Meander Valley Council in Tasmania will sell a family’s home at public auction in three weeks unless they pay their overdue rates. This reluctant display of the authority of government illustrates the limits and strengths of land title in Australia.

The Examiner explains:

“The owners of Chudleigh’s Melita Honey Farm have less than three weeks to pay rates before their home is auctioned by the Meander Valley Council.

“The Dutch-born family have refused to pay rates on their three properties since July 2010 because they believe the land is owned by God.

“Meander Valley mayor Craig Perkins said the Beerepoot family had not made contact with the council since a real estate agent was appointed last month.

“On September 1, at 11am, at the council office, we will be auctioning the property, presuming they don’t pay all monies that are owned before then,” he said.

“It’s disappointing that we have to go to this extreme to recover rates and that the property owners haven’t been able to come to the realisation that we are serious about what we said we are going to do.”

“According to the council’s director of corporate services, Jonathan Harmey, the family “steadfastly reaffirmed their belief that the land was not theirs but that of the Heavenly Father, that council would be taking the land from him and that was a matter between council and God”.

Jesus of Nazareth made an important secular distinction when he said: “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s”. Matthew 22:21

He was speaking of a Roman tribute exacted in Judea – to be spent in Rome and therefore an out-and-out loss to local people. Fortunately we live in a sovereign country and taxes are aimed at our welfare. We can argue about the level and nature of government spending but not its direction.

The Beereport family may well worship the Norse god Thor for all I know. They are entirely free to hold the opinion their land is owned by God, provided they pay their rates. The roads, rubbish removal and the books in the public library are not the gift of a higher power, they paid are for by property holders.

There are careful, considerate rate deferral mechanisms for those unable to pay their rates, while belligerent refusal ultimately obliges council to sell property to recover what is owed.

Many are seduced by the lazy thought the perpetual freehold title our forebears insisted on at white settlement grants them unconditional and paramount control over their land. This modest example tells the real story, a different one.

Henry George’s Letter to Pope Leo XIII, responding to Rerum Novarium, says in part:

“To take land values for the state, abolishing all taxes on the products of labour, would therefore leave to the labourer the full produce of labour; to the individual all that rightfully belongs to the individual. It would impose no burden on industry, no check on commerce, no punishment on thrift; it would secure the largest production and the fairest distribution of wealth, by leaving men free to produce and to exchange as they please, without any artificial enhancement of prices; and by taking for public purposes a value that cannot be carried off, that cannot be hidden, that of all values is most easily ascertained and most certainly and cheaply collected, it would enormously lessen the number of officials, dispense with oaths, do away with temptations to bribery and evasion, and abolish man-made crimes in themselves innocent.

The price the Beerepoots may expect from the auction in council offices will likely be far short of market. Their alleged principles will come at a heavy cost if they allow the sale to proceed.

Perhaps it is God’s will for the Beerepoots to contribute to the community by passing the land to other hands who may make better use of it than they do.