Lawyers urge halt of land titles registry sell-off
Lawyers have warned the Victorian government against going the way of other states by flogging off its land and titles registry to a private buyer.
The Victorian government is facing backlash from the state’s legal representative body for plans to sell off the land and titles registry.
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Law Institute of Victoria (LIV) president Belinda Wilson said that selling off the registry for quick cash did more damage than it was worth. She pleaded that the Victorian government avoid the course to privatise the land titles registry adopted by New South Wales lawmakers in April.
At the time that plans to invite tender for the LPI lease were made, the NSW Law Society joined a chorus of other representative bodies that warned against privatisation. Among those in opposition to the sell-off of the NSW public asset was the Law Council of Australia. The NSW public asset was ultimately sold to a consortium for $2.6 billion.
There was similar uproar in South Australia last year, when that state government began discussing the privatisation of its land and titles office as a serious proposition.
In a statement released this week, Ms Wilson said that privatising Land Use Victoria would have serious implications for privacy and security reasons.
She also went on to suggest that a sell-off of a “monopoly provider” would compromise the integrity of the registry and the “highly sensitive personal data” that it held.
“There is little incentive for a private owner to provide quality service at a reasonable cost when there is no competition,” Ms Wilson said.
“A buyer may try to increase profit from their purchase by hiking up user fees and cutting staff who have a great deal of experience and technical expertise. It is also possible they might explore ways to profit from the significant amounts of sensitive personal data they will now be in possession of,” she said.
Land Use Victoria presently has responsibility for all land titles and records. As a government agency, the state government is accountable for its services and the cost of those services, the LIV said.
The lawyers argue that should the registry be sold to a private operator, resources are liable to being pooled in “unregulated and profit-driven services”.
Of primary concern to LIV is the risk that a private commercial owner has interests which compete with the function of the registry. The group suggested that shareholder responsibilities would likely supersede a desire to deliver robust and efficient services. As an example, it pointed to the experience in the UK when the idea of selling off its land titles office was floated.
“In the United Kingdom, a similar proposal was abandoned after it attracted criticism from a range of groups, including lawyers, media firms and the UK’s competition watchdog, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA),” LIV said
“The CMA warned that selling the land registry would provide the new owner with a monopoly on commercially valuable data, with no incentive to improve access to it.”