Land and Property Information NSW (Authorised Transaction) Bill 2016

20th September 2016

Mr GREG PIPER ( Lake Macquarie ) ( 21:56 :07 ): I make a contribution to debate on the Land and Property Information (Authorised Transaction) Bill 2016. I note that the Treasurer is in the House. I also note that around 30 minutes into the speech of the member for Cessnock he almost had the Government in agreement. But the member overcooked his speech and we are now looking down the barrel of this transaction occurring, just to spite the member for Cessnock. Along with many New South Wales residents, I have grown increasingly concerned about the privatisation agenda of the Government. The member for Wyong mentioned this as well. This transaction, I believe, represents an unnecessary sale of an asset that provides a solid, recurrent dividend to the Government and, of course, the State's residents.

I have no doubt that there are lazy public assets out there. While I have no problem with the Government searching for the best deals for taxpayers and testing those deals, this asset clearly is not one of them. The titling and registry arm of Land and Property Information [LPI] was the most profitable arm of the department before it was fragmented in recent years. Why on earth would we sell off such a profitable government service—one which makes a regular and solid return to taxpayers—to the private sector and then keep the unprofitable parts, which are a strain on the public purse? I guess we will see about those with respect to future transactions.

The titling and registry business, as we have heard previously, returned some $47 million to taxpayers in 2014-15. That is $47 million which not only subsidises the department's unprofitable sectors but also goes towards funding teachers and nurses and building new infrastructure. While I accept the word of the Treasurer that the scoping study commissioned by the Government found long-term benefit to consumers and taxpayers, we have not seen the detail in that study. It is okay to say that privatising the LPI will deliver faster processing times and a better investment in technology and better services, but where is that detail and what is the real cost to taxpayers?

The Government is looking to cash in this profitable business for an immediate windfall, with at least some of that money going to new sporting stadiums. There is an economic argument that some assets can give a better return to the community by being sold and the proceeds put into economy-growing infrastructure. On the other hand, there is a very good argument for holding onto entities, which, by any standard, are good little earners—the kind of earners that provide funds to maintain assets such as stadiums. The sale of the LPI is effectively cashing in on the good work of previous governments and LPI administrations for a short-term gain.

My concerns extend beyond the financial case. The current Torrens title system is among the best of its type in the world. I am told that it may indeed be the best in the world. It is a system that offers great integrity and probity to titles management and therefore gives great confidence to the market. LPI is highly regarded for its probity and strength. I have significant concerns that that strength will be lost or watered down by a private operator down the track, despite the safeguards the Government is building into the proposed sale. The system has been central to providing a fair, streamlined and relatively cheap service since 1863. More than anything, it is a trusted and secure service. I accept that the Treasurer truly believes what she said in her second reading speech about safeguards being built into any future operation by the private sector, but there also needs to be a high degree of public confidence in the system.

The taxpayers of this State—particularly those who hold land titles—along with the development industry and other stakeholders, need confidence that the system will provide security and integrity. The system, an institution in New South Wales for 150 years, has provided surety about the integrity of property records that is second to none. Government enterprises such as this give stability and confidence to markets. Our Torrens title system has been invaluable in providing that stability and confidence for the people of New South Wales. I fear that, if privatised, the value of our property records system could be diminished, along with the confidence it brings to the market, purchasers and landowners—not overnight but in the long term. Over the long term New South Wales has benefited from the integrity and stability of the property records system.

I note the Treasurer's assurance that the Government has been committed to building security into the legislation, to protect data and information held by Land and Property Information. I also accept the Government's intention to protect and promote competition and innovation among those in the business and those in downstream businesses, but that cannot be guaranteed. I accept that the Government has built in a new safeguard that will allow it to intervene or even terminate a private contract if the system's integrity is questioned, but at what point does that happen and where will today's corporate knowledge be then? What level of breach would allow the Government to step in and take back control? What if that response comes after the horse has bolted?

My thoughts on the privatisation of public assets are well known in this Chamber. In a recent survey of people in my electorate, privatisation ranked very highly in their concerns. They did not want their poles and wires sold off, they do not want their health services privatised and they do not want their prisons privatised. They do not want any further erosion of public assets. There may be cases where some government operations are better off in the hands of a private operator. The public should give the Government a degree of social licence before it sells off assets acquired or built up over many years. A large degree of approval and public confidence should exist before that happens. I do not believe that that is the case with this legislation and proposed transaction. I do not believe that the titling and registry services of Land and Property Information are lazy assets. I oppose the bill.

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