SMALL rural business owners, subcontracted to work on the $2 billion Connections project, say a contractual dispute has left them out of pocket to the tune of about $500,000.
The businesses are scattered around Cohuna and Swan Hill, where they had been subcontracted by Queensland firm Aqua Infrastructure to supply piping and machinery or carry out excavation work on the project.
One subcontractor, who is among about a dozen affected small business owners, said Aqua Infrastructure had told them the project’s lead construction firm, Chinese owned – John Holland, owed it about $600,000, but had refused to pay due to a dispute over “unapproved variations” to the contract.
“It’s a disaster for smaller businesses and puts a real strain on our cash flow,” said one Swan Hill subcontractor, who wished to remain anonymous. “Now I have my own suppliers hanging out (to be paid).”
A John Holland spokesperson said the firm had paid Aqua Infrastructure all due payments and entitlements to date and was “working with Aqua Infrastructure on assessing any further claims”.
“We respect and take our role in the supply chain of this project seriously, especially as we are mindful of small rural businesses’ expectation and need to maintain their expected cash flow, “ the spokesperson said.
“We have paid all entitlements to Aqua Infrastructure within our agreed contract terms and respect Aqua Infrastructure’s individual agreements and payment terms with their suppliers.”
Aqua Infrastructure staff failed to respond to repeated calls to their Queensland headquarters.