I rise to make a contribution on the Land Legislation Amendment Bill 2017.
This bill encompasses amendments to the Transfer of Land Act 1958, the Subdivision Act 1988 and the Valuation of Land Act 1960.
The bill states as its purpose that it intends to promote greater efficiency in the conveyancing process and enable the register of land to be more effectively maintained, as well as improve the efficiency of the process for registering subdivision plans and enable valuation information to be accessed by the public in the same manner as property sales information is currently made available.
Acting Speaker, you could seriously think that this was a deadly boring topic, and there would be many people out there who would have always seen conveyancing as one of the most dreary and boring areas of law to practise in, but let me tell you: property law can be fascinating. There is a lot of complexity in property law, and a lot of these changes that are being initiated in here are such that I think there will be some people sad about it. I am talking about, for instance, the transfer of all our general law land into the Torrens title system. In my very early days of practice I had the great misfortune of having a conveyance handed to me where it was general law land. I can tell you it is a young lawyer’s nightmare — to have to put together that chain of title and show that every step and every document is there can be really very difficult. In reality, for many legal practitioners out there the streamlining of the remainder of all that land that is still under general law into the system of Torrens title will be very welcome.
The history of the Torrens title system is interesting. It was Robert Torrens, who was the third Premier of South Australia, who initiated this system, no doubt with considerable opposition at the time. It is a system that was revolutionary at the time, and there is no doubt that it has led to a much more efficient system of recording land. The system was adopted throughout Australia over time and also in New Zealand. Subsequently it spread across the world, so countries now using the system include England, Wales, Ireland, Malaysia, Singapore, Iran, Canada and Madagascar.
There are three fundamental principles that the Torrens title system works on. The first is an acceptance that the land titles register accurately and completely reflects the current ownership of and interests about a person’s land. Secondly, because the land titles register contains all the information about a person’s land, it means that ownership and other interests do not have to be proved by long and complicated documents such as title deeds. Thirdly, the government guarantee provides for compensation to a person who suffers loss of land or a registered interest. It is my understanding that this bill in no way impacts on those three fundamental principles of the existing Torrens title system.
I would like to refer to just a few of the amendments that are being made in this bill. I have already said that the bringing of general law land under the Torrens system is important. General law land predates the Torrens system. It is complex in that you do have to show every step in the chain of title from when that land was granted to someone from the Crown, so you can go back a very long time. I think it is welcome also that the registrar of land will be undertaking much of this work. My understanding previously was that it was the owner of land that instigated that step in converting that land from general law land to Torrens title land and that it was an expensive process. My understanding of this legislation is that the registrar of titles will now engage in that process and bring about the incorporation of all of that general law land under the one system.
I think it is fair to say that it might put a few people out of jobs in that there are just a few people out there, very few I dare to say, who still know how to do a search of the general law register. They were very few and far between in my later years of practice, but it was a very specialised skill, and it was hard to find someone who could do that.
I recall feeling disappointed when I read an article in the Age last year that said the big four banks were destroying their paper titles. The registrar of titles declared in a notice in the VictoriaGovernment Gazette that paper-based titles would be void and of no effect from 22 October 2016. That system, I understand, is up and operating. The Law Institute of Victoria was an outspoken critic of that, arguing that it would increase costs, undermine those holding titles for security against other assets and add complexity and legal uncertainty to what was once a simple, safe system. But there has been a national push towards electronic conveyancing, and it does seem to be a fact of life. Much of this legislation and the amendments around it recognise the onset of that technological change and the way things are now happening.
The old paper titles were a source of rich history. For those of you who ever saw the old title to your home before the new titles were issued just on a single sheet of paper, you could go back such a long way and identify who all the previous owners of the land had been before you, how many mortgages they had, how many caveats had been lodged and whether they were deceased estates. It was really quite a rich and interesting history, and we will lose not only that historical context with this new system but also that expertise that existed within that area of law.
It is interesting how incredibly important home ownership is to people in Australia in particular, and there has been so much publicity around the concern about the ability to own your own home in the future. It certainly struck me today, sitting here when the Aboriginal elders were here and recognising the importance of land to our Aboriginal forebears and Aboriginal people of today too. Land is something to which we all attach ourselves very significantly, and whoever you are and whatever your background is, it has always been something that in some ways is sacrosanct, so the land titles system is a really important system to have, and its integrity must be maintained.
I think there is some anxiety associated with this current discussion around, first of all, the technology associated with electronic conveyancing and the like but also the possibility of the land titles office being sold. The land titles office is a money-making enterprise as it stands. I do not believe it is the sort of body that should be sold. I think we are getting to a position with so many of our state assets that are being sold off that we soon will wonder what we have left in the coffers. The land titles office is a government organisation that is fundamental in that it collects and maintains all information about all land in Australia, and in our case we are talking about Victoria.
To see that fall into other hands that are seriously concerned about profit making as opposed to providing a service remains a worry to me, as similarly does the sale of the Snowy — something else that is being considered at the moment in relation to providing more energy resources in Australia. Victoria owns a part of the Snowy scheme. The Snowy scheme is essential to that part of my electorate that relies so heavily on irrigation, so we will want to see a lot more detail about how that might play out as time goes on.
The bill makes many other amendments to the Transfer of Land Act 1958, and they are all designed to simplify and streamline registration requirements in relation to things like the removal of mortgages, caveats and priority notices along with many other amendments. It also amends the Subdivision Act 1988 to clarify a number of matters there, but it does not make any particular changes to the nature of our system. I have said what I wanted to say in relation to what some have accused this bill of — as having an underlying intention of fattening the calf for sale. It is not clear to me whether that is the case. I understand that this bill is probably more technical than that. It may well improve the operations of the land titles office and make it more attractive. I commend the bill to the house.