Contact person for provided information:
|Prof. Ian Williamson
The University of Melbourne
Professor of Surveying and Land Information
Head, Department of Geomatics
|The University of Melbourne
|Information provided on 2
Australia is the largest island continent in the world, with a
total area of over 7,600,000 sq km, lying south of the Equator
between the Indian and South Pacific Oceans. The population is
approximately 19.5 million, with a growth rate of about 1%. The
majority of the population (85%) resides in urban areas along
the east and southeast coastline and fertile plains.
Much of the interior of the country is flat, barren and sparsely
populated. The highest point, Mt Kosciuszko reaching 2,229m, is
within an extensive mountain range running north south along the
eastern seaboard. Australia also lays claim to the third largest
marine jurisdiction in the world and has a coastline extending
more than 36,700km.
Australia was colonized in 1788, although was inhabited for over
40,000 years by the indigenous Aboriginal peoples. Australia has
been an independent member of the British Commonwealth since 1901
when it became a Federation of States. A referendum to change Australia's
status from a Commonwealth headed by the British monarch to a republic,
was defeated in 1999 and hence Queen Elizabeth II of England remains
the Head of State.
Current Political and Administrative
The constitution vests in the Governor-General, representing the
Head of State exercised by tradition on behalf of the elected government.
The Government is based on a bicameral Federal Parliament headed
by an elected Prime Minister consisting of a Senate which has proportional
representation among the States. The Federal Government has powers
over defence, foreign affairs, trade and commerce, taxation, customs
and excise duties, pensions, immigration and postal services. Other
powers are left with the States, such as health, education, state
transport networks, town and rural planning and land administration
(cadastral system, land registration).
Historical Outline of Cadastral
Although inhabited for over 40,000 years by the Aboriginal peoples,
their land rights did not gain legal recognition until 1993 with
the introduction of the Indigenous Native Titles Act.
The development of the Australian cadastral system was not influenced
by the land ownership systems or patterns of the indigenous peoples.
Instead from the initial colonization period of 1788 Australia
began adopting the English system of deeds registration for land
transfer. It was not until the mid 1850s in the colony of South
Australia that Robert Torrens introduced the system of Certificate
of Title to simplify land transfer, which had become expensive,
complicated and inefficient. By 1874 all States of Australia had
adopted the "Torrens System" of title registration. Settlement
surveys were hampered by harsh terrain, unrecognizable land marks,
rapid settlement and a shortage of professional surveyors leading
to a sporadic approach to surveying and a lack of survey control.
Cadastral maps were based on isolated surveys of Parish areas
at a scale of 1inch to 20 chains, primarily for registration of
private title (freehold land) and reservation of Crown land. Certificates
of Title were registered at a central Land Titles Office in each
State where details of mortgages, easements, covenants and leases
As a Federation of States, Australia maintains centralized land
administration offices in each State, which are almost completely
computerised today. There is no prescribed organizational structure
common to all states. Land administration is a state government
responsibility under a range of government departments such as Environment,
Planning, Information Technology or Land Administration. Embedded
in these departments is a digital map of the state including the
state's digital cadastral map, Land Registry and Titles Office,
Crown Lands Management Office, Surveyors Board, and business units
for Land Information and Resources. Combinations of these services
can be found in all the States, integrated through sharing agreements
and often residing in the one central metropolitan office. A consortium
of all states and the Commonwealth, called the Public Sector Mapping
Agencies Ltd, produces national cadastral map products.
Private Sector Involvement:
Most cadastral surveys are undertaken by the private sector. Qualification
of a license or registration for surveyors (depending on the state)
is required to perform cadastral surveys, however other surveys
such as engineering surveys do not require this. Management of the
geodetic network remains primarily a government responsibility,
however updating and upgrading is often outsourced to the private
Professional Organization or
There is a strong embodiment of professional organisations in Australia
of which the main one is The Institution of Surveyors, Australia
(ISA) comprising of around 3,800 members. There is a Division in
all States and Territories. ISA is represented in the International
Federation of Surveyors (FIG). Also at a national level, surveying
and mapping coordination and cooperation is provided by the Inter-governmental
Committee on Surveying and Mapping (ICSM) represented by Australia's
Commonwealth, State, Territory and Defence surveying and mapping
agencies. The Australia New Zealand Land Infomation Council is a
joint "Spatial Information Council" initiative of the Australian
Government, the New Zealand Government and the governments of the
States and Territories of Australia. Their role is to facilitate
easy and cost effective access to spatial data and services provided
through public and private sector organisations. The private sector
survey industry interests are promoted and represented by the Australian
Spatial Information Business Association (ASIBA). The recently formed
Australian Spatial Industry Education and Research Association (ASIERA)
is anticipated to fulfil the same peak body and lobby group role
for the academic and research sector that ASIBA performs for the
Surveyor's or Survey Acts and Regulations in each jurisdiction
identify guidelines for licensing and registration of cadastral
surveyors and the undertaking of cadastral surveys. Under the
Reciprocating Surveyor's Board of Australia and New Zealand persons
registered by a Board in any State of Australia or New Zealand,
can apply for registration in any other State of Australia or
New Zealand under a reciprocity agreement (Mutual Recognition
A person applying for registration must be issued with a certificate
of competency in cadastral surveying which typically requires
12 to 24 months under a training agreement with another registered
surveyor and in addition must pass some further professional examinations
and practical exercises supervised by the Board of Surveyors.
To enter training agreements persons are required to hold a degree
approved by the Board of Surveyors.
Surveying programs are offered at nine universities, in 6 jurisdictions
of Australia, as a 4-year bachelor degree of Geomatics, Geomatics
Engineering, Spatial Information or Surveying. The degrees offered,
increasingly covering broader topics of spatial information, have
maintained the prerequisite for entering the professional field
as a registered or licensed surveyor. Current student numbers graduating
annually from Australian universities is approximately 250, with
about 40 graduating postgraduate students involved in surveying
or related spatial research areas. About 30% of students studying
at an undergraduate level are women.
Purpose of Cadastral System:
The cadastral systems in Australia were historically designed for
the transfer of land ownership in a legal land market. Secondly
the cadastral system supports the legal ownership of land, and defining,
identifying, demarcating, measuring and mapping legal parcel boundaries.
Due to the high integrity of the cadastral system it now plays a
more fundamental role in broader land administration activities,
as the core spatial data set in spatial data infrastructures (SDI).
Through the computerisation of spatial and textual data the cadastre
now serves a multi-purpose role supporting many activities. These
include supporting an active land market, valuation of land and
land taxation, land management and planning, land development, local
government and utilities management, emergency management and many
other multipurpose functions.
Types of Cadastral Systems:
Historically a parallel system of land registration developed for
the mapping, surveying, management and administration of public
and private lands - Crown Lands administration and Land Registry
respectively. Through computerisation of all land data these two
mapping systems are undergoing integration to facilitate wider land
management and environmental planning. Today the aim is to delegate
one government agency with the responsibility of maintaining an
up-to-date cadastral map of all land parcels connected to the land
registration function, with land use management and administration
usually remaining with the custodians. The Australian cadastral
system supports legal land parcel identification of public and private
rights. Cadastral systems are not consistent across the continent,
as each of the 8 jurisdictions operates and maintains their own
form of cadastral system. This includes 8 variations of the Torrens
system, with the titling and registration differing slightly in
Cadastral systems in Australia are operated by the 8 state administrations
and operate in such a way that land parcels are surveyed in the
field while the corresponding land ownership titles are recorded
in the Land Registry. The Land Registry uniquely identifies each
parcel corresponding to the title. The relationship between these
two main units is usually a 1:1-relationship, i.e. each land parcel
is usually related to one land ownership entry in the land registry.
The term "property" is used by the local councils and utilities,
which maintain property records for their own planning and tax
purposes. A property has one street address and usually one house,
but can consist of one or many, normally adjacent parcels owned
by the same landowner, especially in rural areas. In about 90%
of the cases, however, a property consists of one parcel only.
While the land ownership title is of interest to the land registry,
the term property is used by the local councils and reflects their
different needs. Buildings are part of the property records with
records maintained by many local councils as well.
In some states, if registered land is adversely occupied for
a continuous and uncontested period of at least 15 years a person
may apply for adverse possession. The title can then be changed
to reflect what is on the ground. In some states there is no adverse
Content of Cadastral System:
Australian Cadastral systems typically comprise the following
- Textual Component - the land register identifies real property
parcels, which includes all land parcels and identifies owners'
rights, restrictions, and responsibilities, ownership, easements,
- Spatial Component - Cadastral maps show all land parcels graphically
corresponding to the registered title with plan numbers and
unique identifiers. These are all now digitised. Cadastral maps
consist of fixed and general boundaries, about 90% and 10% respectively:
- Fixed boundaries are those with legally surveyed measurements
used to precisely identify most parcel boundaries determined
by cadastral surveys such as subdivision etc.
- General boundaries (graphical) are not survey accurate
and are based on natural or man-made physical features,
such as High Water Mark, or walls and buildings as found
on Cluster or Strata Titles.
- Additional legal, valuation, local government, utilities and
planning activities are involved in land administration, and
are heavily reliant on the fundamentals of the cadastral system.
In particular local government rates, land tax and stamp duty
(as a result of land transfer) on land parcels is a major revenue
raiser for the economy.
- Crown Lands Management have management and administrative
responsibility for public state owned lands.
The cadastre covers approximately 10.2 million parcels including
freehold, state owned land, strata titles and a very small number
of Native Title parcels. The present day cadastre is now digitised
throughout the country with all jurisdictions having completed
the digitisation process of all land parcels. The graphical representation
of land parcels is typically known as digital cadastral databases
(DCDB). The integrity of the graphical DCDBs are supported by
survey plans and field notes with legal measurements or graphical
measurements in a digital parcel-based data set. Both the computerised
land register and DCDB in each state or territory are updated
daily. Services to view and print cadastral information in most
states are available via the Internet for a fee or available for
purchasing through licensing agreements although the digital cadastral
map is available free of charge via the Internet. A seamless cadastral
database called 'Cadastral Lite' integrated from each of the jurisdictional
data sets, co-ordinated on the GDA94 datum is available. See the
website for an example.
The current cadastral map (or DCDB) in all states and territories
is usually based on a graphical representation of geometric components
in electronic format. As mentioned, all jurisdictions are self-governed
and have established different solutions, data models and processes
for their digital cadastral data systems. An example is given
of a State DCDB using the state of Victoria.
The DCDB is known as Vicmap Digital and the main cadastral data
is derived from the 'Property Metadata' set. This was developed
by hand digitised base maps in urban areas at scales of about
1:500 scale. The rural areas were created using conventional parcel-based
lines, by compiling, plotting and then hand digitising parcel
detail from Parish, Township, subdivision, and road survey plans
and using overlays of orthophoto maps. Compilation was mainly
undertaken at 1:2,500 in densely populated areas and 1:25,000
in the remaining rural areas. These digital cadastral maps are
under the control of Land Victoria in the Department of Sustainability
and Environment. Private land surveyors and many government agencies
continually input cadastral detail validating and improving content
The Victorian dataset series contains data primarily representing
Victoria's land parcels and properties and is used extensively
in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) by the public and private
sectors. The content includes parcel polygons, proposed parcels
(future development), parcel identifiers, municipal council reference
numbers, road centre-lines, road easements and Crown and freehold
land differentiation. Each of the data features is date stamped
and uniquely identified. Updates are available as whole file replacement
or incremental (changes only) files with maintenance ongoing daily
and incremental updates available fortnightly.
Example of a Cadastral Map:
Below are two examples of the different digital cadastral databases
from the Australian Capital Territory (Fig. 1) and the Victorian
Digital Cadastral Map Base (Fig. 2).
The data sets vary between each state and are graphically represented
with slight differences. Some show parcels, addresses, buildings,
unique identifiers, street names, geographic nomenclature, dimensions,
coordinates etc, while others show lesser details.
Fig. 1: Australian Capital Territory Digital Cadastral Database
- survey accurate.
Fig. 2: Victorian Digital Cadastral Mapbase (DCMB) - graphically
Role of Cadastral Layer in SDI:
The development of Spatial Data Infrastructures (SDI) has increasingly
recognized the inherent role of linking land parcel components
as the fundamental layer underpinning the SDI model. The data
is all linked to standard parcel identifiers in the cadastral
layer correlating information from each of the data sets.
Core data sets of the SDI are organised as layers which include:
Geodetic Network, Cadastral Framework, Topographic Coverage, Road
Network, Address System, and Geographical Nomenclature. Gradually
additional data sets are being integrated as sharing, privacy
and format issues are overcome. These databases include features
of Soils Type, Vegetation, Minerals, Fauna Distribution, and Hydrography.
Due to the large databases and detailed information stored, the
cadastral layer as a framework is also playing a major role in
providing accessibility to land information from the broader perspective
of land and utilities management and spatial analysis.
The DCDB and components of the SDI are also becoming increasingly
significant in a wide range of social, environmental and economic
1. Integrating freehold and State Crown Land to produce a complete
Because the two systems historically are surveyed, registered,
administered and managed separately, the integration of the two
in one seamless cadastral map and title register is a major task.
The vision of a complete cadastre is accepted but achieving it
2. Online conveyancing:
Electronic and online conveyancing and registration services,
such as the digital lodgement of subdivision plans and the transfer
of title are major challenges. However there are concerns and
risks involved with issues of privacy, identity and fraud. Online
land transfers aim to take away the necessity of 'over-the-counter'
dealings, reducing time and cost, however this takes away the
necessity to be holding a certificate of title, which at present
is the only state guaranteed proof land ownership document. Solutions
to overcome this are being investigated in Australian jurisdictions;
however there is some way to go before it has the full support
of national financial institutions.
3. Moving from accurate isolated surveys to a survey accurate
Because the development of Australian cadastral surveying was
'piecemeal', created from isolated surveys, the move to adopt
a full coordinated cadastral survey approach is a challenge although
most jurisdictions are well on the way to achieving this goal.
While all jurisdictions have achieved digital graphical cadastral
maps the intention is for these to become survey accurate. This
will improve the integrity and accuracy of the cadastral map layer
within the SDI.
1. Access to data by the Internet and wireless communication:
Much attention is currently focussed on the dissemination
of spatial information through spatial data infrastructures (SDI).
SDIs have evolved out of and rely on a state's or a country's
land administration system and are the key infrastructure in enabling
land to be efficiently and effectively administered. The evolution
of technology increasingly offers more avenues for this to occur.
Internet and Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) technologies
are providing a lead to accessing the complex digital environment
2. Fully integrated spatial environment "Virtual Australia"
addressing sustainable development:
In a federation of states where each jurisdiction is responsible
for their own development, there are a whole range of differences
such as interoperability, jurisdictional responsibility, privacy,
cost recovery, custodianship and access. This inhibits the development
of national large scale spatial data sets. To address this issue,
a Co-operative Research Centre for Spatial Information (CRC-SI)
has been established between the government, private and academic
sectors to develop the concept of a Virtual Australia, uniting
research and commercial innovation in spatial information. The
vision is to make spatial information available and useful to
all persons in the nation at any time and at any place.