Local Government Practically Applied.
THERE is now no longer any question of the applicability of the Divisional Boards Act to all parts of the colony. Only one division, that of Nogoa, stands out
obstinately against its operation, and it may be expected that when settlers in that small and not very important patch of country discover how thoroughly isolated they are, and how readily the system of local government has been accepted throughout the colony, they will abandon their foolish resistance. If they remain obdurate, the Government should unite them to Gogango, or some other effectively managed division. The other inoperative divisions are so mainly from temporary local causes. Doonmunya, which embraces nearly the whole southern coast of the Gulf of Carpentaria, is not merely very huge—nearly equal in area to the colony of Tasmania—but very thinly populated. At the present time, no doubt, the scattered settlers have not strongly felt the want of roads, but as their numbers and local requirements grow, they will adopt the only means likely to be available in this colony for supplying them. The same remarks will apply to Einasleigh. When the scattered miners and other residents on that river and the Gilbert desire roads they will probably seek for the proper means of procuring them. The official reports that have come in from the various divisions are cer tainly satisfactory. Speaking generally, and judging from the figures so far as they are available, it appears that the new law is producing the effect which was anticipated from it, and which is its chief recommendation—the proportion of road expenditure through out the colony is being adjusted automati cally on a fair basis. It does not appear that in the populous divisions around Brisbane the amount available for expendi ture on the roads will be less than it used to be, but distant parts of the colony are receiving justice formerly denied to them. The right to Govern ment expenditure on roads and local works is created by the settlers themselves. Where they have, by their labour, given a value to land which as uncleared bush possessed none, there they have established a claim to government expenditure; and, under the Divisional Boards Act, the existence of the claim secures its satisfac tion. Under the old system the justice of such a demand would hardly even be considered by Parliament unless the locality had secured the services of an active repre sentative skilled in making raids on the Treasury. For as two-thirds of the income of each board comes from the general revenue, it is still mainly by Go vernment disbursements that the roads are to be kept up. But they will be disburse ments regulated neither by the caprices of a Minister nor the favoritism of a politi cal party, but apportioned by the people themselves, according to the only just principle on which they can be claimed. And the total amount which will be taken from the general revenue for this purpose is very considerable. According to the table we publish of probable rate collec tions, and allowing for the instances in which only the revenue for six months 1 is given, we have a probable rate income for the fifty-five boards whose returns are in hand of £22,820. There are still twenty two to be accounted for, and as some of them are known to be wealthy divisions, we may safely add another £10,000 to the above total, and estimate the rate income of all the boards on the preaent valuations at £33,000. This will demand the expendi ture of £66,000 from the consolidated revenue by way of endowment, and the amount will be largely increased when the valuations—admittedly too low in a majority of cases, and ridiculously inside-
quate in not a few—an increased, and. the full rate of one shilling in the pound is everywhere struck. It is satisfactory to notice that very few imperfections have been discovered in the law itself—that is, imperfections which urgently need legislative amend ment In fact, except the evident neces sity that exists for fixing some mini mum amount of rate to be paid by the holder of unoccupied pro perty, we see no complaint in the Board reports that could not be met by administration. That administrative faults should have been committed in the in auguration of the law was only natural, and accordingly they were made. It is evident now that the attempt to create a uniform system of subdivisions—and, indeed, the creation of subdivisions at all at the outset, save in very exceptional cases—was a mistake, as was also the appointment of nine members to each division and three to each subdivision uniformly. The Act gives power to fix the number at from three to nine in a division, and it should have been obvious to the Minister that in a remote and thinly-peopled division of large area it would be impossible to find nine qualified men who could meet even annually at any specified place. The results in some places have been ludicrous. The division in which Mount Perry is in cluded, for instance, is separated into three, according to the uniform plan; in one subdivision there are two ratepayers, in a second six, and in the third 200; yet all three subdivisions return an equal number of members to the boards. Of course the subdivisions should be aboliahed both there and in all places where not specially required by the rate payers themselves. Again, unsuitable divisions have been made. In places an arbitrary tine passes right through a patch of settlements which possess through out a community of local interests, and the excised portion is tacked onto some dis tant locality with which it has neither traffic nor intercourse. Again, isolated fragments of settlement are stuok on to the nearest division, as Thursday Island is added to the division of Harm, of which the centre Maytown, on the Palmer Qoldfield, is separated from it by hun dreds of miles of savage, almost unexplored wilderness, and an arm of the sea. A number of divisions will have to be re-arranged, some extinguished and an nexed to others, and in various other ways boundaries will have to be altered. But the mistakes that have to be rectified are, after all, by no means numerous consider ing the almost insuperable difficulties that the official entrusted with the sub division of the colony had to encounter.