This speech was delivered on 21.09.2016 in the NSW Upper House. You can read the full debate online here.
I speak strongly in debate against the Land and Property Information NSW (Authorised Transaction) Bill 2016, which is proposing to privatise Land and Property Information NSW [LPI]. The concept that any government would, for a quick buck, flog off the Crown jewels of our economy, which underpins almost every other economic activity in New South Wales, which is secure and guaranteed land title, is extraordinary. We are talking about the land titling system.
The Government is selling off, at a bargain basement rate, the Crown jewels of the New South Wales real property register. There are other terms I could use to refer to the offensively short-sighted selling off of the LPI, but I do not know whether the Hon. Rick Colless would weather them. The idea that anyone would muck around with the land titling system in New South Wales, which is estimated to have assets worth well over $1 trillion, underpins every mortgage that is written, all contracts and leaseholds. The contracts for the sale of properties become effective only when they are registered under a system governed by the LPI. It beggars belief that a conservative government would mess around with the fundamental economic underpinnings of the State because it wants to sell off a core part of business to get an up-front payment from a private operator.
We have a land titling system in this State that is the envy of the rest of the world. We adopted it, as many people would know, from the initial innovation in South Australia with Torrens title. The concept of indefeasibility, the concept that what is on the register is guaranteed in law to be yours, and guaranteed to be protected, is a fundamental economic underpinning of the State. That the Government would meddle with the important land titling system of New South Wales and hand it over to a for-profit corporation is nothing short of economic recklessness. Why would a for-profit corporation get involved in land titling? Let us start with why the bureaucrats do it, why the public servants do it, and why the Registrar General does it. The Registrar General and those extremely competent hardworking public servants are working on land titling to ensure that it is secure, accurate and that the concept of indefeasible title is maintained. They are working in the public interest. It has proven itself to be one of the best systems in the world.
When we hand over this system to a private operator, its primary concern for the economic underpinning of this State will be how much it can rip out of it and how much profit it can make. It is a statutory obligation to have that as its only consideration because that is what Corporations Law says. A private operator’s one and only obligation to its shareholders is to maximise profit. It will be in charge of land titling in New South Wales. Who is circling like a big hungry shark to grab this asset from the people of New South Wales? The most obvious example—and the one that is most often referenced—is the Orwellian-sounding Teranet from Canada. Teranet is looking at New South Wales because it has not been able to take over the entire land titling system in any one of the Canadian provinces. It has part of one and a bit of another.
It is looking at other countries to see whether any suckers will hand over their entire land titling system so that it can take it over and squeeze profits out of it. Lo and behold, Premier Mike Baird and his mates said, “Here we go. We will give it to Teranet. We will give it the land titling system—the Crown jewels of the New South Wales economy.”
I am sure that Teranet, in its discussions with the Government, has been saying, “We do not mind taking all the profits—we would love all the profits—but could you make sure that no-one can come after us if we stuff it up, because we do not want any liabilities. We don’t mind your privatising the profits but we want you to socialise the losses.” As a result Premier Baird and his team inserted new section 15 into this bill which states:
(1)The authorised operator—
the private profit-seeking foreign corporation—
has no liability for loss or damage referred to in section 120 (Proceedings for compensation) of the Real Property Act 1900 that arises from any act or omission of the authorised operator …
One might ask: If the private for-profit operator is not responsible for the losses it causes, who is responsible? New section 15 subsection (2) states:
(2)A liability referred to in subsection (1) that the authorised operator would have were it not for the operation of that subsection attaches instead to the Registrar-General.
We are selling off the Crown jewels and putting at risk the entire economic underpinning of New South Wales—more than a trillion dollars in assets. When a private operator the likes of Teranet stuffs up, the people of New South Wales will pay the bill. The Government says, “Don’t worry; we will have a contract and that contract will be sweet. We will not show you the contract. We will not release the contract; it will be commercial-in-confidence but don’t worry, long-suffering taxpayers and residents of New South Wales, we will sort it out in a secret contract that we will never show you.” What nonsense. This is nothing short of economic vandalism.
This bill represents economic vandalism where the upside is with the private operator and the downside is with the people of New South Wales. I cannot believe that this legislation will get a majority vote in this Chamber. Some of the most talented and competent people on the payroll of New South Wales have approached crossbench members in this Chamber and said, “Please do not do this; it is madness.” I hope that crossbench members listen and send this legislation where it should go—to the dustbin.