Local subbies at a protest meeting outside the Department of Housing project on Harbour Drive.
Local subbies at a protest meeting outside the Department of Housing project on Harbour Drive. BRUCE THOMAS

Tradies being hammered

A LONG memory is handy in this paper caper.

Seeing the picture of old footy mate Jock Moore on the front page this week stirred memories many in the Coffs Coast building game would rather forget.

Jock and business partner Peter Hunt – along with stacks of other hard-working tradies and labourers – copped the double-whammy of the Simcorp shutdown and the most recent Perle fiasco.

Their plight struck memory chords for many who went through similar calamities in the 1980s when the fast-talking carpetbaggers hit town with big mouths and small capital backing and left a trail of financial destruction in their wake.

This writer (to the tune of several grand) was also stitched up by a fly-by-nighter.

Yesterday I rang a mate (Mr X) who lost his business when the Opal Cove collapse left him almost $400,000 in the red – a sum which 20 years later would mean an even more astronomical blow to a small local employer, his workers and creditors.

I asked for advice to pass on to tradies keen to avoid being caught out should future big projects go belly-up.

“Those b------s stung me bad and while I was in the group that had a caveat over the place, six months later they were back at it on the Gold Coast as part of the white shoe brigade,” he said, using colourful language liberally.

“Under current laws, unless you can prove they did something illegal, you’re deep in s- -t and the banks are no help unless they have equity in the project or know in advance that it’s foolproof.”

What’s changed from the ’80s?

“When I was in business the project was announced, we gave our submission and if accepted, work started,” Mr X explained.

“Often that’s still the case and you’d think it was safe in government projects such as the Perle development.

“That’s what stinks most about this one and while I know in private enterprise you don’t have to put in for the job, that isn’t how the real world of business works.”

But can’t the subbies and tradies put their heads together and set some ground rules before the first sod is turned?

“Sure they can,” Mr X said cheerfully, grinding his teeth over recollections from two decades ago.

“They can all have a meeting and decide to down tools if the money dries up.

“But even if they smell a rat and decide not to contract, there’s always some silly b------d from outside the area trying to get under their necks.

“The blokes who get caught out are usually the subbies last onto the job, who get left holding a can with no money in it.

“Mate, I wish I had an answer ... there’s got to be one somewhere ... but I don’t know where it is for certain.

“All I can do is feel sorry for the poor buggers, knowing the grief I had.”

Indications are the global financial crisis is still blundering its way through Australia.

Locally, a trade business in Sawtell has gone under and while divorced from woes in the building game, the Catholic Club/Coffs saga has some way to go, a long-term motorcycle business is in liquidation and a leading restaurant shuts next week.

Those we know about.

Ponderings welcome to greg.white@coffscoastadvocate.com.au.

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