18 November 2022

NSW Government keeps 'independent' review of Wagga public housing debacle secret

| Oliver Jacques
Start the conversation
16 Spring st with insert of Amy Burns

Amy Burns refuses to give up on getting paid for her work at 16 Spring Street. Photo: Supplied.

The NSW Government has refused to release any information on a supposed “independent” review of its handling of a Wagga government housing project that has left tradies tens of thousands of dollars out of pocket.

Oasis Scaffolding and Bricklaying ($90,000), Plaster Pros Wagga ($55,000), Wagga Glass and Aluminium ($42,000) and New-Crete Concreting ($28,000) have told Region they are still owed large sums of money for the work they did on the now complete government housing block at 16 Spring Street.

Region understands several other mum and dad businesses have lost money on the government project.

Problems began soon after National Party MP and then housing minister Melinda Pavey announced controversial Sydney-based company Matrix Group Co as the principal contractor for the project in February 2021.

By August, subcontractors complained to the NSW Government that Matrix wasn’t paying them. Nevertheless, the NSW Government continued to pay Matrix and still refuses to pay many of the tradies who actually did the building work.

READ ALSO NSW Government refuses to pay Wagga tradies who helped build Spring Street public housing units

Region has seen a document from NSW Fair Trading – a government body that regulates building contracts – indicating Matrix Group Co has not been licensed to do building jobs worth more than $20,000 since 2013. The document states Matrix is licensed “only for contracts not requiring insurance under the home building compensation fund” between April 2013 and April 2023. Projects worth more than $20,000 require insurance.

While there is a legal exemption that allows government agencies to bypass this requirement, the unpaid tradies are baffled as to why the NSW Government decided to bring in Sydney-based Matrix for the $1.5 million Wagga Spring Street job, rather than choosing a properly licensed local company.

“It’s malfeasance and negligence on their part,” Richard Foley of Plaster Pros Wagga said.

Amy Burns of Oasis Scaffolding and Bricklaying asked: “How can they possibly be compliant? They were not even licensed.”

Anthony Roberts speaking outside

Unpaid Wagga tradies have called on Planning and Homes Minister Anthony Roberts to intervene to ensure they get their money. Photo: Anthony Roberts, Facebook.

The NSW Government has claimed it conducted an independent review which cleared the NSW Government of wrongdoing on the matter. A spokesperson for the Land and Housing Corporation (LAHC), the NSW Government body that manages public housing, said: “LAHC commissioned an independent procurement review of the contract award, which found that LAHC’s due diligence activities, including consideration of financial capacity were deemed appropriate and in line with NSW Government procurement guidelines.”

READ ALSO Liquidator recovering money for tradies not paid for Wagga housing project, says NSW Government

Kevin Roben of Wagga Glass and Aluminium, who says he is owed $42,000, wants to see this review.

“Are they going to hand over their documents that back up their claim that they have completed their due diligence? I very much doubt that it stacks up. My bet is that they will not give access to the documents and their procedures,” he said.

Mr Roben can take his bet to the bank. Region asked the NSW Government why the review had been kept secret and if and when it would be publicly released. The NSW Government spokesperson refused to answer.

Region also put several questions to the NSW Government on why Matrix was chosen for the project and how much taxpayer money was given to Matrix after subcontractors complained they weren’t getting paid. Initially, a government spokesperson said they would provide answers by our deadline of 5 pm, Wednesday, 16 November.

By Wednesday night, the spokesperson asked for an extension to provide answers by the next day. By Thursday, however, the NSW Government decided silence was the best course of action and provided no official response.

NSW Fair Trading also declined to answer questions on whether it approved the Matrix contract and whether it investigated LAHC’s handling of the matter.

The NSW Government previously told Region a liquidator was trying to recover funds from Matrix Group Co. A NSW Government spokesperson said the LAHC will not answer any further questions on the matter and that all future questions should be directed to the liquidator. Region contacted the liquidator but he did not return our call.

Despite the echos of silence from multiple government bodies, Ms Burns, Mr Foley and Mr Roben have vowed to keep fighting to be paid for the work they did more than a year ago.

Original Article published by Oliver Jacques on Region Riverina.

Start the conversation

Daily Digest

Do you like to know what’s happening around your region? Every day the About Regional team packages up our most popular stories and sends them straight to your inbox for free. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.