Electronic conveyancing is now the norm in most states of Australia except Queensland. Frustrated Queensland property lawyers are seeking answers from the Queensland government. Peter Maloney from GlobalX tries to understand what the holdup is all about.
Kevin: Electronic conveyancing is now the norm in most states of Australia except for Queensland. Frustrated Queensland property lawyers are seeking answers from the Queensland government after repeated attempts for clarity on the timeframe of the formal introduction of electronic conveyancing have been ignored.
According to legal technology firm GlobalX, 84% of Queensland lawyers and conveyancers support the move to electronic conveyancing. So why the holdup? I asked GlobalX CEO Peter Maloney.
Peter: Well, Kevin, it really is a result of a lack of action from the Queensland government. We have one government in Australia that has passed the national laws to enable electronic conveyancing, passed the revenue laws to enable electronic conveyancing, but it’s the only state in Australia that is left to announce a pathway for the industry to make the change.
Kevin: Is Queensland the last state to convert?
Peter: It is of all the major states. I’ll give you a scenario. In Western Australia, Victoria, New South Wales, South Australia, the only way to lodge a standalone discharge on a mortgage is electronically. That’s for consumers, for commercial transactions. By the end of this year, every state will have refinances electronically lodged. By the middle of next year, every state will have caveats lodged electronically, and by the end of July 2019, every state will be doing full financial settlements on property transfers electronically.
And Queensland is the only state that hasn’t made any announcements for any instruments to be conducted electronically.
Kevin: So, what is the impact of the delay? I imagine it’s having a big impact on some firms that are across borders.
Peter: That’s right. You take a legal practice that’s operating in the Tweed Heads region, and those solicitors are operating across both New South Wales and Queensland, so it’s two states, two systems.
Or you have the scenario where you have major law firms around Australia implementing significant process changes to cater for electronic conveyancing, and they’re having to do that in the absence of their Queensland office. Their Queensland office – to be up front with you, Kevin – is just being left behind, because the government is not providing the direction.
Kevin: Of course, we have a lot of cross-border purchasing, too – people out of Queensland buying property in New South Wales and vice versa. I imagine that’s further complicating the issue, isn’t it?
Peter: It is. The industry is trying to transition really smoothly, instrument by instrument, to the digital world, and it’s very difficult if you have all the other major Australian states providing industry guidance and you have one that’s remaining silent on the topic.
Kevin: The current paper-based process in Queensland means that five separate documents have to be fully signed. Just one missing signature – as I know – can completely derail a settlement. That’s certainly enough reason to make the change, I would have thought.
Peter: That’s right, and this is where the Queensland Law Society has to step up, has to be providing advisory services on behalf of the solicitors of Queensland to say “It’s enough.”
Kevin: Is that where the holdup is? Is it with the Law Society?
Peter: The Law Society made statements, certainly. I’m not sure they’re driving as hard as they could into government to force the government to come to the table and have a discussion about a smooth implementation timeline.
But back to the documentation, the paper-based process, if you miss one signature or have an incorrectly spelled name on a transfer of title or a mortgage instrument, that property settlement will fall over, and for the consumer at that moment, they will not be able to move into the house they thought they had bought until settlement is rescheduled.
Kevin: I was going to ask you what the move to electronic conveyancing has meant to consumers. It’s obviously a smoother process.
Peter: Absolutely. In every other state, the benefits are being reaped. For example, even forgetting about a transfer of title, say for example, you have an urgent family law matter that requires a caveat to be assigned to a property. In every other state bar Queensland, it’s done via the computer and it’s lodged on the title within seconds.
In Queensland, the solicitor is filling out a caveat notice, printing it, signing it, and walking it down and lodging it over the counter with the Register of Titles. It is lunacy. And that’s why instrument by instrument, the change is needed.
Kevin: Are there any concerns about security, doing all of this over the Internet?
Peter: No, there is nothing different in Queensland that would raise an issue around security that the other states haven’t already done. And the irony of it, Kevin, is that Queensland state government is one of the largest shareholders of the electronic conveyancing platform PEXA. They own 5.5% of the actual platform and were one of the early seed funders into the development of the platform.
Kevin: Was that under the current Labor government, or was that the previous government?
Peter: That would have been under the previous government. So, it came out of COAG in 1996, and capital would have been raised between 1996 and 2010.
Kevin: There are certainly a lot of questions to be asked here of the state government but also probably of the Queensland Law Society, as well.
Peter: Often, one of the issues that’s raised in Queensland by both of those parties is if we lay down a timeline for the introduction of electronic conveyancing, there is only one electronic platform in the market, which is PEXA, and that might therefore cause competition issues.
But the reality is in the Australian economy, PEXA have invested $300 million in developing the platform, which is owned by state governments and by the banks, and under that structure, there is no other private business that has $300 million to spend on building another platform.
Kevin: Yes, a lot of questions to be answered here. Peter, we’ll follow this with interest. We’ll try and make some contact to the state government in Queensland and also to the Queensland Law Society to try to get some answers, as well. But Peter, thank you very much for your time.
Peter: Terrific to be with you again, Kevin.