21 September 2023

Wagga MP calls on NSW Government to pay tradies for public housing project

| Oliver Jacques
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Dr Joe Mcgirr

Member for Wagga Wagga, Dr Joe McGirr. Photo: NSW Parliament.

Member for Wagga Joe McGirr has called on the NSW Government to pay tradies left out of pocket for the work they did to build public housing units at 16 Spring Street more than two years ago.

As a Region investigation revealed, the NSW Government’s Land and Housing Corporation (LAHC) appointed an already insolvent company, Matrix Group Co, as the principal contractor for the project in 2021, under the previous Coalition government.

READ ALSO Timeline: How the Wagga public housing scandal unfolded

Later, LAHC apparently failed to see a public online notice revealing Matrix Group Co lost its building insurance, and somehow also missed another public online notice indicating Matrix Group Co was in liquidation – continuing their contract with the Sydney-based construction company after both of these events. But LAHC continues to refuse to pay tradies left shortchanged by Matrix.

Subcontractors Oasis Scaffolding and Bricklaying ($90,000), Wagga’s AC Electrics ($64,000), Plaster Pros Wagga ($55,000), New-Crete Concreting ($28,000), Wagga Glass and Aluminium ($42,000) and JMooney Roofing ($54,000) have also told Region they are still owed large sums of money on the Wagga LAHC project.

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

“It is not acceptable to expect that struggling subcontractors individually pursue expensive legal action to resolve a problem of the government’s doing and not their own.

“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.

“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.”

16 Spring Street 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.

A number of tradies owed money on the project appealed to NSW Housing Minister Rose Jackson for help. Amy Burns of Oasis Scaffolding and Bricklaying said she was extremely disappointed.

“I wrote to Minister Jackson a month ago and I’ve got no response. Nothing. Not even a short reply acknowledging my email,” she said.

“It really shows this Government doesn’t care.

“We bought the bricks. We laid the bricks. The Government is utilising our asset and they still haven’t paid us for it, two years later.

“We are in this predicament because of bad decisions made by the NSW government. Where have they gone? They have washed their hands of this. It’s not a lot of money for them.”

Rose Jackson signing a book

Rose Jackson has reportedly not responded to complaints from tradies. Photo: Facebook.

Ms Burns is now being pursued by the appointed liquidator for Matrix Group Co. In its letter, Westburn Advisory says that under law, it can retrieve money from subcontractors who allegedly received what the liquidator calls “unfair preference payments” from an insolvent entity – a company that is unable to pay its debts.

“Why are they demanding money from us? We are the ones owed money. We already lost $90,000, and we can’t afford to pay another $60,000 to fix the NSW government’s mistake,” Ms Burns said.

“The Government could at least protect us from the liquidator coming after us. We are left without any assistance or support whatsoever.”

READ ALSO Bureaucrats unaware of public liquidation notice on insolvent company chosen to build Wagga housing

Richard Foley of Plaster Pros Wagga also wants to see the Minister step up.

“The Minister must intervene as a matter of urgency. They have a duty of care to those of us who built this government asset but haven’t been paid.

“I cut them some slack, they’re wading through so much corruption from the previous government, it’s difficult for them to get through it all. But it’s disappointing they haven’t even got back to us.”

Region first put questions to Minister Jackson’s office on 24 July 2023, asking if she would take action against LAHC for choosing an insolvent company to build public housing in Wagga and whether she would help the tradies still unpaid for their work.

While the Minister did not answer either question directly, she broke her silence on the issue on Thursday afternoon (21 September), providing the following statement: “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.”

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