Subbies’ support unit a ‘game changer’ for construction industry

The West Australian, 11 December 2018

WA’s Subcontractor Support Unit — the first of its kind in Australia — will “triage” the financial casualties of the State’s construction industry, Small Business Commissioner David Eaton says.

Mr Eaton, to be given expanded powers in the new year to investigate complaints about payment and fair treatment, said the support unit would help create a healthier, more viable industry.

“I’m excited about this opportunity,” he said. “I think this will be a circuit breaker.

“Hopefully this, with other (State Government changes), we will look back on and say, ‘This is when we changed the game’.”

The State Government last week said it would expand the use of project bank accounts on government projects greater than $1.5 million and establish a watchdog to expose dodgy operators.

It will release lawyer John Fiocco’s report into subbies’ pay shortly. Ahead of the Fiocco report, Commerce and Industrial Relations Minister Bill Johnston went on the front foot, saying the Government was determined to deliver on its promise to make sure subcontractors got paid.

With Small Business Minister Paul Papalia, Mr Johnston said the Subcontractors Support Unit would give subbies “an advocate for the first time”.

Mr Eaton said details about how the unit would work would be decided after discussion with stakeholders.

However, he said the Small Business Development Corporation’s Subcontractor Support Unit could be the first port of call for anyone in the construction industry — big or small, contractor or subcontractor.

The unit would either help or refer elsewhere.

Mr Eaton said there was no plan to duplicate the Building Commission’s rapid adjudication process.

The success of SBDC’s dispute resolution service, which resolved 80 per cent of disputes without litigation, gave him confidence many disputes could be resolved with working relationships intact.

Mr Eaton, who reported into the aftermath of collapses during the 2013 Building the Education Revolution, said he was shocked to discover problems had been spelt out by others (former chief justice Wayne Martin in 2006 and Bruce Collins in NSW in 2012) but not fixed.

He said Mr Fiocco had taken into account the Federal report in May by building dispute specialist John Murray.