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Premier corrects subbies gaffe

Geoff Helisma |

Premier Gladys Berejiklian has corrected a statement she made on Prime TV news on Thursday May 31 when responding to a question about 23 subcontractors who have not been paid for work completed on the Pacific Highway upgrade.

She said contractor Ostwald Bros, which is in receivership and owes the subcontractors $7.3million, had been paid.

However, an April 5 NSW Supreme Court judgement in an ongoing dispute between Ostwald Bros and Seymour White (the contractor that engaged Ostwald Bros) stated, in part: “Seymour Whyte has not paid Ostwald any part of the scheduled amount. There is a dispute as to when such payment was due.”

The Independent sought a correction from the Premier’s office via phone and follow-up email on Friday June 1 and a subsequent phone call on Monday June 4.

Ms Berejiklian’s office responded: “The Premier was correct to say the NSW Government has already paid the contractor, however, she should have referred to Seymour White, rather than Ostwald Bros. The payment to subcontractors is a matter for Seymour White.”

Meanwhile, Minister for Roads, Maritime and Freight Melinda Pavey’s office did not respond.

On Thursday May 24, the Independent emailed questions to her office and followed up with a phone call on Friday May 25, asking: “If the government is doing as Ms Berejiklian stated in the NSW Parliament – ‘The Government is working hard to support those small businesses that have had the wrong thing done to them by the contractor.’ –, please outline what that means?”

However, Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis did respond to the Independent’s enquiry, which pointed out that he may have made an incorrect statement on ABC North Coast radio, according to shadow minister for small business Jenny Aitchison, whose May 23 media release alleged Mr Gulaptis said: “If Ostwald Brothers haven’t completed their contract with Seymour Whyte, then Seymour Whyte have no obligation to pay them. If they [Ostwald Bros] failed to do their job, then they should pay.”

The Independent asked Mr Gulaptis what he has done to fulfil his role, “to work locally for the people in the area that [elected MPs] represent”, as per the NSW Government’s procedural publication?

Mr Gulaptis wrote, in part: “The NSW Government has put legislation in place to ensure subcontractors are payed promptly and appropriately.

“The Minister informed the House on Tuesday [May22] that many of the subcontractors did not sign up to the securities of payments legislation, which this Government introduced to protect them.

“…Unfortunately there is no legislation to protect subcontractors from contractors who are intent on deliberate deception or from contractors who run a bad business.

“My history with the unpaid subbies dates back to mid-August last year when I was contacted by two of them, informing me they had outstanding monies owed by Ostwald Bros.

“I immediately contacted Bob Higgins from the RMS, to advise him of the claim … and asked him to investigate.

“I was then contacted by Bob Higgins not long after, [who advised] that Ostwald Bros had gone into voluntary administration and, as this was a legal process, it had to run its course without interference.

“I spoke with the Minister for Roads not long after this and she advised that she would arrange for the Small Business Commissioner to contact the subbies.

“Bob Higgins also advised that he was trying to arrange work for any of the displaced workers to work on other sections of the upgrade.

“I have been advised more recently that RMS has paid Seymour Whyte monies they are owed and that the dispute is between the voluntary Administrator for Ostwald Bros and Seymour Whyte.

“I have also been advised the NSW Government supports the recommendations of the Small Business Commissioner for any tax payments to the ATO to be waived in the interim period.

“We all feel compassion for the subbies but the sad reality is that there is no magic wand or easy solution to resolve this. We all want them to be paid for their work.”

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