Bill Hoffman, staff.Photo Lisa Williams153801
Bill Hoffman, staff.Photo Lisa Williams153801

The free kick the LNP appears reluctant to take

THIS column last week brought you the very real story of a central Queensland woman impacted by the latest failure in the Queensland construction industry.

She and her husband had been caught by a builder with an appalling history but a wonderful capacity to secure state and local government projects.

On Monday the extent of the builder's debts and the number of people who have been impacted will be revealed at the first creditors' meeting of the JM Kelly Group.

Desperate people whose businesses and homes are on the line have clung to the faint hope they will be paid.

Monday's meeting will afford them little comfort.

Small business subcontractors can be expected to start targeting their State Government Members of Parliament, who they warned of past, existing and impending problems with the company but on all evidence did little or nothing to stop it.

There is every likelihood that the fallout will leave Labor's reputation severely dented.

No one should make any mistake about the capacity of what's now unfolding to also impact negatively on Labor at a federal level. And if there is a state in Australia that the Coalition needs that to happen it surely is Queensland.

That's what has made the silence so deafening.

There's been not a peep out of the LNP Opposition which otherwise manages seemingly to produce a press release with a contrary view to just about every statement coming out of the Palaszczuk Government.

Equally, alerted to the issues by subcontract small businesses, the federal Coalition has done nothing to promote examination of payment security in the construction sector.

The Financial Services Royal Commission has also shown no apparent inclination to fully investigate detailed submissions about the role banks play in an industry which annually leaves debts of around $3 billion to employees, subcontractors and the Australian Tax Office.

The Queensland Minister for Housing and Public Works Mick de Brenni has been driving legislative change to enhance payment security and should be congratulated for that work.

But reform has been slow in coming and its intent not supported by a more active response to fraud complaints laid with Queensland Police.

The Premier's failure to address calls for compensation for businesses who have supplied labour and material in good faith to government projects and now face ruin has been appalling.

Also appalling is the amount of time it is taking the Queensland Building and Construction Commission to decide whether to appeal a QCAT judgment that found the general manager of a company was not a person of influence in that company.

Surely, given its potentially frightful implications, that decision is one that should be tested.

The State Government has announced this week it would provide more than $300,000 to fund a public examination of the collapse of the Cullen Group and Q1 Homes.

Any examination of the facts around the Cullen Group in particular, should include why the building regulator was so slow to respond to complaints made about that company's finances 10 months before its inevitable liquidation.

On any measure the issue of payment security should be front and centre of political debate in Queensland but is not.

Why? The answer to that question lies partly with the LNP's own record and the slashing of financial reporting requirements during the Newman era which exacerbated existing problems.

Yet if the LNP is ever to shake off the debilitating electoral liability of that era, you would think strong policy positions that support small businesses in the construction sector would provide an ideal starting point.

It would certainly be a better way to present as a legitimate alternative government than the barrage of shrill press releases it produces that inevitably talk down the state while constantly presenting a negative view.

I received this week an email from a reader who runs a Sunshine Coast construction business with her husband.

She wanted to tell me that the industry was not all bad and that their family business that had long relationships with the tradespeople they engaged and ensured were paid on time every time.

And that's true. Many construction businesses do play fair. I see plenty of examples of that in my own community.

Equally, however, there are many who don't. The impact of that behaviour can be and is destructive. Proposed new legislation may help, but only if it is supported by stronger oversight and a properly focused and resourced regulator with a greater willingness to act than is presently apparent