|Description of this FunctionDescription of this Function|
The Land Act (No.1602) 1898 had made provision for the acquisition of land for the purpose of closers settlement. The Board of Land and Works (VA 744) was authorised to repurchase land and the object of this and subsequent legislation was to transform large estates into closely settled communities engaged in agriculture. The repurchased land was made available as farm allotments, agricultural labourers' allotments and workmen's home allotments to suitable applicants under the terms of conditional purchase leases. Certain residence and improvements conditions applied, initially for the first six years, after which time lessees were at liberty to mortgage, transfer or sub-let with consent and, on payment of the balance of the purchase money, to obtain a Crown Grant. Subsequently lessees were also eligible to apply for advances to assist them to erect dwellings and outbuildings and for other approved purposes.
Although statutory responsibility for closer settlement was vested in the Board of Land and Works (VA 744), operational responsibility was exercised by the Closer Settlement Branch of the Department of Crown Lands and Survey (VA 538).
Establishment of Lands Purchase and Management Board
The Lands Purchase and Management Board was established in 1905 as a body corporate under the provisions of the Closer Settlement Act 1904 (No.1962). The powers of the Board of Land and Works (VA 744) under part (1V) of the Land Act 1901, were vested in the Lands Purchase and Management Board which was authorised to acquire land for the Crown either compulsorily or by agreement. The Board was authorised to dispose of land previously acquired and, with the approval of the Governor-in-Council, to dispose of any unalienated and unoccupied Crown land including any swamp or reclaimed Crown land. The Board allocated land to applicants under conditional purchase leases which required lessees to fence the land, to destroy vermin and noxious weeds and to make other improvements. The leases were granted subject to residence requirements and lessees of agricultural labourers' allotments and workmen's home allotments were required to erect a dwelling within one year.
The Act authorised the Board to make advances to lessees to assist them to fence their land and to build the required dwellings and, at the request of the lessee, the Board could erect the required dwelling. The Board was also empowered to set aside land for townships and reserves; to make improvements to the land prior to sale and to sell land as sites for churches, public halls, schools, cemeteries, butter factories and creameries, quarries and recreation reserves.
Relationship of Board to Department of Crown Lands and Survey (VA 538)
Prior to 1905, the officers of the Closer Settlement Branch of the Department of Crown Lands and Survey had been responsible to the Secretary for Lands but following the establishment of the Lands Purchase and Management Board, the officers were to have been responsible to the Board whose Secretary was appointed by the Governor-in-Council, subject to the provisions of the Public Service Act. However the officers of the Board remained subject to the Department of Crown Lands and Survey (VA 538) in relation to promotions and matters of general discipline and their salaries were paid from the Department's salary vote.
In 1913, following concern expressed by the Minister and the Secretary of the Department of Crown Lands and Survey that the Closer Settlement Branch was not working effectively, it was agreed that a large part of the work of the Branch should be amalgamated with similar land settlement work being undertaken within the Department and divided control of the function was thus established. Administrative difficulties continued however and the chairman of the Board argued before the Royal Commission on Closer Settlement (1914) that these inefficiencies arose from there being dual control of the officers, whereby most were responsible to the Secretary for Lands and only ten or eleven were wholly responsible to the Secretary to the Board. The Royal Commission however was very critical of the Board's failure to organize its office properly and reported that ".....the Board does not appear to have taken charge of the Officers at all. Throughout, the Department has controlled the Board." The role of the Department in the administration of closers settlement continued to be significant until 1938 when complete responsibility was assumed by it.
Transfer of Responsibilities to the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission (VA 723)
In 1913, under the provisions of the Closer Settlement Act 1912 (No.2438) certain powers of the Lands Purchase and Management Board were transferred to the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission (VA 723) which was authorised to acquire and dispose of lands for closer settlement purposes. This transfer of authority applied only to land which was considered suitable for closer settlement under irrigation conditions and which was situated or likely to be situated within an Irrigation and Water Supply District within the meaning of the Water Act 1905. However the leases were to be issued by the Governor-in-Council; the Commission was not to grant advances to lessees after the expiration of six years and after that period authority reverted to the Board. These restrictions were subsequently repealed by legislation. (Closer Settlement Act 1918 (No.2987).
Establishment of the Closer Settlement Commission
The Closer Settlement Commission was established in 1933 under the provisions of the Closer Settlement Act 1932 (No.4091). Its establishment represented a consolidation of the administration of closer settlement and soldier settlement. The Act transferred to the Commission powers and obligations previously vested in the Closer Settlement Board (VA 2266) and the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission (VA 723) which had become responsible for the administration of closer settlement on irrigable lands from 1913 under the provisions of the Closer Settlement Act 1912 (No.2438).
The Closer Settlement Commission was appointed by the Governor-in-Council and consisted of five members who were to include a chairperson, one person previously a member of the Closer Settlement Board, one person previously a member of the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission or an officer of that Commission who had been responsible for closer settlement and two persons having a knowledge of finance and primary production.
Powers of the Closer Settlement Commission
The Commission, with the approval of the Minister, could make use of the services of any of the officers and employees of the Department of Crown Lands and Survey (VA 538); staff previously employed under the Closer Settlement Acts were deemed to have been appointed to temporary office in the Department and officers of the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission (VA 723) who had previously been engaged in the administration of closer settlement were transferred to the Public Service as officers of the Department of Crown Lands and Survey (VA 538).
In addition to powers concerning the acquisition and disposal of land the Act conferred on the Commission certain powers that had previously been the prerogative of the Minister or the Governor-in-Council. The Commission was also made responsible for the administration of the Land Act in so far as it related to lessees or licensees who had received advances under the Closer Settlement Acts and for the administration of the Seed Advances Acts, the Fallowing Advances Acts, the Cultivation Advances Act and part 1 of the Wire Netting Act 1928, these powers having been previously exercised by the Minister, the Board of Land and Works (VA 744) or the Closer Settlement Board (VA 2266).
The Act removed restrictions on the transfer of leases and provided for the consolidation of debts arising from the issue of leases and the authorization of advances. The Commission was authorised to reassess the value of the land, to make annual adjustments of liabilities and in doing so to take into account the prices of farm products, seasonal conditions and the personal circumstances of the licensee or lessee.
Abolition of the Closer Settlement Commission.
In 1938, under the provisions of the Closer Settlement Act (No.4596), the Closer Settlement Commission was abolished. The Board of Land and Works (VA 744) was deemed its successor in law and statutory responsibility for the administration of the Closer Settlement Acts, Fallowing Advances Acts, Cultivation Advances Acts, part 1 of the Wire Netting Act 1928 and the Farmers Advances Acts was vested in the Board.
The Closer Settlement Act 1938 was to be administered by the Department of Crown Lands and Survey (VA 538). No provision was made for the further acquisition of land; the Closer Settlement, Discharged Soldiers' Settlement and Discharged Soldiers' Concession Funds were abolished and the funds were transferred to consolidated revenue. The Board of Land and Works (VA 744) was authorised to dispose of land under closer settlement leases, subject to the payment of a deposit of not less than ten percent of the lease or by auction or public tender. If the land could not be sold by auction or tender, the Board was authorised to dispose of it by sale.
The Act also provided for the issue of new leases to existing settlers and made provision for the adjustment and repayment of existing liabilities. The new closer settlement leases were to be registered with the Registrar of Titles (VA 862) and all encumbrances including registered mortgages in respect of advances made or charges arising from the Advances to Settlers Act 1923, Wire Netting Act 1928, Vermin and Noxious Weeds Act 1928, Land Tax Acts and the Unemployment Relief Loan and Application Acts were to be endorsed on the leases. The Act also established conditions for the transfer, surrender and forfeiture of leases and for the issue of Crown Grants.
The Department of Crown Lands and Survey (VA 538) continued to be responsible for the administration of Closer Settlement until the repeal of all legislation relating to closer settlement and authorisation of advances to farmers in 1982 under the provisions of the Closer Settlement (Winding-up) Act (No.9798).