As the minutes tick down on the deadline for private sector bids to run the NSW land titles registry opposition to the sale is intensifying.
The Berejiklian Government’s plans to flog the only profitable part of the Land and Property Information (LPI) agency have met with widespread anger from surveyors, unions, property developers, real estate agents, community groups and lawyers, who argue that it will debase the quality of the service and make it more expensive for ordinary people, as well causing skilled LPI staff to run for the door.
Land titles currently makes a net profit of about $130 million a year. The government will rake in $2 billion by giving the private sector a 35-year lease to operate the registry but Labor has argued this dwarfs the revenue forfeited over the same period. The windfall is earmarked to rebuild Parramatta Stadium and for renovating ANZ Stadium.
Despite the majority of people being blissfully unaware of the system until they need it, land titles underpins billions of dollars spent in the NSW economy and a $1.2 trillion real estate market.
Land titles define legal ownership and boundaries of land parcels and they are integral to buying and selling property, as well as taking out and paying off mortgages, leasing and inheriting property.
A public rally protesting against the sell-off on Tuesday in Sydney’s CBD was followed by a last ditch attempt by Labor to introduce a private member’s bill into NSW Parliament to repeal the previous legislation, which allowed the lease.
NSW Opposition Leader Luke Foley said he hoped to shut down the privatisation before bidders had to finalise their bids with the government, which he said was tomorrow (Thursday).
Mr Foley warned that allowing the deal to go ahead could throw the system into jeopardy and possibly hand control and access to NSW property records to an overseas-based consortia.
He said it would push up conveyancing and land title fees, force home owners to take out title insurance and move 400 jobs offshore.
Labor maintains that the sell-off will forfeit the $4 billion revenue which would be generated over 35 years that could instead be channeled towards essential services.
“The only people that want this sale to go ahead are the Premier, the Treasurer and a handful of bankers and lawyers who stand to receive a fat pay cheque once the sale goes through,” Mr Foley said.
“Among the bidders are consortia that are based offshore, which means they can avoid paying tax, make a buck and can shrug off their responsibility to the people of this state.”
But NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet appear to be pushing on.
They have said the new private provider would invest in new technology and faster processing times could be expected, improving the service for consumers and for industry.
Moving to reassure Australians, Mr Perrottet said the data would remained owned by the government and not be stored offshore.
Ms Berejiklian has said the state would continue to guarantee any title and compensate any claims through the Torrens Assurance Fund.
But a gaff over GST on LPI fees has proved a headache for Mr Perrottet. GST is currently not payable on these fees but this will change if the service is privatised.
To protect consumers from price hikes, Mr Perrottet has instructed potential bidders to take 10 per cent off the fees, whereas fees had previously been capped at the CPI.
Shadow Finance, Services and Property Minister Clayton Barr has argued that this is an oversight and slashes the land titles registry’s value from between $200 million to $250 million to potential buyers, yielding less for the taxpayer than was originally forecast.
Greens MP Justin Field said the government should abandon the sale of the ‘world-class land titling service’.
“The more we find out about the sale of this monopoly and essential service, the more opposition grows,” Mr Field said. “The community is right to be concerned about increasing risk of fraud, misuse of personal data and increasing costs of property purchases as a result of the privatisation.
“The NSW Governments should listen to the experts, LPI staff and the community and stop the sell-off of land titles,” he said.
Mr Field has launched a community petition to stop the privatisation here.
Opponents to the sell-off include the Law Society of NSW, Institute of Surveyors NSW, the Concerned Titles Group, LPI Staff Union, the Public Service Association of NSW and the Real Estate Institute of NSW.