The legal body, together with the Property Council of South Australia, say that if the government insists on going ahead with its contentious privatisation of SA’s Land Services Group, the process must at least be completely transparent and the community impact fully disclosed.
The two noted that they are disappointed in the level of information that has been made available to the public so far regarding the tender process.
“Despite this proposal representing one of the biggest government transactions in recent history and having huge implications for the state, there has been next to no public information from the government about the planned sale and its long-term impact,” said Law Society president Tony Rossi.
“The mechanism allowing the government to sell this essential service was activated by one line buried deep in last year’s budget bill.”
This sentiment was echoed by Philip Page, chair of the Law Society’s Property Committee.
“The government has yet to explain how it is in the public interest to outsource to a private operator, motivated by profit, a land title registration system that has operated efficiently and securely in SA for over 150 years,” Mr Page said.
“Property is the biggest asset most people will own. It is essential that the security, accuracy and privacy of land ownership information are not compromised.
“It is inevitable that the private operator will increase fees for unregulated services, and will develop ways of profiting from the sale of land data. There is also a risk that title insurance, which is currently not needed by SA landowners, will become necessary to protect assets.”
A statement from the SA Law Society highlighted that stakeholders have also questioned whether the sale could lead to South Australians losing their jobs if functions are outsourced interstate.
As such, Property Council SA executive director Daniel Gannon said he is seeking an assurance that local jobs will not be lost in any restructuring of this service.
“The Land Services Group is one of the most efficient and well-run agencies across government, thanks to the experience and expertise of its staff,” Mr Gannon said.
“It would be a travesty to lose that wealth of experience – which is vital to the integrity of the system – particularly at a time when there are more unemployed South Australians than the seated capacity at Adelaide Oval.”
The statement from the Law Society also voiced serious concerns “about the potential increase in costs to consumers in light of recent revelations about the state government’s privatisation of the Compulsory Third Party Insurance Scheme in 2013”.
“Figures obtained by the Law Society show that compensation payments for people injured in motor vehicle accidents have dropped dramatically but insurance premiums have remained the same, suggesting that the premiums which were previously used to compensate injured parties are now being redistributed to government and the insurance companies engaged by them,” Mr Rossi said.
“There is concern that the same thing could happen with a privately operated Land Services Group, which is why we should reflect on the past and ask whether privatising essential services has benefitted consumers in SA.”
In conclusion, both the Law Society and Property Council SA said they are in agreeance that if the government chooses not to divulge the terms of the private contract citing “commercial in confidence” reasons, then it should at least be open to review by the Auditor-General.
“That is a reasonable request,” Mr Gannon said.
Mr Rossi added: “We cannot keep the public in the dark on issues relating to the security and privacy of our most important data".