Friday, April 28, 2017

High country tenure review is a corrupt privatisation

Last week, in a decision on irrigation in the Mackenzie Country, the Environment Court said there were strong ecological reasons to end the process of high country tenure review. But there's another reason to end it: the process is corrupt:

In 25 years, the Crown has purchased leasehold rights to more than 330,000 hectares for about $117 million; and leaseholders have purchased freehold rights to more than 370,000 hectares with higher production potential for about $62 million.

On average, the Crown price to purchase leasehold rights is about 3.5 times the runholders' price to purchase freehold. This translates to large payouts to runholders at the end of tenure review – more than $50 million so far.

This is a classic case of a corrupt privatisation: government assets sold at hugely undervalued prices. To see how undervalued they are, simply look at what the same land goes for when the former leaseholders inevitably subdivide and onsell it: the median price multiplier is 992. In other words, they buy something (or, more likely, are effectively paid to take it) from the government, and sell it for a thousand times more money.

If this happened in Africa or Russia we would call it what it is: corruption. And we would want those responsible for this criminal undervaluing, and those who profited from it, to be put in jail and their corruptly obtained profits repaid to the state. And that is what should happen here.