NSW has passed legislation to allow the sale of their land titles office. This is foolish. The land titles office serves as the record of property rights across the country. Its database has a government guaranteed final say on who owns what land and property in the state (under a Torrens Title system). Every sale is recorded there, and every mortgage or lien against any property is recorded there. The database forms the foundation for administering state land taxes and local rates.
How does the government thinks it can regulate a private owner of the titles office to ensure better public outcomes than when it is actually the owner and manager of the land titles office? What magic are they expecting to find? This is a pure gift to the private sector, and I would not be surprised to find whoever wins the bid for the sale will be repaying politicians for the next decades with cushy, high-paid jobs.
The financial logic makes no sense either. If it is worth buying for a private party because of the future returns, than it is worth the government owning it for these same high future returns. The financially logical thing is for the NSW government to borrow at its cheap 2-4% rate and buy it back!
My view is that the land titles database should be freely available to the public. Currently access is sold on a lot-by-lot basis, or in bulk through data-resellers such as CoreLogic (a likely bidder in the sale). It is expensive, and charging for access conflicts with the promoted views of both sides of politics about government transparency and accountability. Knowing who owns what property should be available to everyone, not just cashed-up interested parties. Like many other public record systems, it can be funded by those who benefit from its existence, in this case, property owners.
My questions about the planned sale are these.
- Will the State Revenue Office be charged to access the register in order to administer land taxes?
- Will there be regulation to limits price increases on access to bulk data to resellers?
- Will the State government reman liable for compensation of loss caused by private fraud or by errors made on the registry? This includes, for example, from hacking, IT failure, natural disaster etc.
- Is there evidence that the titles registry is inefficient compared with similar systems globally?
- Is there evidence that privatisation of titles registration generates either a) cost savings, and b) reduced costs of access to data for the public?
- Given that the title office generates income for the government, would it be better to retain that income source to pay for other government investments?
- What alternate options were considered to generate the revenue that would arise from the sale of the titles registry?
- Will the sale of the titles registry restrict purchase of the titles registry by foreign entities?
- Have any assessments been made of whether free public access to the land titles register provides a net economic and social benefit compared to the current system of paid access? Texas, for example, has such a system with free public access.
- What are the total costs of the sale expected to be? Rumours of $4.5million for the sale costs of the NSW registry suggest they are high.
- What are the core regulations that will ensure reasonable and fair access to a privately owned land titles register, and who will enforce these regulations?'
I highly doubt that there are sensible answers to any of these questions. The NSW government is now firmly part of the corporate-mafia.