Supporting e-conveyancing and anti-monopolisation of public services

Abigail spoke in support of e-conveyancing legislation, and touched on the importance of public services remaining in public hands. 

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD (16:31): On behalf of The Greens, I participate in debate on the Electronic Conveyancing (Adoption of National Law) Amendment Bill 2022, which will amend the Electronic Conveyancing (Adoption of National Law) Act 2012 to introduce a requirement for electronic lodgment network operators to interoperate. Interoperability is now required after this Liberal Government, under the former Treasurer and now Premier, Dominic Perrottet, made the catastrophically short‑sighted decision to privatise the land titles registry, against the vigorous opposition of peak bodies, including the Law Council of Australia, the Law Society of New South Wales, the NSW Real Estate Institute and the Institution of Surveyors NSW. But here we are.

This privatisation resulted in a privately owned monopoly of what is an essential public service. The management of transfer and registration of certificates of title should have remained in public hands, but the Liberal Government decided to proceed anyway and make the State's bed for us. The Government is now having a bit of a Goldilocks moment, because it does not like the bed that it is in. So in an attempt to remedy the Government's mistakes, we have this bill before the House. Of course competition is better than a monopoly situation. I acknowledge the Hon. Mark Banasiak's comments about having a legislated duopoly. In my view, a duopoly has to be better than a monopoly; we do not want a monopoly situation. Hopefully interoperability will leave room for a public option to move back into that space.

This first bill just fires the starting gun and requires PEXA to come back to the table so that it can actually get on with the work that is required if we are to get into interoperability in the future. In my former life I had a lot of experience randomly with interoperability in the context of securities clearing systems. Many of the issues are quite similar. I do understand that that is an experience very few people have and that the technical aspects of interoperability are not something that someone who is not an expert to begin with can easily grasp. Throughout the course of the inquiry, perhaps some witnesses may have been taking advantage of the fact that, as MPs, we do not have all knowledge of all things. So it is easy to push a particular perspective when people may not necessarily be able to ascertain the facts for themselves.

I agree that the second bill is not necessary in terms of being able to go ahead and for the registrar to do the things mentioned by the Hon. Mark Banasiak, but of course the law is not the end of it. We have to look at what the incentives are for someone to proceed with a system that does not meet the security standards and is going to fail. No-one is going to do that. I do not see that as a political matter. That is not a decision of the Minister; it is the decision of the registrar. In whose interest could it possibly be? Sometimes we have to look beyond the legislative framework and look at the practical realities of why anybody would participate in a system, whether it is PEXA or Sympli or someone else, when the banking aspects have not been fully fleshed out, when the security aspects have not been fully analysed, understood and provided against, and when the functionality of the system does not work. Nobody would do that.

So what I would describe as a fanciful situation—where suddenly it gets turned on and it is not ready—is just not going to happen. I listened to the submissions we received during the inquiry and I spoke at length with the Registrar General. I was able to obtain a letter of assurance from the Registrar General basically along the lines of what the Opposition's amendment is attempting to achieve. I seek the leave of the House to table the letter entitled "Commitment to reporting to Parliament on security and progress with interoperability" from the Office of the Registrar General.

Leave granted.

Document tabled.

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD: In this letter dated 30 march 2022, Jeremy Cox, who is the New South Wales Registrar General, wrote:

I am writing to confirm that the NSW Registrar General will report to the Parliament on critical security aspects of the reform, and progress with other key aspects of the Bill. The NSW Registrar General will table the following reports to Parliament:

Security report …

I will not read all of the letter—

Progress reports 

b. Within 12 months of the ascent of this current Bill, and each year afterwards until interoperability is made available generally [the Registrar General will provide] progress reports covering key program areas of technology, regulations, stakeholder participation and project implementation, as well as an update on the implementation of a stronger financial settlement oversight regime for eConveyancing.

In my view that is a much stronger assurance than anything that we could put in this bill. I will get to why I oppose the Opposition's amendment. In my view, the Opposition's amendment is not as strong as this letter, but also we have to realise where this sits within the national law. On the assent of this bill, immediately the provisions of the bill will become the law in certain other jurisdictions. That is because those jurisdictions have already put in place implementing legislation. The text of this bill has been agreed with those State and Territory jurisdictions in Australia. Upon this bill being passed, through the application of law provisions, it will become law in Victoria and Queensland. If we were to agree to the Opposition's amendment becoming part of the bill, that would then go into the legislation of those States as well. That is not part of the agreement that the New South Wales Government has with those other States.

In effect, what would happen is that the Government would have to not pass the bill or not have it implemented in order to honour its obligations. What that means is delay. There is only one party that I can see that actually benefits from delay in the implementation of this bill and that is PEXA, which currently has a monopoly position. PEXA will be the one to lose out on that monopoly position when this bill is passed. It is for that reason that I cannot support the Opposition's amendment. Although I believe the amendment has been moved in good faith, the effect of it is to kill the bill or at least to delay it for another month or so, during which time PEXA is not at the table and we are not able to get on with the highly technical work of putting in place everything that needs to be in place in order for the interoperability to come into effect as quickly as possible. I think that all of the parties in this place want to see a competitive market in this State. None of the parties wants to see a continuation of this monopoly of what is an essential public service. I encourage all members in this place to pass this bill as it is currently. I commend the bill. 

 

The full transcript of the debate can be found in Hansard, here.

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