Mr PERRETT (Gympie—LNP) (12.31 pm): I rise to speak on the Building Industry Fairness (Security of Payment) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2020. Everyone deserves to be paid for the work they do. That also means being paid in a timely way. Late payment and the non-payment of tradies continues to be an ongoing concern within the Queensland building and construction industry. I doubt that there would be one region within this state where tradies have not been troubled with payments. The building and construction industry plays an important role in our economy. The sector contributed $46 billion in the 2017-18 year and employed more than 230,000 people. Construction in the Gympie region is one of the top three industry sectors contributing to our gross regional product.
However, it was reported last week that in 2018-19 it had taken a hit and shrunk from $209 million to $191 million.
In 2018-19 Queensland recorded four straight quarters of decline in construction work done, which has continued into this year with a further three consecutive quarterly falls. Compared to the peak under the LNP in 2013, trend quarterly construction work done has fallen by nearly half, a fall of $8.2 billion. Under these conditions it is important that we put in place structures that ensure that contractors and subcontractors are paid.
When presenting the Building Industry Fairness (Security of Payment) Bill in 2017, the minister told us that it was an historic moment. The minister impressed on us that it would herald a new era of fairness in the building and construction industry. The reality is that the government was all talk on the topic. Its legislation was weak. Within two years the government was forced to establish a Special Joint Taskforce to examine the ongoing issue of non-payments and fraudulent behaviour. It also had to acknowledge that it needed to streamline the existing account structure for project trust accounts.
Unfortunately the terms of reference were too narrow and the time frame too tight for a full investigation to be undertaken. More work needs to be done. That is why the LNP remains committed to a commission of inquiry should it gain office in October 2020.
The centrepiece of the act was the introduction of a dedicated account which held money in trust for subcontractors. These project bank accounts, or PBAs, were established for government building contracts valued between $1 million and $10 million. In anticipation that it would require further amendments, the LNP called for the implementation panel to assess the merits of the PBAs before it was rolled out to the private sector. At the time the government argued that it was not required. Despite this it was eventually obliged to put it in place, and the panel has made 20 recommendations which the government has accepted.
Two years ago in 2018 the LNP recognised that there were significant continuing issues with late and non-payment for subcontractors. They continue to hamper the growth of Queensland businesses.
The LNP felt compelled to call for an inquiry into the building and construction industry with the growing list of issues, such as non-payment issues, fraudulent practices, false statutory declarations, illegal phoenixing activity and company collapses, endemic within the industry. In Gympie the collapse of
Ri-Con Contractors Pty Ltd is just one of the many prominent examples of the impact this has had on a community. It has left hundreds of thousands dollars owed to many Gympie businesses. Thirty businesses and individuals around the Gympie region were owed money.
Brisbane Electrical Contractors and Engineering were the hardest hit, with an estimated $236,000 owing. Initial reports were that O’Brien Plumbing Gympie was due $116,000. Tim Bothams of O’Brien Plumbing said it is $41,000 more than that, making it almost $160,000. Cooroy Engineering was due $36,000; Evans Painting and Rendering Contractors was owed $33,000; CPM Engineering was owed $25,000; and Cardale Concrete Pumping was owed more than $25,000 the report revealed.
Campbells Truck and Bobcat and Landscape Supplies, Nicks Read Mix and Quarry Boys Gympie were owed between $5000-$17,000 each. All Areas Rendering, CavSheds, CBD Corporation, Cooroy Sheet Metal and Tank Works, Fishy’s Earthmoving, Gympie Blinds, Gympie Garage Doors, Gympie Landscape Supplies, Suncoast Road Marking, Superior Skip Bins, The Water Man and Tim Spring Transport were also owed money. These businesses are among more than 300 unsecured creditors, including subcontractors, across Gympie and the Sunshine Coast who are owed millions.
Gympie Regional Council had engaged Ri-Con Contractors to deliver the Kilkivan Equestrian Centre and the Gympie Youth Precinct. These projects were funded by taxpayers and ratepayers money. It stands to reason that the council would keep a close check on how funds were being spent.
It is called due diligence. I received complaints from subcontractors alleging they were not paid, despite Ri-Con providing the Gympie Regional Council with statutory declarations confirming otherwise: that the subcontractors had been paid. It was alleged to me that the statutory declarations provided to the Gympie Regional Council were false. I wrote to the Police Commissioner requesting an investigation by the fraud squad. I was then advised that it was referred to the Financial and Cyber Crime Group.
I also wrote to the former chief executive of the Gympie Regional Council pointing out that I had been told that the council was made aware that subcontractors had not been paid. Astonishingly, the Gympie Regional Council’s response indicates that it did not seek any sort of verification of the statutory declarations. Any reasonable person would regard this as government meeting the practical expectation of the community. I was advised that council does not have the full schedule of payments made and when they were made and it was not fully aware of the circumstances around the signing of the declarations. This raises serious issues about the conduct of due diligence obligations, oversight, governance and business within the council. Councils conduct business with taxpayers’ and ratepayers’ money. Gympie ratepayers deserve a better oversight of the spending of their funds. Tradies, contractors and subcontractors also deserve better.
We should also be cautious about heavy handed governments imposing more red tape and compliance on our lives and businesses. I am always concerned about overreach and whether it conflicts with plain common sense, as well as imposing additional costs, ensuring compliance, audits and duplication with other responsibilities. The Master Builders Queensland are concerned about the effectiveness of the PDS and the administrative burden and amount of red tape to establish and maintain trust accounts and mandatory account reviews. They need simplification. The LNP believes that the building and construction industry needs systemic reform to encourage cultural change and improve payment outcomes across the industry. We are talking here about the expectation of our community when it comes to protecting workers, protecting tradies, contractors and sub-contractors who should be paid. I support the bill.