Contractors hopes and fears after deputy premier meeting
THE EMOTIONS of a group of Pacific Highway subcontractors chasing $7.3million in unpaid invoices are swinging between hope and despair after meeting with NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro.
Mr Barilaro and NSW Small Business Commissioner Robyn Hobbes met about 20 representatives of the 23 Wave 5 subcontractors in Grafton on Monday.
The contractors were left in dire straits when Queensland construction company Ostwald Bros went broke last August with debts totalling more than $60million
A spokeswoman for the group, Jo Franklin, said the meeting left them feeling "some hope" the Deputy Premier might be able to help them.
"But at the same time you have the this feeling in your guts that we're not going to get anything out of it," Ms Franklin said.
"John seemed genuine about trying to help us. There was a lot of talk about money and he listened to what we had to say.
"He said he could not make any promises but that it would take time to sort through issues."
Ms Franklin said the Deputy Premier said he would be back in contact with them by July.
"The good thing was John made it very clear he understood the money hadn't run off to Queensland with Ostwald Bros," she said.
"From what he said he knows exactly where the $11million that should have been paid to contractors is at the moment."
After the meeting Mr Barilaro said he had gained some important information from Monday's meeting.
"I came here with the Small Business Commissioner to listen to their concerns," he said.
"People have to understand I can't make a decision on the spot, but I can say I will be looking into the issues they've raised and I promise in six weeks I will be locking in a time to come back to them.
"I know there's some frustration with the findings from the Small Business Commission's investigation, but these things are complex and we need time to work through things.
"I've learnt some things from talking to the group tonight and I've made a commitment to do what I can to help them."
Ms Franklin said the time frame was disappointing for many of the contractors struggling to make ends meet.
"Six weeks might seem quick for the government," she said. "But for many of us that's six more weeks of trying to keep our heads above water."
She said the contractors' main fear was the government was worried about upsetting its principal contractors.
"That's what is really frightening for us," she said. "The government doesn't want to push back hard against these big contractors because they want to get the job in on time and on budget.
"But I don't think John was paying lip service to our concerns, so he's left us feeling a little bit hopeful."