PSA: Land Titles Registry sale 'a disaster'

The PSA says the lease of the Land Titles Office is "a recipe for disaster".
April 22, 2017

The NSW Coalition government’s decision to lease the 150-year-old Land Titles Registry to a private consortium of Hastings Funds Management and First State Super is "a recipe for disaster" for millions of property owners across the state, the NSW Public Service Association (PSA) said on April 12.

First State is a $59 billion superannuation fund, which developed from a NSW public sector fund. Hastings is owned by Westpac Bank.

"It is, hands down, the most appalling fire sale decision yet by a government with a strong track record in that area," PSA general secretary Stewart Little said.

"The government trumpets its efforts on 'life-changing projects' but what could be more life changing for millions of people across NSW than to lose the security on their own property?

"Just as the PSA feared all along, ultimately the personal property records of the people in NSW will be held offshore, given a portion of the successful consortium is based in London."

For the past century and a half the state government has provided insurance and security of property titles. But now the registry, called Land and Property Information (LPI), has been leased to a private operator, individual landowners may be forced to take out insurance to guard against unscrupulous property developers and fraud.

"These super[annuation] companies will be out to turn a profit for their members," Little said. "In recent times, registry costs to the consumer have increased by 300% just to fatten the company for sale, and it will only get worse.

"How can [Premier Gladys] Berejiklian call this a win-win situation? Selling a critical government function that has such an enormous bearing on the economy and the lives of every land and property owner in NSW is nothing short of ideology gone mad.

"Academics, former senior staff, community groups, major newspapers, property developers and even prominent members of the Liberal Party have all joined the PSA in condemning the idea."

The NSW government will invest $1 billion of the $2.6 billion sale price into upgrading Parramatta, Homebush and Moore Park football stadiums. The remaining $1.6 billion will be spent on other infrastructure projects, the government claims.

Labor Opposition Leader Luke Foley said he doesn't believe the government's promises that privatisation will lead to better outcomes for customers. "In the last year, they put fees up for many transactions, often to the tune of several hundred per cent," Foley said.

"Now they say 'oh, the new owner will be barred from putting up fees above CPI' — the government has done all the dirty work for them. They put all the prices up sky high over the last 12 months to fatten the pig for market day."

He said the deal was a poor one for the state as the registry made a $130 million profit in 2015–16. "They've sold it off for 20 years' worth of the current profit ... and we know the profit is going to keep going up."

NSW Greens Treasury spokesperson Justin Field said on April 12: "The land titles privatisation will risk making property prices higher, expose property owners' interests and leave the taxpayer worse off in the long term. How many times do governments have to learn the lessons that privatisation will cost consumers more and lead to poorer services?

"The sell-off of this world class and monopoly public asset is bad public policy. Voters can now be confident that the Berejiklian government will just continue with the Coalition's 'privatisation at any cost' approach.

"The Greens oppose the land titles sale and will watch closely to make sure its private owners meet the requirements of the concession legislation. If there are avenues to overturn this privatisation in the future, we'll pursue them."

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