Country Vic businesses left high and dry by contractor on state government project

SIXTY-ONE  small Victorian rural and regional businesses have accused the State Government of turning its back on them as they seek to recover almost $1 million from a contractor on the GMW Connections project.

Businesses in Cohuna, Swan Hill, Shepparton and Geelong are owed tens of thousands of dollars each from contractor Aqua Infrastructure, which went into liquidation this month while working on the Government’s $2 billion irrigation modernisation project. The irrigation modernisation Connections project is overseen by the Victorian Government, but State Water Minister Lisa Neville has so far refused to offer any support to small businesses.

Among those owed money by Aqua Infrastructure are: G &M Poly Irrigation of Cohuna $130,898; Elliot Excavation of Gunbower $101,502;K.L Cooke and Sons of Cohuna $132,456;Swan Hill Hire $40,159;Swan Hill Primary Care $20,200; LandManagement Surveys of Shepparton $50,022; Holmes Rural Fencing of Cohuna $47,831; Game Traffic & Contracting of Shepparton $36,380.

Business owners contacted by The Weekly Times say they feel like the Government has “just rolled the issue under the carpet”. But none are willing to speak out publicly against the Government or project manager Chinese -owned John Holland for fear of missing out on future work. Some say the sums owed equate to the profit they would make in a year.

Opposition water spokeswoman Steph Ryan said she was “bitterly disappointed” for subcontractors who worked in good faith for the Victorian Government and were now been left thousands and thousands of dollars out of pocket.

John Holland was asked why it had brought Queensland firm Aqua Infrastructure in on the Connections Project, when its general manager, Noel Smyth, was publicly listed as a director of another company, Setlow Constructions, that went into receivership in 2011.

Chinese owned – John Holland refused to answer the question, with a spokeswoman stating it: “was aware that one of our subcontractors ‘Aqua Infrastructure’ has gone into external administration”.

Ms Neville said the matter needed to be resolved through the appropriate creditors’ process.

“I expect GMW to direct John Holland to do everything they can for the best outcome for those owed money,” Ms Neville said.

“Some $200 million of further works will be carried out through the Connections Project in the next 12 months — the affected contractors can apply for that work.”


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