17 November 2023

Tradeswoman still unpaid for building Wagga 'charity house' in 2021 disappointed with Housing Minister

| Oliver Jacques
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Rose Jackson in a hard hat

NSW Housing Minister Rose Jackson’s long-awaited response to a tradie still unpaid for building public housing has missed the mark. Photo: Twitter.

A tradeswoman who still hasn’t been paid for work she did to build a Wagga public housing block in 2021 says she’s disappointed with a long-awaited response from Housing Minister Rose Jackson, who defended her bureaucrats and claimed the Government can’t pay the tradie directly.

The Minister also directed the woman to consider “new opportunities” to build public housing in the Wagga Wagga local government area.

As Region has exclusively reported, Minister Jackson’s department, the NSW Land and Housing Corporation (LAHC), appointed an already insolvent company as its principal contractor to build government units at 16 Spring Street, under the previous Coalition government in 2021.

READ MORE Timeline: How the Wagga public housing scandal unfolded

LAHC failed to see a public online notice revealing the company (Matrix Group Co) was uninsured, and somehow also missed another public online notice indicating it was in liquidation – continuing their contract with the Sydney-based construction company after both of these events.

Matrix Group Co’s eventual collapse left at least six subcontractors unpaid for the work they did on the building – including Amy Burns’ family business Oasis Scaffolding and Bricklaying, which is still owed $90,000.

Troy Loh on a boat

Former Matrix CEO Troy Loh has reappeared on social media. Photo: Facebook.

Ms Burns asked LAHC to pay her directly for her work, given LAHC appointed the insolvent company and ignored complaints from several tradies about not being paid by Matrix.

However, the department has refused to do so, so Ms Burns wrote to Minister Jackson asking her to intervene to help her (on 21 July 2023).

After almost four months of silence from the Minister’s office, she finally received a response on 10 November.

“Her response letter doesn’t help me at all, they’re just washing their hands at the whole thing,” Ms Burns said.

The Minister’s letter states LAHC did not know Matrix Group had entered liquidation until “on or about 29 October 2021”.

This contradicts a statement the department made to Region, which said LAHC first became aware of the liquidation “on 21 November”.

When asked about this discrepancy, LAHC said it made an error.

“LAHC apologies for this error and would like to correct the record to remove any confusion caused,” the department said in a statement.

In regards to LAHC’s original decision to appoint an insolvent company to build public housing, the Minister staunchly defended her bureaucrats.

Her letter to Ms Burns claimed an independent review of the LAHC decision to award Matrix the building contract was “appropriate and in line with NSW Government procurement guidelines”.

By contrast, a Region investigation found LAHC made numerous glaring errors then deleted evidence of its original decision from its website.

READ MORE NSW Government department chose insolvent company to build Wagga public housing

The NSW Government has kept its independent review of LAHC’s decision secret, refusing to release it publicly.

The Minister also directed Ms Burns to “new opportunities” for LAHC “housing construction projects in the Wagga Wagga local government area” in her letter.

“No way,” Ms Burns said. “LAHC hasn’t paid us for the last project, I’m never working for them again.”

Minister Jackson provided the following statement in response to Ms Burns’ response to her letter: “These decisions made by the former government and insolvency of the Matrix group has left a number of businesses in Wagga in a difficult position. We are navigating the situation as efficiently as possible to try to get answers for the affected subcontractors who were blindsided when they became aware Matrix entered liquidation. As mentioned previously, I deeply sympathise with numerous local businesses impacted.”

The tradeswoman was not impressed by the “former government” excuse.

“Ultimately, she is the Minister for housing and it is her responsibility to solve this,” Ms Burns said. “Her government is using the asset that we built. I call it a ‘charity house’, because we did all the work and still haven’t been paid for it.

“Why isn’t [Minister Jackson] holding the previous government to account for what they did?”

Region previously asked the Minister if she would take any action against LAHC bureaucrats for choosing an insolvent company to build public housing, but she did not respond.

Wagga MP Joe McGirr has urged the NSW Government to pay Ms Burns and other affected tradies directly.

‘The Government that we have today did not create this mess, but it is incumbent on them to fix this mess,” he said.

“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.

“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.”

Five other small businesses have told Region they are also still owed large sums of money on the Wagga public housing project, which was completed in 2021.

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