12 April 2024

Refusing to pay Wagga tradies for building public housing makes NSW look like a third-world state

| Oliver Jacques
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Rose Jackson in a hard hat

Tradies are disappointed with NSW Housing Minister Rose Jackson’s response on the Wagga housing debacle. Photo: Twitter.

When a woman first told me about a government refusing to pay builders who constructed public housing for them, I wondered what impoverished country she was talking about.

Somalia? Venezuela? North Korea?

Nope. It’s the NSW Government that won’t compensate tradies hundreds of thousands of dollars for building them a government asset in Wagga almost three years ago.

Taxpayers have now funded three inquiries into how this happened. I say, pan the inquiries and just use that money to pay the people that did your work.

In 2021, a group of mum and dad small businesses bought bricks, plasterboards, concrete, steel, tiles and glass and worked hard for several months to construct a two-storey, four-unit public housing dwelling at 16 Spring Street.

The NSW Government is now using their free labour and materials to house its own tenants.

How is this possible?

The government department Homes NSW chose an already insolvent, uninsured Sydney-based builder as the main contractor for the project under the previous Coalition Government in late 2020.

In other words, the bureaucrats knocked back local Riverina businesses for the job and brought in a company from 500 km away that had more red flags than a Chinese military parade.

Not surprisingly, this business, Matrix Group Co, was unable to pay a number of invoices it received from local subcontractors.

These subbies complained to Homes NSW that they weren’t getting paid for the work. But Homes NSW ignored them and kept paying Matrix.

Matrix officially went into liquidation in November 2021, leaving a string of tradies unpaid for their work.

Homes NSW then washed their hands of the whole thing, telling the subbies that Matrix was responsible for paying them and it wasn’t a government problem.

“Not being paid almost ruined me,” roofer Jake Mooney said. “It took me a year to pay off my debts. I only survived by working my a*** off.”

Bricklayer Amy Burns was also made to suffer.

“It’s making me feel sick. I’m having to deal with this every day. I wake up at 2 am every day and wonder how this has happened. We honoured our contract; we were just trying to make a living.”

16 Spring St Wagga block

A number of tradies who built the government units at 16 Spring Street in 2021 still haven’t been paid. Photo: Chris Roe.

The tradies have made a simple case to the government – you chose the insolvent main contractor, therefore you need to pay us directly for our work. Wagga MP Joe McGirr agrees.

The government, however, has just done what governments always do when they want to dodge decisions – conduct inquiries.

It first did an external procurement review, then an in-house legal team review and has more recently asked the NSW Building Commissioner to investigate.

How much are these reviews costing? Wouldn’t it be cheaper to just pay the tradies?

The response by NSW Labor Housing Minister Rose Jackson to this matter was mind-boggling.

When in opposition, Ms Jackson was a fierce critic of the Liberal National Government, hammering it over never-ending scandals and apparent mismanagement.

But as Minister, she’s defending the previous administration’s “due diligence” on Matrix and parroting the same lines it gave the unpaid subbies under Coalition ministers.

Plasterer Richard Foley, who is owed $55,000 on the Spring Street project, says it shows the two major parties “are just two cheeks of the same a***”.

Minister Jackson still has the chance to prove him wrong. A government paying people to build a government asset should be a given in a first-world democracy. Stop the inquiries and show us the money.

Original Article published by Oliver Jacques on Region Riverina.

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