Construction industry rogues must be stopped, says Bill Hoffman.
Construction industry rogues must be stopped, says Bill Hoffman.

Construction sector's rogues must be stopped

THE value of having an independent Member of State Parliament on the Sunshine Coast has never been better illustrated than in the introduction this week of legislation to improve fairness to the construction sector.

When the Walton collapse in 2013 hit the Sunshine Coast hard causing enormous pain to a number of businesses including three who between them were left out of pocket $2.3million, the Nicklin independent was there to help demand answers.

Business as usual would have seen any remaining funds from this $90million failure soaked up by the services of liquidators and demands of secured creditors leaving nothing in the till for the thousand plus small businesses owed money for materials supplied and work done.

Three years on unsecured trade creditors still have received nothing of what they are owed, however, much has changed.

The Palaszczuk government's announcement this week of the introduction of a new security of payment regime with project bank accounts to ensure money provided in progress payments by the client actually ends up in the pockets of those who did the work, is an enormous step forward.

The naysayers are already finding voice yet all have remained silent while the carnage that is Australia's so-called modern construction industry continued unabated with literally billions of dollars left owed annually in the years since Craig Walton and his advisers and bankers hatched the plan for his exit from the industry.

Peter Wellington has been an advocate for the victims of the Walton collapse since the outset, not only providing an ear to the then fledging Subcontractors Alliance headed by Coolum's Les Williams but importantly using the tight 2015 election result to ensure Labor was fully focused on the issue.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk's subsequent appointment of Mick de Brenni as Housing and Construction Minister has delivered a passionate advocate for reform.

The unseen damage caused by builders who are willing to take risks unwittingly underwritten by the people who provide the labour and materials for their projects is missed by the soon forgotten headlines chronicling yet another collapse.

The resultant loss of businesses and the homes often used by small businesses to secure finance can also lead to suicide, family break-up, dislocation and years of financial misery.

Such is the way the laws around business and commerce operate in this country that a whole industry has developed to support people who want to walk away from their obligations.

The shift has occurred over time from builders employing their own workforce to one where all risk is passed down the line to people whose own credit arrangements keep the whole house of cards afloat.

Minister de Brenni's commitment to seeing subbies paid on time every time for the work they do is one long overdue despite recommendations from inquiries dating back to the 1996 Scurr Report, the 2003 Cole Royal Commission and the 2015 Senate Inquiry into the issue.

Labor will deliver a pilot model for project bank accounts in 2018 and full implementation the following year, ensuring this critical small business measure is front and centre of the looming state election campaign.

Mr Wellington's independence allowed him to catch the ear of a minority government opening doors for Mr Williams who with his business partner were left unpaid $800,000 for civil work on the Nambour Coles project.

Rather than go into retirement with bitter final memories of a long working life, the Sunshine Coast Rugby League president has literally driven the length and breadth of Australia and like all good front rowers has not taken one step back in his demand for not only a better deal in the future for subbies but also that those responsible for the corporate fraud that infests the industry, be brought to account.

The Australian Building and Construction Commission bill rightly sought to rein in some of the excessive behaviour of construction industry unions but would have been silent on the issue of corporate wrong doing if not for Mr Williams' advocacy.

As a consequence Nick Xenophon forced amendments that include the establishment of a working group to deliver security of payment measures nationally.

There must be no further delays in delivering payment certainty for subcontractors.

The construction industry has greater problems than so-call rogue unions and it is time they were faced.

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