The Potential of blockchain to empower property owners in Australia

Written by

Todd Price

Published On

16 Feb 2023

In Australia concerns have been raised recently regarding the power of parchment Certificates of Title (CT) as a legal instrument to prove land ownership. In an omnibus bill passed in 2019 it became the case that the paper certificate of title is no longer indefeasible proof of ownership of a Queensland property.

The dematerialisation of Land Titles

Numerous people have since sought to get the document in paper form only to find that the document has void stamped across it and that it only may serve as a sentimental document.

The complete details around the transition remain unclear however, what appears to be the case is that these titles have been dematerialized into entries in a database that is maintained by a few private companies.

Allegations have been made that this collection of land titles is then used to issue debt against. If these titles are the security which underwrites credit, what happens in the event of a default on that credit?

In the past the mayor or council of a parish maintained a record of all the burgess or free folk of the land and the freehold titles that they owned. This was known as the Burgess register.

Various changes have been made over the years which appear to have diminished the capacity of the local parish to maintain the register of freehold titles as fee simple lots. Further questions have been raised as to whether, through some underlying dynamic of abeyance, silent acquiescence has allowed the transfer of these titles into private corporations.

Some Australian senators have been touring the country filling local halls and parklands with crowds of homeowners who have only recently been made aware of this new arrangement.

All who attended have expressed a deep level of distrust for it and the agents who created it and want to know more about the process.

The aftermath of natural disasters

Following the floods and fires which have devastated Australia in the last few years there has been legislation passed and the creation of various bodies such as the Reconstruction Corporation which were granted the powers to compulsorily acquire and rezone property in areas assessed to be in high risk of future events occurring.

The promise of using blockchain as immutable record of ownership

Recent developments in blockchain have seen the immutable properties of Bitcoin combined with land registries for record keeping for the department of land resources, which improve the process of conveyance, or which tokenize shares in a property held collectively.

Something similar could be used to give a more absolute assurance to these concerned property owners that they have a legal instrument in their possession to prove and legitimise their ownership and permissions of the property without having to rely on a privately managed database.

With immutable entries records of ownership and under which authority such a lot was originally divided and zoned may provide a means for owners to have more weight to their challenges of such changes to their title and zoning.

The referendum and constitutional recognition

This is especially true since in Australia 3 referendums have declared that the people want no constitutional recognition of councils as local government. In theory, this ought to have limited their capacity to make bylaws, levy taxes or presume the authority to sell off crown lands to property developers without the approval of the residents of the town.

The local government corporatisation

Despite this there have been many districts which haven’t hesitated to declare themselves local government and who have even set up corporatized entities outside of their constitutional line of authority that notify residents of financial liabilities that are calculated pro rata on the value of the properties.

The constitution expressly forbids the states from being able to collect taxes as taxation revenue is raised on a federal level.

With property values having increased by up to 60% in a single year, residents found they were being notified of liabilities to a body corporate “local government” that had increased by 60% as well without any increase in provision of services.

To further rub salt in the wound, many of these same people were denied access to local libraries, aquatic facilities, theatres, and galleries because they were reluctant to accept an experimental medical procedure. Yet, when they were denied access to all these services, no adjustment was made to their presumed liability.

The potential of using a blockchain-based burgess register

A blockchain-based burgess register could be used to invoice residents for the services they use and limit their access to services which they don’t use or aren’t entitled to.

Since Bitcoin script can natively facilitate the construction of any type of conceivable transaction through its predicate system, every type of instrument and contract can be enhanced through leveraging the immutable nature of the blockchain.

By empowering individuals in their right to contract, and their right to property which cannot be changed on a whim by illegitimate body corporates, society as a whole benefits.

In most towns, a cross sectional survey will likely yield a vast number of the residents having a deep dissatisfaction and distrust with how they are being represented by their local council.

They just might not realise there are tools out there which can enable them to establish their own councils, their own property registers, and even invert the process of contracting between residents and various services.

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