Jun 09, 2016

Men of straw – a column by Subcontractors Alliance chairman Les Williams

Men of straw – a column by Subcontractors Alliance chairman Les Williams Kylie McIlroy and Les Williams from the Subcontractors Alliance

The Subcontractors Alliance will be seeking support for the implementation of recommendations into construction industry insolvency.

On December 4, 2014 the Senate referred an inquiry into insolvency in the Australian construction industry to the Senate Economics References Committee for inquiry. It  made the report 12 months later (View here: report)

The Alliance  has been lobbying candidates from all political parties contesting the July 2 federal election to accept the report’s 44 recommendations.

The report cited harsh, oppressive and unconscionable commercial conduct  … and a growing culture of sharp business practices were identified as major problems surrounding the non-payment of subcontractors.

The report’s executive summary also said,  ‘Of these recommendations, two mark a sea change in the Commonwealth’s role in regulating payment practices in the construction industry. The first of these is the recommendation that the Commonwealth enact uniform, national legislation for a security of payment regime and rapid adjudication process in the commercial construction industry.”  

There’s plenty of history.

Over 144 years ago on February 22, 1872 Mr E Lewis wrote to Brisbane’s Courier Mail complaining about the non-payment of building tradesmen and workers and the lack of protective legislation. He referred to those builders and politicians who failed the industry as ‘men of straw’.

Roll forward to Queensland 1996. The Queensland Government commissioned an inquiry into security of payment. The commissioner reported serious problems with non-payment of subcontractors and receiving threats during the inquiry to have his report shredded if he recommended using trusts.

The Hansard records make sobering reading. They say: “Four peak industry bodies sought direct interference by the Premier – the report was never tabled in parliament … hundreds of copies shredded as threatened … the report consigned to archive and hidden behind Ministerial privilege.”

The minister was subsequently removed and the resultant watered down legislation proved meaningless, with 8000 industry small business insolvencies in Queesnland since.

The serious questions that need serious answers are who and what influences the political ‘men of straw’ to continually erode the rights of 85 per cent of Australia’s construction industry and small business community?

  • Les Williams, Subcontractors Alliance chairman

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