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Govt under fire over St Hilliers

Andrew Fraser has labelled his own government "incompetent" over the decision to let construction tenders to troubled firm St Hilliers.
Andrew Fraser has labelled his own government "incompetent" over the decision to let construction tenders to troubled firm St Hilliers.

THE State Opposition has called on the O'Farrell Government to immediately step in and help tradies dudded again on failed public housing projects across NSW.

Now that national construction firm St Hilliers has entered voluntary administration, its emerged that Coffs Harbour tradesmen working on the troubled Harbour Dr public housing block are waiting on a payment of $660,000.

Caught up in the second collapse of a government contractor in 17 months, Coffs Harbour MP Andrew Fraser has criticised his own government over the bungle.

"They knew they were in trouble when they accepted this contract; if they knew, the department and the minister's office should have known and the contract never should have been let," Mr Fraser said.

"This is incompetence of the worst kind," he said.

The minister under fired over the St Hilliers contracts, Greg Pearce called on the Federal Government to investigate St Hilliers, claiming the group had placed its administration arm into liquidation to avoid liability and debt on Victorian projects.

"What sort of business model is it that these people can come out and say well we're going to put this company into administration to avoid our exposure to guarantees and debt?," Mr Pearce said.

He said the State Government performed two financial checks on St Hilliers before it signed contracts for the completion of 181 social housing developments in NSW two months ago.

Some of the developments, including the Coffs Harbour site failed to be completed after construction firms appointed by the Keneally government went broke.

Shadow Treasurer Michael Daley said the government needs to explain its decision to let the tenders to St Hilliers.

"Barry O'Farrell's own MP for Coffs Harbour, Andrew Fraser has called the government's decision to let the contract to St Hilliers 'incompetence of the worst kind'," Mr Daley said. 

"The O'Farrell Government needs to explain immediately what action it will take to secure local construction jobs and guarantee that the 12 NSW Government projects currently tendered out to St Hilliers will be completed.

Shadow Minister for Small Business Adam Searle said the government must step in to protect sub-contractors, too often dudded when major firms go into administration.

"Subcontractors are often the last to be paid when companies get into difficulty and that's not good enough," Mr Searle said.

"The O'Farrell Government must act now to ensure that small businesses are not forced into bankruptcy as the result of what is now happening."

"That means taking a serious look at reform to 'security of payment' legislation - to ensure that subcontractors aren't left out in the cold," he said.

Topics:  barry o'farrell, greg pearce, michael daley, st hilliers


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