REAL PROPERTY AMENDMENT (PUBLIC LANDS) BILL 2012
Debate resumed from 16 February 2012.
The Hon. ADAM SEARLE
(Deputy Leader of the Opposition) [5.04 p.m.]: I lead for the Opposition on the Real Property Amendment (Public Lands) Bill 2012. The Opposition supports the bill. In 2007 the former Labor Government began the process of conversions of property title to Torrens title through the Registrar General who instructed the Land and Property Information division of the Department of Finance and Services—formerly the Land and Property Management Authority—to convert all remaining Crown title to Torrens title. The Real Property Act 1900 authorises the Registrar General to be able to convert Crown lands under the Crown Lands Act 1989 to Torrens title, not national parks or State forests.
This amendment to the Real Property Act will allow the Registrar General to complete these conversions and to convert land administered under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 and the Forestry Act 1916 to Torrens title. The amendment will enable all land in New South Wales to be on the one title system and link Crown lands to the digital database. It is another step in the modernisation of land titles in New South Wales and a reasonably important step, notwithstanding the brevity of the bill and its operative provisions. As I stated earlier, it is part of a wider program to convert all Crown lands titles to the digital cadastral database administered by Land and Property Information. The database is linked to the Torrens register. The Opposition understands that this will in no way impact on any claims by local land councils under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983 or on other land administered under that administration in any way, shape or form. For those reasons, the Opposition will support the legislation.
The Hon. MARIE FICARRA
(Parliamentary Secretary) [5.06 p.m.]: The Torrens system in New South Wales is a robust and accurate titling system that has been operating for over 100 years. The Torrens system is governed by the Real Property Act 1900 and is far superior, both in cost and efficiency, over other titling systems that exist in New South Wales—the Old System and Crown title. Approximately 95 per cent of land in New South Wales is under the Torrens system and the Registrar General, through the Land and Property Information division, is working on bringing the remaining parcels of land under the Torrens system through its conversion project.
The conversion project aims to issue titles to all remaining Crown land, as provided for by the Real Property Act, which authorises the Registrar General to bring Crown lands under the provisions of the Real Property Act. Crown lands are governed by a variety of legislation, such as the Crown Lands Act 1989, the Roads Act 1993 and the Western Lands Act 1901, to name but a few. Land and Property Information has converted over 60,000 parcels of Crown land since the commencement of the Crown Land Conversion Project in 2007. Land and Property Information received a request from officers of the Office of Environment and Heritage, which administers the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974, and the Department of Primary Industries, which administers the Forestry Act, to begin conversion of their respective lands to the Torrens system. Not only are there significant benefits for converting Crown title to Torrens title, there are specific benefits to both agencies that administer the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 and the Forestry Act 1916.
The majority of land in national parks and State forests is under the Old System or Crown land title or a combination of both and this makes searching and managing the title of the land difficult and costly. An experienced staff member, one with access to paper records, together with a detailed knowledge of the Old System and Crown title, would be needed to carry out searches of land to determine its status. The search is usually done manually, as most of the records of national park land and State Forests land are not on the electronic database. So Land and Property Information turned its attention to convert national park land and State Forests land to Torrens title. However, it was clear that the conversion project cannot go ahead in regard to the conversion of the national park land and State Forests, as the Real Property Act does not provide for the conversion of land administered under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 and the Forestry Act 1916.
The intention of the conversion project is to ultimately bring all land under the Real Property Act. However, the Real Property Act does not go far enough to cover national parks and State forests. The Real Property Act Amendment (Public Lands) Bill 2012 will allow Land and Property Information, a division of the Department of Finance and Services, to facilitate the Torrens conversion project to convert lands under the National Parks and Wildlife Act and the Forestry Act to Torrens title. Once converted to Torrens title, the title to national park land or State forest land will have its own unique folio identifier recorded in the register—a public database maintained by the registrar general—and the owner of the land, known as the registered proprietor, will be the State of New South Wales. Any interests currently affecting the land, such as right of ways, leases and forestry rights also will be recorded in the register. The title will be searchable by the public so they can see what interests affect their land.
The conversion process of bringing national park land and State forest land to Torrens title will be by close collaboration between Land and Property Information and officers of the Office of Environment and Heritage and Forests NSW. The conversion process will thoroughly investigate the title to the land and any interests that should be recorded on it. The bill will continue the work of the registrar general in the effective administration of land titles. All land under the Torrens system enjoys certainty of title and allows parcels of land to be easily identified and searched. It is a cheaper, quicker and safer system of dealing with land compared to the Old System or Crown title. Importantly, under the Torrens system an owner of land enjoys the benefit that their title to the land is guaranteed by the State.
Under the bill schedule 2 of the Real Property Act will be amended by adding the words "Forestry Act 1916" and "National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974". The effect of this amendment is to allow the registrar general to bring under the provisions of the Real Property Act land from both the National Parks and Wildlife Act and the Forestry Act by creating a folio of the register recording the State of New South Wales as the proprietor of the land. The bill will allow for the continuation of converting all land to Torrens title and, ultimately, to have one land titling system. I commend the bill to the House.
Dr JOHN KAYE
[5.12 p.m.]: On behalf of The Greens I address the Real Property Act Amendment (Public Lands) Bill 2012. As pointed out by previous speakers, this bill will allow State forest land or national park currently under Crown title to be converted to Torrens title. That conversion will facilitate the keeping of records and make it easier to understand issues held against a title. It also will make it easier for individuals to search for and understand title. As the Torrens system is a computerised system, it will be easier to conduct searches. Currently, three types of title operate in New South Wales: the Old System and Crown title, which are both being phased out, and Torrens title, which is the most modern version and is better suited to the needs of the modern economy.
The objectives of the bill, which The Greens support, are to improve the accuracy and reliability of the title of those lands that are State forest and national park and to improve the management and mapping of those lands. The Minister in his second reading speech identified that the change from Crown title to Torrens will not impact on any Aboriginal rights or interests under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983 or any other native title that may or may not exist in the land. The Greens are assured by those comments on this important issue. However, in his second reading speech the Minister did not address the issue of whether the conversion of title will enable the land to be sold or affected in the manner that it can be dealt with. The Greens took advice on this issue.
I have been advised by two lawyers that the transition from Crown title to Torrens title will have no material effect on the capacity of the State to privatise either State forest or national park land. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary in reply to address that issue and to give an assurance that the transition from Crown title to Torrens title will not in any way facilitate the privatisation or sale of land or a change in the way in which the land can be dealt with. The Greens understand that is the case and on that basis we will vote for the bill. However, it would be useful to have on the public record a comment by the Parliamentary Secretary, on behalf of the Minister in this House, which would make it absolutely clear that that is neither the intention of the Government nor is it the effect of the bill.
The Greens welcome the fact that the Minister in the Legislative Assembly made it clear that this legislation will have no impact on claims by an Aboriginal land council under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983 or on any other native title claim that may or may not exist in the land. The Greens recognise that keeping good quality records that can be searched by the public and maintained in a fashion consistent with modern information technology is of benefit to the State. The Greens do not wish to stand in the way of that. In fact, we encourage such things to happen. The Greens also understand that the bill will not have an impact on the possibility of the sale of land. I again ask the Parliamentary Secretary to give a further assurance on that matter.
The Hon. NIALL BLAIR
[5.17 p.m.]: I support the Real Property Act Amendment (Public Lands) Bill 2012. The Torrens system in New South Wales began in 1863 and was formulated to combat the problems of uncertainty, complexity and cost associated with Old System title, which depended on proof of an unbroken chain of ownership back to a good root of title. The basis of the Torrens system is certainty of title, by having a person's interest in land recorded in the Torrens register, and a guarantee by the State that the title to the land is correct. Today only a small fraction of land in New South Wales is not under the Torrens system. National parks and State forests make up the majority of the remaining land not under the Torrens system. The need to convert these lands to the Torrens system will assist in allowing the people of New South Wales to enjoy a totally integrated land information system, which provides accurate and comprehensive land data in a variety of forms. It also will allow information to be accessed online by anyone—business, government or a member of the public. It is in the State's interest to have all land under one title system.
The Real Property Amendment (Public Lands) Bill 2012 is required to allow Land and Property Information, the division responsible for the administration of land titles in New South Wales, to facilitate the conversion of all remaining Crown lands to Torrens title—that is, national parks and State forests. Under the Real Property Act, the Land and Property Information division, commonly referred to as LPI, can, on its own motion, convert land held under Old System title or Crown title to Torrens title. The Crown lands that may be converted are those lands under the Crown Lands Act 1989 or in the Acts listed in schedule 2. Although 13 Acts are listed in schedule 2, none of them governs national parks or State forests. Therefore, Land and Property Information cannot convert these Crown lands to Torrens title unless a change to the Real Property Act is made. The bill proposes to amend schedule 2 of the Real Property Act by adding the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 and the Forestry Act 1916.
The Land and Property Information division recently completed a major project aimed at identifying and converting nearly 66,000 parcels of Crown land to Torrens title. The next phase of the project is to identify and convert parcels of Crown land governed under the National Parks and Wildlife Act and the Forestry Act. The conversion project is welcomed by the agencies that look after State forests and national parks, that is, the Department of Primary Industries through Forests NSW and the Office of Environment and Heritage respectively. It will make searching and dealing with these lands quicker, cheaper and easier for both agencies. As many of the titles to national park and State forest lands are bound up in Old System title or Crown title, the conversion project will eliminate the need to maintain multiple title systems and promote better asset management by dispensing with outmoded paper-based systems and moving towards a fully automated electronic database.
Once a parcel of land of national park or State forest is converted to the Torrens system, a certificate of title to the land is issued in the name of the "State of New South Wales". All interests that may affect the land, including any provisions of the National Parks and Wildlife Act or Forestry Act that may apply, also are noted on the certificate of title. Most parcels of land that are converted also will have a notion on the certificate of title to indicate that the land to which the certificate relates is State forest or national park and is subject to the provisions of the relevant legislation. This bill does not change the status of national parks or State forest land. It merely allows the title of the land to be brought over into the Torrens system. The bill does not remove any provisions from the National Parks and Wildlife Act and the Forestry Act. These lands can be dealt with only under their respective legislation. This bill seeks to expand the category of land that can be brought under the Torrens system, which in turn will assist in the goal of having one electronic title-based system for the whole of this State. I commend the bill to the House.
The Hon. AMANDA FAZIO
[5.22 p.m.]: I concur with the comments of my colleague the Hon. Adam Searle, who led for the Opposition, on the Real Property Amendment (Public Lands) Bill 2012. I will not read out a speech that has been prepared for me by the Minister's office on a topic about which I know nothing. However, I indicate that I support the bill so that I, too, will have an extra speech recorded against my name in case the Daily Telegraph
does an audit. I commend the bill to the House.
The Hon. MATTHEW MASON-COX
(Parliamentary Secretary) [5.23 p.m.], in reply: I sincerely thank all honourable members for their contributions—even the Hon. Amanda Fazio for that last contribution—and their unanimous support for the Real Property Amendment (Public Lands) Bill 2012. The Hon. Amanda Fazio perhaps has been in this place for too long and heard too many wonderful speeches in support of legislation that has been long awaited in this place. The Real Property Amendment (Public Lands) Bill 2012 is needed to enable the registrar general to issue titles to Crown land under the Forestry Act 1916 and the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974. The proposal contained in this bill will make State forests and national park land among the categories of Crown land that can be brought under the provisions of the Real Property Act.
Under the Real Property Act the Registrar General of New South Wales may convert certain Crown lands to the Torrens system by creating a folio of the register and recording the "State of New South Wales" as the registered proprietor. Since 2007, the registrar general has converted over 60,000 parcels of Crown land to Torrens title under its conversion project. The conversion process involves issuing each parcel of land a distinctive folio reference and certificate of title. The benefits of converting land to the Torrens system are self-evident in that there is one document, a certificate of title, that is evidence of ownership and on it are recorded all of the interests that may affect that piece of land. Of most significance is that every certificate of title is guaranteed by the State.
However, national parks and State forest land are Crown land. It has been determined that these particular lands do not fall within those Crown lands that the registrar general may convert. To eliminate any doubt, it is proposed to include the National Parks and Wildlife Act and the Forestry Act in schedule 2 of the Act and to provide a clear legislative basis to enable the conversion of these lands. The proposal contained in the bill will provide the benefits that other lands in the Torrens system enjoy: certainty of title and the ease with which the title can be dealt with or searched. The converted titles of national park land and State forests will replace the complex mix of Old System and Crown land titles that currently attach to many landholdings of Forests NSW and the Office of Environment and Heritage. The move towards one computer-based title system will encourage best practice in asset management by both the Office of Environment and Heritage and Forests NSW. I commend the bill to the House.
Question—That this bill be now read a second time—put and resolved in the affirmative.
Motion agreed to.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted to proceed to the third reading of the bill forthwith.
Motion by the Hon. Matthew Mason-Cox, on behalf of the Hon. Greg Pearce, agreed to:
Bill read a third time and transmitted to the Legislative Assembly with a message seeking its concurrence in the bill.
That this bill be now read a third time: