Office address: 2/12 Elgin Street, Maitland NSW 2320 | Mail: PO Box 920, Maitland NSW 2320

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Authorised by Jay Suvaal, Country Labor Party, 9/377 Sussex Street, Sydney NSW 2000

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Land and Property Information NSW (Authorised Transaction) Bill 2016

September 20, 2016

History is made by those who turn up and it is interesting to note that many from the other side of the House were not motivated to turn up. Again it is a symbol of their arrogance and the shambolic nature of their business. I oppose the Land and Property Information NSW (Authorised Transaction) Bill 2016. With this bill we see a government led only by its privatisation ideology—its desire to privatise all that the people of New South Wales hold dear. We see the Baird-Grant Liberal Nationals Government move to privatise the key to that fundamental Australian principle, the right to own our own home, by selling off the very information which confers that basic right to all Australians.

 

As the member for Cessnock, the shadow Minister for Finance, Services and Property, said earlier, registration and title of property are fundamental to defining the great Australian dream—ownership of our own home. I well remember the best thing about purchasing my home with my husband was the feeling of purchasing our own place, defined and clearly ours, that no-one could take from us and that we were free to live in and raise our family in. The tangible sense of ownership was strengthened by the details held about our home, knowing that our ownership was secure and that it was registered with the Government as our own little piece of Australia.

 

It is not surprising to see a government that has lost direction, that cannot find its place other than as a facilitator of merchant banks and that is so arrogant and out of touch with the community act with such disrespect and disregard for the fundamental value of the data warehouse, the title and registration of more than 3½ million titles held by the Land Titles Office, that entity which defines the very geography and ownership of land within this State. Property rights are a fundamental basis of our entire system of law and government. They are invoked in considering ownership and rights for contracts, disputes and settlements for everyone from first home buyers to retirees downsizing ,and family and business law disputes. They touch every important milestone in our lives.

 

We need clear and accurate records kept by an independent entity. I note the contribution of the member for Balmain about the potential for conflict of interest from this privatisation. We need an independent entity that does not have an interest in the commercial benefits or losses that may be conferred on individuals or companies by transactions in the delineation and transfer of property. Good governments value the assets of the State and the assets of its citizens, yet here we have a government that knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. That price will rise for the ordinary people of this State.

 

In the twenty-first century, information is one of the most valuable assets. Technology companies are making huge amounts of money developing programs and databases that manipulate data for marketers, companies and governments to help them make decisions about a whole range of commercial and government activities. The land Titles Office Holds the key to much of that information, defining place and ownership. In generations to come, after this "35-year concession"—a sale by any other name—we will come to rue the day that this Government sold off our information about our private spaces, our title of ownership, to the highest bidder.

 

The Baird-Grant Coalition Government has an astounding track record in privatisation. In fact, since coming to office in 2011 there have been 77 privatisations. That means, on average, it has privatised something every 26 days, or more than one privatisation a month since being elected. The Government proudly proclaims itself as "the new State of business". However, our general population is becoming increasingly aware that the new state of business in New South Wales is selling off State assets, and now that the Government is running out of bricks, mortar and land it is seeking to sell the very register for those assets.

 

The member of Balmain expressed concern as to whether the Treasurer would come clean about the future of the Land and Property Information buildings in Macquarie Street. Indeed, with this privatisation we have again seen the hallmarks of the Baird-Grant Government's arrogance and secrecy. I doubt the member for Balmain will get an answer to his question because two scoping studies have been held back from public scrutiny—no transparency or opportunity for review. Like so many of this Government's transactions, we have been told to take it on trust because it is good for us—the Government knows best—but the people of New South Wales are no longer swallowing that. It has taken until now, even though the Government started talking about it in 2012—after the 2015 State election, the 2016 Federal Government election, and the 2016 partial local government elections—for this bill to be rushed through, in another late night debate, with a refusal to give the community time to see what is being sold out from under them. This was just like the Government's announcement last week on the privatisation of our regional hospitals and the late night debate a few weeks ago that sought to wipe a whole regional industry from our economy.

 

I am concerned about the impacts of this bill on business. The insurance industry has recognised the very real risks to accuracy and veracity of property rights posed in this bill. Surveyors, conveyancers and developers rely on information from the Land Titles Office to conduct their businesses. I understand that currently insurance for a surveyor is around $23,000 per annum, but the insurance industry has signalled that those premiums will be astronomically increased. The irony is, for a government that pretends to care about small business, that it has not considered the increased costs that will be borne by the industry. This Government does care about small business and its usual modus operandi will be to let the market take care of it. Let businesses pass it on to their customers and to the mums and dads and kids—my kids and your kids—trying to purchase homes. Of course, investors in the rental market will pass it on to their tenants. People will seek the lower costs and this will open the door for larger businesses to cannibalise smaller operators that can no longer afford to pay their insurances and retain low prices. Those businesses will lose their customers.

 

What about our citizens? With the fee increases referred to by the shadow Minister already in place, this fattening of the pig for market has already seen an increase in fees and it has placed extra stress on homebuyers. The Government pretends to care about housing affordability, that it cares about the ability of ordinary Australians to purchase their own homes, and that it cares that those who rent should pay a fair price, but this bill comprehensively shows that it does not care. The risks inherent in the accuracy of the information under a private operator, which was recognised by the insurance industry in its warning about premium increases, will no doubt be added to the bill for homebuyers. This will be another attack on homebuyers and, by extension, on tenants.

 

The Government does not care about the consequences for anyone in this State or about the consequences for governments in the future that will have to unscramble this omelette, so to speak. As the shadow Minister said, the Treasurer responded to the query by the Institution of Surveyors NSW Inc as to what would happen at the end of the 35 years of privatisation by saying, "planning is not looking that far ahead." I am sorry, planning is looking that far ahead; just not in this Government. This Government is not looking far enough ahead. It is short-sighted and insular, and basically not interested in providing quality services for any of its citizens—whether hospitals and schools or the register of this State's land and property.

 

In conclusion, I share the grave concerns outlined in the open letter from the Concerned Titles Group—namely, that it sees the proposal to privatise the New South Wales land title system as representing the most momentous change to the Torrens system since its inception. This system, which is the envy of the world and the bible of land developers and surveyors, is at risk. A system that provides cheap and efficient land registration services and a $47 million profit—sufficient to fund hundreds of teachers or nurses in our State schools and hospitals—is to be sold. Only a government with no plans or vision, other than to sell every State asset until everything is gone, would consider such a move. I urge all members to oppose the bill.

 

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