28 September 2023

Minister ‘devastated’ by out of pocket Wagga tradies but won’t commit to paying them

| Oliver Jacques
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Minister Rose Jackson speaking to camera

Amy Burns of Oasis Scaffolding and Bricklaying is disappointed in Minister Rose Jackson (above) over her response to the unpaid tradies who worked on the Spring Street public housing. Photo: Facebook.

NSW Housing Minister Rose Jackson said she was “devastated” by the debacle which saw numerous tradies left unpaid by the NSW Government for building public housing in Wagga. But she will not back Wagga MP Joe McGirr’s call for the government to pay them directly.

The Minister also refused to answer Region‘s question on whether she will take any action against her bureaucracy for appointing an insolvent company that was trading illegally to build public housing.

The Minister’s department, the NSW Land and Housing Corporation (LAHC), appointed Matrix Group Co, a company that was already insolvent, to build units at 16 Spring Street in 2021, under the previous Coalition government. LAHC also maintained its contract with this company for another seven months after losing its building insurance in March 2023.

READ ALSO Timeline: How the Wagga public housing scandal unfolded

When Matrix officially went into liquidation in October 2021, it left at least six tradies who helped build the Spring Street dwellings owed hundreds of thousands of dollars for their materials and labour.

Amy Burns of Oasis Scaffolding and Bricklaying, who is still owed $90,000 for the project, says the government should at least make a plaque outside the block to let people know the public housing building “was constructed by the charitable works of tradies who still haven’t been paid for their materials and labour”.

Independent state MP for Wagga Joe McGirr believes the NSW Government is responsible for paying Ms Burns and other subcontractors directly.

“Matrix Group Co were hired by the former government to conduct the Spring Street development and they were provided an exemption by that government to have mandatory insurance under the Home Building Compensation fund,” Dr McGirr said.

“It would appear to me that the government has an ethical, if not actual legal obligation, to act as the guarantor for the payment of the subcontractors affected.”

Region asked Minister Jackson if she agreed with Dr McGirr, that the NSW Government should pay the tradies directly. We also asked the Minister if she would take any action against LAHC staff who appointed an insolvent company trading illegally to build public housing.

She has refused to answer either question, but provided this statement:

“We know how deeply disappointing and frustrating this is for these hard-working subcontractors and we don’t want them to be copping the brunt of dodgy operators.

“We are actively pursuing the liquidator and urging them to accelerate the liquidation of Matrix Group diligently, for the benefit of all creditors.

“The insolvency of the Matrix group has left a number of businesses in Wagga in a difficult position.

“I deeply sympathise with the affected sub-contractors who were blindsided when they became aware Matrix entered liquidation.”

Earlier, she told Region: “I am devastated by this situation which has seen critical affordable housing stalled and numerous local businesses impacted. We are seeking legal advice to ensure the matter is dealt with appropriately, but this is taking some time while we wait for further advice from the liquidator who needs to identify the losses.”

Public housing units

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

The liquidator indicated he was not aware of a request from Minister Jackson “to accelerate the liquidation of Matrix Group diligently”.

Ms Burns said she can’t understand why the Minister keeps referring to the liquidator.

“The liquidator has nothing to do with this whatsoever. LAHC are the ones who hired a company who were trading illegally. They have an asset they are utilising, that has tenants in it, that was constructed fraudulently, using our labour and material, for which we still haven’t been paid.

“[Minister Jackson] is giving us exactly the same line as we got from the previous [Coalition] government. Nothing has changed,” she said.

“Why are they seeking legal advice now? They have had two years to do that. Why didn’t LAHC do their checks before they appointed an insolvent builder?”

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Dr McGirr is also critical of LAHC’s handling of the matter.

“I am also concerned that it appears that LAHC should have been aware of solvency concerns earlier and yet still awarded Matrix Group Co the contract for the Spring Street development. I have asked the Minister to examine this,” he said.

Ms Burns said the affected tradies were desperate to be paid for the work they did two years ago, but were despondent that the Labor Government had not changed the approach of its predecessor.

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