Building and Construction Industry Security of Payment Act

March 9 2011

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (17:05):  I move:

That this council condemns the government for its failure to—

1. Act in a timely and appropriate manner to proclaim legislation passed over 15 months ago, namely the Building and Construction Industry Security of Payment Act 2009;

2. Allocate responsibility for this legislation to a particular minister;

3. Acknowledge the hardship and human consequences that its failure to act has created, including protracted and expensive litigation undertaken to recover monies owed that would not have been necessary had this legislation being active; and

4 Provide this council with details of—

                (a) which government department will be responsible for administering the act and its regulation;

                (b) when the industry will be able to access information and details, including a public point of contact within government to obtain further information when, and if, this becomes available; and

                 (c) how the government intends to urgently inform the industry in regards to this end; and

                 (d) when the people in the industry who have been seeking answers from the Premier and attorney general's office will actually get a response to their correspondence.

I rise today to raise the issue of inaction by this so-called action Labor government, a Labor government that claims to be investing in the big build in this state and yet seems to be leaving the small builders out on a limb. I was first alerted to this issue by a string of correspondence that had been unanswered by the government. However, I will step back before venturing on to say that I rise today to talk about the Building and Construction Industry Security of Payment Act. I acknowledge the Hon. Nick Xenophon, who did an enormous amount of work to progress it through this parliament and, in particular, Connie Bonaros from his office at the time. I also acknowledge the work of John Darley in keeping the issue on the agenda of this parliament.

The Hon. Nick Xenophon pushed for this legislation, which is an important piece of legislation for South Australians who work in the construction industry. It was a redress to the state that saw South Australian construction subcontractors, contractors and suppliers less well off in terms of being able to secure payments than their interstate colleagues. We were lagging far behind the rest of the country already in 2006, when the Hon. Nick Xenophon lobbied the then minister Michael Wright for some action in this area.

I note that, at the time, in 2006 minister Wright said that he would undertake to consult with the construction industry about a security of payment scheme but yet, a year later, he had not even written to the key stakeholders. So, being slow to action is not new on this particular issue, and it should almost be of no surprise. However, it is a disappointment and a disgrace that this legislation has not been progressed by the Rann Labor government. Since that time we have seen the Building and Construction Industry Security of Payment Act pass very slowly through parliament.

It is a very important piece of legislation for the construction industry because, in effect and in a nutshell, it ensures that suppliers, subcontractors and people who ensure that the big build of this state continues to churn along, can secure payment for their work, their labour, their goods and supplies without suffering the hardship caused when someone further up the chain does not pay for that work or for those supplies, and without resorting to an expensive and protracted litigation process which, of course, sees many small businesses go to the wall as they cannot afford to sustain such a course of action.

It also destroys lives. It destroys the lives of those who are affected and who are not paid, so it is a necessary piece of legislation. To the government's credit and to this parliament's credit the Building and Construction Industry Security of Payment Act was passed in December 2009. However, here we are in March 2011 and we have yet to see the act proclaimed. We have yet to see any action from this government to speed up—

The Hon. J.A. Darley interjecting:

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS:  No, it has also not been proclaimed. We have yet to see regulations, and we have yet to see appropriate consultation with the industry. We have yet to see a minister allocated to take carriage of this act. So, when we ask questions in this parliament about why nothing is happening to protect the very workers and contractors who are fuelling the big build of this Labor government, we do not even know who we should address our questions to in order to hold them to account.

Both myself and the Hon. John Darley (and, potentially, other members) have raised questions in this place—the Hon. John Darley within just these last few weeks, in fact. We have been told that OCBA is focusing on it, although I understand that the Attorney-General's Department currently has some carriage of it. That has been a recent development, but I cannot guarantee it for a fact because we cannot get a straight answer out of this government on the issue.

Other people who cannot get a straight answer out of this government on this issue include Edward Sain and Associates. Edward Sain has written to the Attorney-General and the Premier seeking clarity on this issue. He has some interest because he works in representation of those who work in the building and construction industry; in fact, he has many cases before the courts at the moment. I point out that had the regulations been developed and this act proclaimed in a manner befitting its importance to our state, not over a year since it was passed in December 2009, many of the cases Mr Sain is currently dealing with would not be before the courts. We are looking at small business people going to the wall, needlessly and unnecessarily being put through financial and emotional pain by this government.

Mr Sain has written to the Premier seeking clarity about the progress of this act on 21 April 2010, 17 May 2010, 3 June 2010, 18 June 2010, 23 July 2010, 13 September 2010 and 7 October 2010. He has also subsequently contacted him, but I think honourable members get the picture that we are not getting a great deal of response from the government on this issue.

If this legislation were in place, many of the issues regarding payments to contractors Mr Sain has represented—or, more specifically, non-payment to contractors—on publicly funded projects like the desalination plant, the Adelaide Oval and the Adelaide Aquatic Centre would be currently being handled in an expeditious and affordable manner, reducing the huge financial and human burden these contractors are carrying.

I note that I have reports—as I said, many of these cases are before the court at the moment, needlessly and unnecessarily—related to the jewels in Premier Rann's big build crown, that is, the desalination plant, the Adelaide Aquatic Centre and the Adelaide Oval. This government is happy to squeeze into power on the back of the working class and the worker, but when it comes to ensuring that workers actually get a fair day's pay for a fair day's work it seems that it is certainly not happy to meet that obligation. It is certainly not happy even to meet the standards we currently see in every other mainland state in this country.

It should be of concern to all members in this place that we have people in this state who have to resort to expensive litigation simply to recover the moneys they are owed. Where there are big contracts that this government loves to have press conferences on, loves to have media opportunities about, it should be doing everything it can to ensure that these workers are getting a fair day's pay for a fair day's work.

This government is doing far from that; it is actually not even proclaiming or enabling legislation that this parliament has passed well over a year ago. In doing so, it is derelict in its duty to the workers of South Australia. I commend this motion to the chamber.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. J.S.L. Dawkins.


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