STEWART LITTLE. Titles registry sale a super storm.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian will bequeath the state a financial disaster for millions of property owners thanks to her government’s leasing of Land and Property Information’s 150-year-old Land Titles Registry.

“It is hands down, the most appalling fire sale decision yet by a Government with a strong track record in that area,” said Public Service Association (PSA) General Secretary, Stewart Little.  “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 may be held offshore given a portion of the successful consortium is based in London.  The consortium that has successfully bid for the registry includes First State Super and a number of lesser-known companies. One component of the consortium is Hastings Funds Management, which teams with foreign companies to purchase Australian assets, such as TransGrid, Perth Airport, the Port of Newcastle and the never-used Sydney Desalination Plant. While on paper the company is Australian, its finances are likely to be largely sourced – and returned – overseas.

Advara, an arm of Western Australia’s Landgate registry business, is also part of the consortium. In 2010, Landgate had 910 employees, including 820 full-time staff. According to its most recent annual report, it shed 100 workers last financial year, finishing June with 575 full-time employees and 86 part-time staff. Of those, 385 — or 58 per cent — were in operational roles. The PSA predicts similar cuts will be made at LPI’s offices.

The sale is not just a bad idea for LPI employees. Now the Registry has been sold to a private operator, individual land owners may be forced to take out insurance to guard against unscrupulous property developers or fraud.

“These super companies will be out to turn a profit for their members,” Mr Little said. “In recent times, Registry costs to the consumer have increased by 300 per cent, just to fatten the company for sale and it will only get worse. How on earth can the Premier 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.”

Rally unites strange bedfellows

At a last ditch protest against the LPI lease, the PSA was joined at a rally in Sydney by the Law Society, surveyors who admitted they’d never protested before, and even a couple of disgruntled Liberal Party members. Speaking at the rally, organised by the Concerned Titles Group, PSA General Secretary Stewart Little called the proposed sell-off “the stupidest privatisation” he’d seen. “Look at the maths of this place; $130 million a year, it makes. They want to hand it over for 35 years; you’re talking $5 billion at least.”

Other speakers included surveyor Mitchell Hanlon, who owns Tamworth company Mitchell Hanlon Consulting. A Liberal Party member, he brought up the risk of “price-gouging”, warning that given Australia’s track record of privatisations, such as Sydney Airport, consumers can expect bigger bills as the successful tenderer further capitalises on the service. “Every time these things have been privatised, the punter has to pay for it in the neck.”

 Stewart Little is General Secretary NSW Public Service Association

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John Laurence Menadue is the publisher of Pearls & Irritations. He has had a distinguished career both in the private sector and in the Public Service.

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