Get out of jail free cards should only exist in Monopoly
AS long-suffering Queensland subcontractors await the release of the Joint Special Taskforce report into the construction industry and the tabling of the outcome of a 12-month trial into project bank accounts, NSW has appointed a Building Commissioner to deal with the mess in that state’s industry.
David Chandler OAM, adjunct professor at Western Sydney University, provided significant insight into the industry’s woes as part of News Corp’s Back Our Subbies series earlier this year that led to the Queensland taskforce’s appointment.
Having started work on Wednesday he must first address construction problems with several high-rise residential apartment buildings including Mascot Towers where owners face a special levy to fund first stage repairs expected to cost $10 million.
Mr Chandler’s initial assessment that “if you caused it, you fix it” sends a clear message of intent, an intent that given his forthright views could only be derailed by government interference.
So too did Queensland Housing and Public Works Minister Mick de Brenni declare his intent two years ago when he placed a stake in the ground saying subcontractors should be paid in full, on time, every time.
Subbies initially buoyed by that repeated statement are becoming increasingly impatient as they await the release of the report into the long-concluded project bank account trial on government works valued from $1 million to $10 million.
Just when a more secure payment regime will roll out across the private sector remains to be seen.
Subbies understandably also want to see the detail of the report by former Justice John Byrne into the Special Joint Taskforce that has recommended 108 fraud-related matters be pursued.
The sooner the report is considered by Cabinet and released the sooner subbies can begin to regain confidence.
Put on hold while Justice Byrne’s team undertook its inquiries were serious questions about the failure by state government departments including Mr de Brenni’s own as well as education and health to act in relation to non-payment issues relating to the now failed central Queensland builder, the JM Kelly Group.
Emails published as part of the Back Our Subbies series showed all three departments had been informed that signed Statutory Declarations by the principal of the JM Kelly Group that subcontractors had been paid, were false.
That advice didn’t come from disgruntled subbies, but from the government’s own contract supervisor who had also informed the police and the Pre-Qualified Contractor board to no effect.
Counsel for the liquidator on Tuesday, questioning JM Kelly Builders Pty Ltd director John Murphy during the Federal Court of Brisbane public examination of the company’s affairs took the extraordinary step of declaring his intent “to demonstrate that the answers to the last three questions I’ve asked you are false. And I’m further going to intend to demonstrate that you’ve systematically pedalled lies and half-truths to the QBCC for years. So now is your chance. Do you want to reconsider the answers you’ve just given to my last three questions?”
It was an offer John Murphy was to decline.
Regardless of the evidence extracted from that public examination, the inaction of government departments must be addressed.
Who chose to ignore the advice from the contract supervisor, at whose direction, why action was not taken immediately it was received and why it took until the company’s ultimate collapse at a cost to trade suppliers and subcontractors amounting to tens of millions of dollars before the company received the attention it deserved, still requires explanation.
Impacted subbies deserve an explanation.
In an interview for the Back Our Subbies series Mr Chandler declared it was time for governments to get tough and start charging wrongdoing in an industry that he said appeared to have been extended a “get out of jail free card”.
As the former head of Fletcher Construction Group’s Australian, New Zealand, Pacific, North American and Asian operations, he knows what he’s talking about having also sat on the Gyles Royal Commission into Productivity in the Building Industry and the Building the Education Revolution Implementation Review Taskforce.
So too do the 600 Queensland subcontractors burnt by the 2013 exit of Walton Construction that left debts nationally of $90m.
Nearly six years on, having failed to get the attention of the Queensland Police, the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission and the Crime and Corruption Commission, it finally sought and secured Federal Court of Australia approval for a special purpose liquidator to pursue the National Australia Bank for its role in the affair.
Get out of jail free cards should only exist in a game — it’s called Monopoly.