COAST NEEDS A PROPER FIX

Weekend Gold Coast Bulletin - - OPINION -

IN a breath­tak­ing dis­play of what many might see as brazen op­por­tunism, those be­hind a new com­pany that uses the word “phoenix’’ in its name have shown more front than a rat with a gold tooth.

Shrug­ging off the con­no­ta­tions of the word when it is ap­plied in gen­eral to the build­ing in­dus­try and an un­for­tu­nate his­tory of cred­i­tors be­ing burned by con­struc­tion com­pany col­lapses on the Gold Coast, the peo­ple run­ning Phoenix Ru­ral Fenc­ing and Land­scap­ing have – like the myth­i­cal bird – risen from the ashes of the col­lapse last year of Queens­land One Homes, which left debts of $6 mil­lion.

Of course, the busi­ness and its new name have an­gered sub­bies and cus­tomers stung by that col­lapse. The Supreme Court froze $7.1 mil­lion in as­sets owned by the cou­ple be­hind Queens­land One and other com­pa­nies, Paul and Am­ber Cal­len­der. While the Cal­len­ders have de­nied wrong­do­ing, al­le­ga­tions of phoenix ac­tiv­i­ties have been re­ferred to the cor­po­rate reg­u­la­tor, ASIC. The case is just one of many that have hurt tradies, sup­pli­ers and or­di­nary mums and dads who have en­gaged builders to de­liver their dream home, only for that dream to be shat­tered.

This sort of si­t­u­a­tion is not new. It has been go­ing on for decades and has been de­bated over and again in state and fed­eral par­lia­ments, but still com­pa­nies go un­der, cus­tomers are hurt, sub­bies go to the wall, labour­ers are put out of work and cred­i­tors cop a loss – only for di­rec­tors to re-emerge with new com­pa­nies.

Wait­ing for leg­is­la­tion to deal with this ef­fec­tively is like watch­ing mo­lasses drip. Back in 2002, for ex­am­ple, leg­is­la­tion was in­tro­duced by the then state hous­ing min­is­ter, Rob Schwarten, which he said would pro­vide greater pro­tec­tion for Queens­lan­ders from phoenix com­pa­nies, yet it has re­mained a prob­lem. In the past year the Palaszczuk Govern­ment has in­tro­duced pro­ject bank ac­count laws, which ap­ply to govern­ment con­tracts in the short term and will be widened to pri­vate con­tracts next year, but this en­sures sub­bies are paid when builders col­lapse. Phoenix com­pa­nies can be another mat­ter.

The Turn­bull Govern­ment an­nounced in its Bud­get on Tues­day night that $40 mil­lion would be spent “across for­ward es­ti­mates’’ to “tar­get those who con­duct or fa­cil­i­tate il­le­gal phoenix­ing’’.

Grim ex­pe­ri­ence sug­gests that Gold Coast­ers should not hold their breath.

To date, the state build­ing in­dus­try reg­u­la­tor, QBCC, has been able to re­fer al­le­ga­tions of phoenix or other il­le­gal ac­tiv­i­ties to ASIC and po­lice.

As the Bul­letin re­ports to­day, ASIC – the cor­po­rate reg­u­la­tor – also re­lies on liq­uida­tors to re­port il­le­gal phoenix ac­tiv­ity.

But it does not help in­di­vid­u­als re­cover lost money, and will only act if it thinks it can ben­e­fit the pub­lic broadly and re­sult in “greater mar­ket im­pact’’.

It all sounds very vague.

Un­less Can­berra and the State Govern­ment are se­ri­ous about beef­ing up leg­is­la­tion and giv­ing their agen­cies some teeth, il­le­gal phoenix­ing op­er­a­tors will keep bob­bing up. The next fed­eral elec­tion will be fought on the bat­tle­ground of tax cuts, we are told. It is surely in the Gold Coast’s in­ter­ests for a proper crack­down on phoenix ac­tiv­i­ties to be a poll is­sue.

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