The NSW Labor Opposition has called on John Barilaro to explain why he has failed to prevent businesses undertaking large infrastructure projects for his government from leaving their sub-contractors with millions of dollars in unpaid invoices.
Last year Ostwald Bros, a sub-contractor to Seymour White, was contracted to undertake earth works on a project being managed by Pacific Complete on behalf of the NSW Government to upgrade sections of the Pacific Highway. In August 2017, Ostwald Bros went into voluntary administration leaving several of their sub-contractors with millions in unpaid invoices.
Shadow Minister for Small Business Jenny Aitchison has spoken to a number of small business owners who have suffered substantial losses on the work they had already completed for Ostwald Bros on the project. Despite repeated requests for assistance, the Liberal-National State Government has so far refused to provide any compensation for the sub-contractors for completed work.
Ms Aitchison said that Acting Premier John Barilaro and Roads Minister Melinda Pavey had previously spruiked the project as a boon for the local economy yet they have done nothing to help. As Leader of the Nationals Party in NSW and the Minister for Small Business, John Barilaro should act, Ms Aitchison said.
At the 2015 election, the NSW Labor Opposition adopted policies that would have protected sub-contractors from these kind of losses, based on the recommendations of the inquiry chaired by Bruce Collins QC in 2013. The key protection that Labor sought to implement was the mandating of trust fund arrangements by law to ensure that payments flowed through the whole chain of contracting and sub-contracting.
This policy would have ensured that head contractors like Ostwald Bros, cannot take money that is owed to sub-contractors. In cases where insolvencies occur, sub-contractors would not lose money owed to them as the funds would already be in a trust which can only be paid out under certain circumstances.
These policies that would protect small businesses from rogue operators have not been implemented by the Coalition Government. It is time for Mr Barilaro to explain to small businesses and communities in NSW what he is going to do to help these vulnerable small businesses who are owed millions of dollars as a result of work they have completed on a NSW Government project.
Quotes attributable to Shadow Minister for Small Business, Jenny Aitchison:
“The Coalition Government often proclaims that they are the ‘party of small business’. Why are they refusing to implement protections for vulnerable sub-contractors who are struggling to pay their employees because of their unpaid work on a NSW Government project?”
“John Barilaro has abandoned these small businesses in regional NSW. How can they trust his government to protect them against rogue operators?”
“The Berejiklian-Barilaro Government has failed to implement key recommendations of their own inquiry which would have protected small businesses. John Barilaro is asleep at the wheel.”