Opposition is growing to the NSW Coalition government’s move to privatise the state-owned land registry, the Land and Property Information office (LPI). Sources inside the LPI are increasingly alarmed at the government’s rush to sell the office as community concern mounts against the sale itself.
The government is proposing to lease the LPI for 35 years to private investors for an estimated $2 billion, which it plans to spend rebuilding sports stadiums. Opposition to the sale is coming from community groups, and peak bodies representing lawyers, surveyors and even developers, who all say that the integrity of the state's world-class land titles system is at stake.
The LPI, which currently produces a 70% profit margin, generated $190 million in revenue for the state in 2015–16, which will be completely lost if the LPI is sold. Fees for regulated products will rise with the Consumer Price Index each year.
“It's a bargain, and I believe they're underselling it by $3-4 billion,” an inside source told the Sydney Morning Herald. The source revealed there was a small group within government “hell-bent” on privatising the LPI. He added there was an “unhealthy influence” of the big infrastructure companies.
“There's an unholy alliance of consultants and advisers, all of whom are earning good fees, and there seems to be a pre-destined outcome,” he said. “It's a privatisation feeding frenzy.”
The NSW Public Service Association (PSA) said on February 3: “It is becoming increasingly clear the NSW public has nothing to gain and everything to lose from the sell-off of LPI. Despite this, the Berejiklian Government currently plans to move ahead with its privatisation.”
The PSA has applied for the release of the government's modelling of future fee structures under the Government Information (Public Access) Act. “What is most galling is the fact the Berejiklian government knows absolutely that house price rises will occur as a result of its fee rises, at a time when house prices are already out of reach for many,” the PSA said.
On February 23, Labor leader Luke Foley released previously secret government documents showing that almost 400 local full-time jobs could be lost as a result of the draft terms and conditions of sale of the LPI.
“The sell-off of Land Titles Information is a travesty. No one wins,” Foley said. “It puts every decent home and business owner in NSW at risk of error, fraud and guaranteed higher costs.
“Britain's Conservative government was rocked by the full implications of privatising land titles — and confronted by the massive public opposition to it. The Tories backed off — but Berejiklian stubbornly ignores the same facts. She thinks she knows better.”
NSW Greens Treasury spokesperson Justin Field said on February 2: “The Greens don't support selling this world class asset, but the public would be even more furious to know it is being so short changed in the sale.
“The government's plan represents a one-off ‘sugar hit’, but that would undermine the true value of this asset to the people of NSW as a safe and secure property transfer service.
“It is impossible to calculate today what sort of new and adapted services will be possible through the digital transformation of the LPI and the sorts of profits a private operator could make using the public’s data. While the LPI should be kept in public hands, if the government insists on a sale, a profit-sharing arrangement should be included to ensure the public gets a fair price.”