VOTERS know from bitter experience that privatisation is most often a cynical cash-grab to patch a fiscal wound.
Governments have always thought short-term, preferring the “sugar hit” of flogging off a public asset even if it means sacrificing long-term profits.
Think Commonwealth Bank, think toll roads, think Telstra.
But the NSW government’s decision to offload the state’s land titles registry must rank as a new low watermark.
Banks and phone carriers operate in a highly corporatised and uber-competitive marketplace.
It makes at least some sense to sell these types of public assets.
But to privatise a monopoly service that plays such a central role in recording the sale of land in this state is simply unconscionable.
As it stands, there’s nothing to stop the titles registry being off-loaded to an overseas buyer, creating the farcical situation where the state’s land records department is controlled by a foreign entity.
The planned 35-year lease of the service is expected to yield NSW about $2 billion.
That money will, in part, be used to prop up election promises for the state government in marginal seats in the lead-up to the 2020 election.
The service currently delivers about $130 million a year to taxpayers, meaning at its current profit rate, the new owners would recoup their investment in just 15 years.
NSW would lose a mountain of future income and hundreds of public service jobs just so those in the city can get a new stadium or stretch of highway.
Yes, the state has critical infrastructure issues and yes, governments need to generate money somewhere.
But regardless of how this one is window-dressed, you can’t help but feel uneasy.
Land title registry is not only an essential service, but a natural monopoly.
Putting it in the hands of faceless, profit-obsessed corporations can only mean higher prices and less accountability.
Privatisation is often force fed on us as a way to run a business more efficiently than the union-stifled public sector.
But while private companies are adept at cutting overheads, they are also keen to hold onto and increase the resultant profits.
Corporate greed will always win out over public need, a fact the NSW government would do well to remember.