The Land and Property Information NSW (Authorised Transaction) Bill 2016 outsources the titling and registry business of Land and Property Information [LPI].
The LPI is currently responsible for maintaining the State's land title register, assessing land values and maintaining mapping data across the State.
This bill effectively subcontracts the first of these functions—running the Land Titles Register—which means outsourcing vital public service jobs and risking the integrity of the register itself. Why does that matter? Since the Old system register of 1802 and the subsequent Torrens Title system of 1863, title records have provided generations of landowners with proof and assurance of ownership.
It is not an overstatement to say that the Torrens Title system and the LPI are the backbone of property and home ownership in this State. It is the process by which we apportion the 3.5 million lots in the State and it is a foundation for our economy, protecting more than $1.2 trillion in real estate and mortgages. The system is often the landowner's final line of defence against encroachments on their property and, yes, against the rapaciousness of developers.
The privatisation of the LPI is an example of creeping privatisation at its worst, and the community is right to suspect that the Government's target is the Torrens land title system itself. As I have said in this place before and I will say again, this Government has not seen a public asset it would not like to sell.
It follows that any attempt to weaken the basis of property ownership in this State should be approached with scepticism and caution.
I raise three key issues in response to this legislation: first, the risk to accuracy of the titles register; secondly, the inevitable costs that will be passed on to landowners and homebuyers; and, thirdly, the risks of this Government's privatisation agenda for future generations and the lack of transparency around this decision.
A vast number of people in New South Wales, particularly young people, now accept that they will never own their own home. In the current Sydney housing market, the dream of home ownership is slipping further and further away. I am concerned that for those who do manage to buy a house, this legislation will turn the dream into a nightmare.
A young couple in my electorate now spends years saving for a deposit on a house. They fight through auction after auction, being beaten each time, until, hallelujah, their time has come. They mortgage themselves to the eyeballs, buy a house, move in and are happy.
They settle down and want to enjoy their little piece of Australia, safe in the certainty that it belongs to them and nobody else. Now, by privatising Land and Property Information [LPI], there is a real risk that the certainty they depend upon will be shattered after discovering there is an inaccuracy in their land title. What follows is years of legal bills and unbearable stress, all because of a mistake in the land titles register.
This is not fanciful; it is happening now in other jurisdictions where the land titling system has been privatised. In Canada and the United States, homebuyers are encouraged to buy additional titles insurance or property risk insurance to cover for eventualities such as this.
That young inner‑west couple, who will have already forked out over $1 million to purchase their first home, will be forced to dig deeper into their pockets just to protect the value of their asset.
What I say to that couple and to homebuyers across Sydney is that this Government should be working towards making housing more affordable, not more expensive.
This is not the first time this Government has sought to undermine the fundamentals of property ownership. Strata owners are now facing the very real prospect of being turfed out of their units if 75 per cent of other residents agree to sell their units.
This is a government that has systematically ripped off residents for infrastructure projects, undermining their rights as property owners.
This Government is happy to weaken the certainty of property ownership because it will not let anything or anyone stand in the way of developers making a dollar. In the same vein, the Government has fattened the LPI for market at the expense of home owners.
Fees to transfer or register title boundaries have risen sharply from $109.50 to $136.30, an increase of 25 per cent aimed squarely at homebuyers. The Government has introduced new charges and fees that have never been seen before. Time and again, we see this Government putting private interests before public good.
The President of the Law Society of New South Wales has spoken out against the privatisation, telling the Fairfax media:
There are some state owned assets that should remain in public hands.
Our land titles system protects the property interests of all NSW land owners and it is simply not in the public interest for the LPI to be sold off to private enterprise.
This raises important issues around adequate protection of sensitive data, the continued implementation of best practice anti-fraud measures, and the potential loss of expertise of LPI personnel.
I note that in the United Kingdom, Tory backbenchers have made similar statements against moves to privatise land title registration. In the United Kingdom, the bluest of conservatives have called this "a privatisation too far". Will Quince, the member for Colchester, says that privatising the Land Registry would:
Undermine impartiality, lead to fees for customers increasing and act as a considerable risk to the integrity of the organisation.
Former Minister Sir Peter Bottomley said:
Many of us here want to see the Land Registry having the opportunity of the innovative value-creating enterprises and it should not be sold off for that to happen, it is not necessary.
It is clear that where this Government is concerned, innovation extends only so far as selling off something, and there is absolutely no limit to what it will privatise.
What we saw last week was the health Minister's decision to privatise five hospitals.
We have seen restructures in departments, the hollowing out of the public service and the stripping of institutional memory and experience.
We see it in the short-sighted sale of electricity assets, the sale of TAFE and the push to privatise further our prison system.
Now the Government has put a price tag on the very system which underpins the ownership of our land.
We have to pose the question: Other than immediate profits for providing services, what interest would the private sector have in investing in this public asset? What benefit would it derive from running the Land Titles Registry? Over centuries the Government has built an invaluable database containing the private financial information of millions of residents. A private company will now have access to the millions of people who have sought or who will seek access to the Land Titles Register when they buy or sell a property or apply for a mortgage.
That is a captive audience for a private company to make a mint. It is a licence to print money.
By privatising LPI we are handing the keys of the property kingdom to private companies.
That is not something we should do lightly and it is not something we should do just to make a quick buck. LPI is self‑sustaining and makes approximately $47 million for the Government each year. That is money that should be spent on hospitals, schools, transport and on the public servants who keep our government ticking.
But the Government would give that up for a quick sugar hit and a sell-off, to pay for vanity infrastructure projects.
Like my colleagues, I oppose the privatisation agenda of this Government, which I think we can now safely say is out of control. Selling off the LPI is short-sighted and foolish.
It will undermine and weaken the very basis of property ownership in this State. I oppose the bill.