11 November 2022

Liquidator recovering money for tradies not paid for Wagga housing project, says NSW Government

| Oliver Jacques
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Public housing building

The government housing at 16 Spring Street is now fully occupied but many of those who built it still haven’t been paid. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

A liquidator is pursuing money for mum and dad tradies who are owed hundreds of thousands of dollars for work they did on a now finished Wagga government housing block, a NSW Government spokesperson has told Region.

But this isn’t good enough for Amy Burns of Oasis Scaffolding and Bricklaying, who has called on the responsible minister to intervene to ensure she gets the $90,000 she says she is owed.

A Region article published on 5 November revealed the Land and Housing Corporation (LAHC) – the NSW Government body that manages public housing – has been refusing to pay Ms Burns and several other subcontractors who helped build a public housing complex at 16 Spring Street for more than a year.

READ MORE NSW Government refuses to pay Wagga tradies who helped build Spring Street public housing units

LAHC had announced controversial Sydney-based company Matrix Group Co as the main contractor for the Spring Street development in February 2021. But by August, subcontractors complained to LAHC that Matrix Group Co wasn’t paying them.

A document seen by Region revealed the director of Matrix Group Co met with a liquidator as early as August 2021 to discuss going into voluntary administration. Nevertheless, the NSW Government maintained their contract with Matrix until November 2021 and continues to refuse to pay subcontractors who actually did the building work.

Unpaid tradies have appealed to LAHC directly to compensate them for the work they did on an LAHC project in good faith. But a spokesperson for the NSW Government Department of Planning and Environment, which includes LAHC within its remit, claimed that wasn’t possible.

“Under the Building and Construction Security of Payments Act, the NSW Land and Housing Corporation (LAHC) is not permitted to pay any subcontractors directly,” the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson did offer some hope for those owed money, saying: “This matter is now in the hands of the appointed liquidator working to call in funds to repay outstanding debts to Matrix Group’s creditors, including LAHC and subcontractors engaged by Matrix Group.”

This is news to Amy Burns, who says the NSW Government has never told her that a liquidator was chasing what she’s owed.

But ultimately, she wants the NSW Government to cough up her money directly.

“Why did the NSW Government choose Matrix in the first place? Why did they keep paying Matrix even after I told them they weren’t paying us?” she asked.

At a NSW Parliament hearing on 5 November 2021, Michael Cassel, the then chief executive officer of LAHC, was asked why LAHC continued to pay Matrix even after Ms Burns’ complaints that Matrix wasn’t paying her company.

“The process of paying contractors is very clear and outlined in the Security of Payments Act. You cannot just not pay somebody because somebody has made a phone call to us and said, ‘He hasn’t paid me’,” he said.

This is disputed by Ms Burns.

“The Government had the flexibility under the Security of Payments Act to stop paying Matrix and instead to pay subcontractors directly,” she said.

“They also had the power to issue warrants and seize information on whether or not we were being paid.

“But the Government kept paying him until November … they paid him three times after I complained to them we weren’t getting paid.”

Mr Cassel declined to answer further questions at the parliamentary hearing, saying, “… the police are investigating. Because of that investigation I wish to leave any further comment until that investigation is completed.”

However, Region has confirmed NSW Police did not complete an investigation. A NSW Police spokesperson said “it remained a civil matter and has been resolved”.

READ ALSO Housing crisis requires all tiers of government to step up: Bega Mayor

Labor-aligned Wagga councillor Dan Hayes says the NSW Government should not be hiding behind LAHC rules to avoid paying tradies.

“We live in a country where you do a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay,” he said.

“This is a government project. The government should make sure people are not left out of pocket.”

“Ultimately, the responsibility falls on the Minister and the Premier to do the right thing.”

As yet, no NSW Government minister is willing to take responsibility.

Nationals MP Melinda Pavey, who announced the Spring Street project, no longer holds the housing portfolio.

Region tabled questions on whether the NSW Government would intervene to pay tradies to Minister for Families and Communities Natasha Maclaren-Jones, who makes announcements on new public housing developments. Her office said it was not a matter for Minister Maclaren-Jones and forwarded Region’s questions to Planning and Homes Minister Anthony Roberts. Minister Roberts’ office has not answered our questions.

Ms Burns refuses to give up.

“I’m very angry … we built LAHC your building, we are not a charity, we need to be paid … we are not going away.”

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