fine ideas about some fool——”

Dad was pulled up by the Speaker. “Order!” he cried. “The honourable member must, not indulge in terms which are unparliamentary, and must withdraw them!” (Loud “Hear, hear,” from Ministers.)

“Well, then,” Dad roared on, “with ideas about some fellow he calls ‘Mill’” (laughter), “and wants to take half of the increased value of a poor man’s bit of land to put in his Treasury to pay debts and things with that every loafer and sundowner in th’ country have had a hand in incurrin’.” (Cheers from the Opposition. ) “He talks in a fine way about a selection increasing in value till it’s worth £500. What is that to a poor man after his twenty years’ battle with it— after his years of scrub-cutting and fighting fires, and livin’ on dry bread, and harrowin’ his grain in perhaps with a bramble before he sees his deeds—after payin’ interest at ten per cent, and twelve per cent, for fifteen year—after sinking wells all over it, and never gettin’ any water?” (Loud cheering from the opponents of the bill. ) “I tell the gentleman, Mr. Speaker, that he don’t know what he talks about. With this bill he is like a lunatic runnin’ about with a loaded gun in his hand” (roars of laughter), “and the sooner the gun is taken off of him and smashed across a fence, the better it will be for the people of this country.” (Re-newed laughter.) “He talks about the value that a railway gives to a man’s land, and wants to pocket some of it on that account. I never in all my natural days heard of such an impudent reason bein’ given for stealing a man’s property. Sir, a cattle-duffer has more decency and honour than that! A railway!” Dad fairly yelled. “Confound it! Doesn’t the selector help to build the railway?” (Hear, hear.) “Doesn’t he pay freight and fares to that railway for carrying his produce and himself and his family, when they can afford to go anywhere? Surely to God that should be enough?” (Cheers.) “If it isn’t,” and he suited the word to the action, “then tear your d—— railways up.” (Cheers from the Opposition.)

“Order!” the Speaker cried again, “I warn the honourable member not to continue using terms which are unparliamentary.”

(“Hear, hear! Hear, hear!” from the Treasury benches. )

“I say, tear them up!” Dad went on, “and go back to the bullock-drays and the coach. They’ll carry produce and passengers nearly as quick as your trains, and are doing it in parts of the country now, and they’re not asking the people for any increased value of their bit of land for doing it, either!” (Loud cheering.) “Mr. Speaker, this bill is robbery!” (Government dissent.) “’Tis thievery!” (Great disorder.) “And the Government know it!” (“No, no!” and more disorder.) “You do!” (and Dad lifted his voice a note higher), “and shame on you; shame on you for trying to sell the electors that sent you here to make honest laws fer them!” (Opposition cheers and Government dissent.) “You told them that there would be no more taxation, and ’tis nothin’ but taxin’ and taxin’ them you’re doin’. The very first thing you do is to break your pledge—to lie!” (Uproar, and “Order, order! “from the Speaker. ) “Then you put a charge on the poor man’s few dairy cows” (Hear, hear), “and you want him to pay for carrying a gun about, and another of you would bleed more money from him fer keepin’ his own stallion!” (Cries of “No!” and “Yes, yes!”) “’Tis scandalous; ’tis villainy!” (Great uproar, and Dad was again called to order. ) “To the devil with the railways and their increased value——”

“Order! Order!” cried the Speaker. “The honourable member must address the house in more respectful language.”

“Let them build their railways into some part of the bush where’s there’s no one,” Dad howled, “and see how much it will increase the value of the land!”

The Treasurer: “So it would when the people settle there.”

“Well, then, charge an increased price for it, and the people will know what the bargain is they are making. But until they do go and settle there, your railway wouldn’t be worth tuppence—’twould rust!” (Hear, hear.) Dad paused for breath, then continued: “But this bill is a shameful piece of work.” (Dissent.) “’Tis full of tricks and traps to grind selectors down and take their land away from them!” ( Cries of “No, no!” and “Nonsense!” and cheers from the Opposition.) “It is! All the Treasurer’s fine talk about letting a man make his own valuation is lies!” (Great disorder and cheers, in the midst of which the Speaker’s rebukes and appeals for order were drowned.) “’Tis false magernanimity!” (Dissent, intermingled with laughter.) “’Tis a trick to get a man to value his property for more than ’tis worth, and, if he undervalue it, you take it off him at that price!” (Hear, hear.) “And how many farmers are there in the country, let me ask you, who would think of selling their places even for a hundred pounds more than they are worth? What good would it do them? It wudn’t be enough to keep them; and do you think they want to begin an’ cut holes in the bush again, and to fight drought, and floods, and fires, and mean, bad Governments?” ( Cheers from the Opposition.) “And this is the kind of law-making we get from a Ministry that prattles about settling people on the land, an’ trots round the country patting farmers on the back and gorgen’ on their banquets.” (Cheers.) “’Tis trachery——”


“’Tis highway robbery——”

“Order, order!”

“’Tis d—— roguery——” (Uproar.)

“Order, order!” the Speaker cried. “The honourable member must not make such statements.”

The Premier rose angrily, and asked that the member for Eton be called on to withdraw the words “d—— roguery,” and the Speaker called on Dad to withdraw them.

“What I’ve said is th’ plain truth!” Dad shouted, throwing his arms and head about.

Loud cries of “Shame! “and “Withdraw!” from the Government benches.

“NEVER!” Dad howled.

The Speaker: “I ask the honourable member for Eton to withdraw the words the Premier complains of, which are most unparliamentary.” (Commotion.)

“I’ll not!” Dad shouted. “I defy you or anybody to make me withdraw what I know is the truth.” (Great confusion, during which the Speaker “named” Dad to the House.)

The Premier jumped to his feet.

“Mr. Speaker,” he said, “I regret that the honourable member for Eton should again be the cause of another disgraceful scene in this Chamber, and when that member not only violates the rules and propriety of this House, but openly hurls defiance at your executive authority. Sir, I am compelled, however painful the duty may be, to move that the honourable member be suspended for the term of one week.” (Disorder, and cries of “Gag!” and yells and howls of approval. )

The motion was carried, and the Speaker said: “It is the pleasure of this House that the member for Eton be suspended for one week” (more confusion), “and I ask the honourable member to withdraw from its precincts.” (Great uproar.)

“Never! “Dad shouted furiously. “Never!”

Then the Sergeant-at-Arms and officers of the House approached him, and Dad prepared for violence. But the Leader of the Opposition spoke persuasively to him, and he strode out quietly. At the bar of the House he turned, and shouted out “Robbers!

Dad in Politics - Contents    |     Chapter XI. - Dad on Socialism

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