5 December 2016

Lawyers in NSW are calling on the Baird Government to follow the UK's lead and abandon plans to privatise the Land and Property Information (LPI) service, to avoid undue risk to the state's economy and every home-owner and property investor in NSW. This follows news that last week the UK Government shelved the proposed sale of their Land Registry.

Jonathan Smithers, the Immediate Past President of the Law Society of England and Wales and now CEO of the Law Council of Australia, saw first-hand the fierce opposition from consumers, lawyers and eventually policy-makers themselves to the UK Government's plan to sell of its Land Registry.

"The proposed sale of the UK Land Registry was always fraught with risk. Lawyers throughout the UK were united in their opposition to the sale, as were a range of stakeholder groups, who together eventually convinced policy-makers that the sale was just too risky."

"Just as in NSW, lawyers in the UK had no material interest in the Registry's sale. They simply had an intimate and detailed understanding of the innate value of the Registry and therefore the risks of the proposed sale."

"The UK's Land Registry underpins the economy there and is crucial for business, housing supply and home ownership. The importance of the integrity of the Register should not be underestimated or undermined in any way."

"Threats posed by IT security, corruption and fraud require stringent protections that should not be compromised. Outsourcing the operations of the Registry to the private sector also raised serious concerns around conflicts of interest and fair competition," said Mr Smithers.

Commentary around the UK Government's proposal was at times heated with a Labour MP, David Lammy, labelling the sell-off proposal as 'purely political' and a means to 'make their sums add up' and akin to 'daylight robbery'. He suggested there 'was no economic rationale for the privatisation.'

Opposition to the sale crossed party lines. Tory MP, Will Quince, said the sale would 'undermine impartiality… and act as a considerable risk to the integrity of the organisation.'

President of the Law Society of NSW, Gary Ulman, said many members had raised concerns that the LPI privatisation was just a ‘cash grab'.

'It has been estimated that the 35-year concession of the LPI will yield in excess of $1.5 billion; undoubtedly an attractive figure to Government. Recent significant fee hikes for LPI services, which will ultimately be borne by homebuyers and property investors, are likely to have bolstered that estimate.

'Yet, this is a pittance, when viewed in the context of the LPI's role in registering and securing title of over $1.2 trillion worth of real estate across NSW and underpinning $130 billion worth of economic activity each year,' said Mr Ulman.

'Like the Land Registry in the UK, the LPI is a revenue positive service delivering NSW $60-$80 million a year. It is already among the world's best land titles registries after significant investment by the NSW Government. Given future fee-hikes will be capped with CPI, it's difficult to see how a private operator can yield higher returns without compromising critical services or persuading the Government to allow more substantial fee increases.

'The LPI underpins the success of the NSW economy1 and the wealth of home-owners and investors. The LPI is a precious asset but its true value lies in its sustained integrity and its role in supporting the property market and the wider economy – not in its sale or lease,' said Mr Ulman.

Mr Ulman also said the Baird Government's promises of stadium upgrades in return for the LPI's selloff are a distraction from the risk the privatisation of the LPI presents.

'It is a nonsensical trade-off for the Government to have set up: retaining the LPI vs stadium upgrades. Stadium upgrades are not what are at risk. It is the security and integrity of title in $1.2 trillion worth of homes and property all over the state, which are at stake' said Mr Ulman.

"At 42, Justice Edelman's meteoric rise as a judge continues. He has served the Federal Court with distinction, and as the Prime Minister stated, he is 'one of the most outstanding legal minds of his generation'."

"Both of these appointments are symbolic of changes throughout the legal profession. We are seeing a new generation of lawyers rise through the profession, a profession in which women are increasingly playing a leading role," said Mr Ulman.

Contact: Andrew Butler 02 9926 0288 or 0413 440 699