June 22, 2017  |  Second reading

Land Legislation Amendment Bill 2017

Mr HOWARD (Buninyong) — I am pleased to add my comments in regard to the Land Legislation Amendment Bill 2017 before the house. It is interesting to follow the member for Shepparton, who has dealt with this matter from the perspective of doing the conveyancing herself over the years and following through issues from that point of view. As other speakers have said, this bill clearly is aimed at simplifying a number of issues associated with the transfer of land titles and conveyancing matters, and it does so in a range of ways. I think all of the changes are highly commendable and just sensible.

With regard to the first change, it is simply a matter of aligning the way transfer of land works with other jurisdictions. When priority notices are issued in Victoria they are issued for 60 days. We are simply changing that to 90 days to work in conjunction with other states in a nationally agreed arrangement, which is always a good approach — the more we can operate with a national perspective, the better.

But the other changes really recognise that over a long period of time the titles office has recognised we are now in a digital age. All of that slow work that used to take place where people had to physically go into the titles office, had to physically find titles and undertake a whole lot of the work by carrying papers up and down the highway — as they would if they were coming from Shepparton or from Ballarat or whatever — now they can do it all simply by sitting at their laptop or at their computer. So much of this work is made so much easier. It has been fantastic to see how conveyancing has changed over the years to be so much more responsive to people’s needs and so much more practical in the way it is carried out.

I myself have in the past done some of my own conveyancing when I bought my first house in Ballarat in 1983. I paid $24 000 for my first house, and when I tell people about that — it does not seem that long ago to me — people are shocked and amazed. They say, ‘How did you do it?’ But that was the situation then. I was very pleased that only a few years later it seemed to double in value, and prices in Ballarat have continued to go up, which is good if you are selling but not so good if you are buying. My last house cost considerably more than $24 000, as people would imagine.

At that time the particular house that I bought was in fact not even on privately owned land; it was still on Crown land. With that title I owned the house but not the land below it. The titles office and the government at the time recognised that there were a lot of miners cottages that were still on Crown land, on a right-to-occupy basis, so the land was effectively rented for long periods of time. The government at that stage set in place a process of allowing the person who had the house to buy the land associated with it over a long period of time. You could buy it back over a 20-year period. I think I was paying about $15 every half year or something to buy back my land until I decided that that was ridiculous and that I should pay it all back at once and feel I owned the land that my house was on at the same time. It meant that the transfer of land was a little complicated, but I still went down to the titles office in Melbourne and did the dealings at that end and then followed up the paperwork when I returned home. It was good to get an appreciation of what conveyancers need to do to transfer land.

More recently, though, I bought the farm that I still own out near Waubra — wind farm territory to the north of Ballarat — and that particular house, built in the 1850s or around 1860, of course was on general law title, so when I bought that land I did rely upon a lawyer to do the conveyancing for me. It was delightful after I purchased the house to have all of those documents that showed the chain of title back to the first owner in the 1860s and to see the transfers since. They are beautiful documents to hold and to look over. The style of the writing from the 19th century and so on is very special. But it is impractical, as we know, and if you lose one of those documents it causes great difficulty in demonstrating the continuation of the chain of title. It is clearly sensible to do away with those general law titles and convert them into Torrens titles.

The member for Shepparton mentioned, though, how sad it is when your titles are on only a single sheet in the new system and that you lose some of that sense of history in that documentation, which is true. However, the other benefit of the digitisation of the modern system and of finding things through the internet and so on is that this information can still be made available and in fact be made available more easily. Yes, you might not get the physical documents to see the history of the ownership of the land that you happen to own, or the house that you happen to own, but you will be able to continue enjoying looking back over the history of your home via the internet, and all of that information will in fact be more easily obtained.

There are lots of sensible changes being made here. There are changes that help to improve customer service, recognising that more things can be provided electronically, like the issue of caveator’s consent so that anyone who has a caveat on a title is notified that there is an exchange proposed on that land, and they then need to indicate that their issues have been resolved. Up until now that has to have been done on paper and signed, and therefore it takes more time for that person to be chased down and for that physical letter to be transferred back to the titles office. Now that will be able to be done electronically.

There are a whole lot of things we are recognising that can be done electronically and should be done electronically to speed up the system and to ensure that there are none of those frustrations and those hiccups that have taken place in the past when papers have been physically lost or have taken time to get through the snail mail system to the titles office and back again. These are all very sensible changes, as previous members have said. They recognise the new age and our ability to use electronic transfers and the IT world to pass information back and forward. We do not need physical paperwork; we just need to be confident that the information that is held at the titles office is correct and that conveyancers can then work effectively from that.

I clearly commend the changes that are before the house. They are all sensible changes that are user friendly and are going to benefit people who are purchasing or selling land by enabling transactions to take place quickly and efficiently. They are all designed to be sound and just respond to new opportunities in the titles office as they have identified them. Some people want to see sinister reasons for making these changes. Clearly there are no sinister reasons. The only reasons are to see that we can take advantage of opportunities, listen to feedback that we get from people who are interacting with the titles office, as they need to do on a very regular basis, and respond appropriately to streamline the system as much as possible to bring it into line with other states in Australia and to allow for flexibility where that might need to happen.

I certainly commend the bill before the house. It will make people who are working in this area and doing conveyancing happier that the system is going to work more conveniently for them, and certainly for people who are purchasing or selling land it will make for a more efficient system. I trust this bill will move through both houses quickly and be enacted, and those who are buying and selling land in the future will be the beneficiaries.

Debate adjourned on motion of Mr WELLS (Rowville).

Debate adjourned until later this day.