FINES of up to $250,000 and potential jail time are key planks of proposed legislation aimed at protecting subcontractors from unscrupulous builders who refuse to pay their bills on time.
Under amendments to the Building and Construction Industry Security of Payment Act 2009, to be introduced to South Australian Parliament tomorrow, anyone who assaults, threatens or intimidates someone seeking payment for work will face fines of up to $50,0000 or two years’ jail.
Companies may face fines of up to $250,000.
Small Business Minister Martin Hamilton-Smith said subcontractors deserve to be paid without fear of intimidation.
“Businesses working in the building and construction sector are entitled to be paid in a timely manner for work properly completed or goods which have been supplied,” he said.
“We need to keep the cash moving in this important industry and the Act provides one of the means in which this can occur.”
The Building and Construction Industry Security of Payment Act 2009 came into force in 2011 and was formally reviewed after three years by former District Court Judge Alan Moss. Following the multi-million dollar collapse of the Adelaide building group, Tagara, Small Business Commissioner John Chapman proposed further changes in a consultation paper which was released in June 2016.
But Master Builders SA chief executive Ian Markos said the penalties made a “mockery’’ of the government’s commitment to reducing red tape.
”Why duplicate an existing crime of assault?” he said.
“We agree there is no place for threats and intimidation when it comes to getting paid. But who will investigate the alleged breaches and prepares briefs of evidence for the Crown Prosecutor?
“We understand and applaud the intention behind this new crime, but in practice we are concerned it may create disputes rather than resolve them.”
Mr Chapman said he has received $250,000 in the State Budget to implement the legislative changes, with part of the funding for an officer to investigate claims of bullying and intimidation.
“I also have powers under other acts that require people to do certain things and if they don’t I can launch a prosecution through the Crown (Solicitor),” he said. “It’s only going to be a problem if people are behaving badly.”
Among other amendments included in the proposed legislation will be tougher reporting criteria and accountability benchmarks for private adjudicators in building disputes.
Mr Chapman said adjudicators will no longer have open-ended contracts and their decisions will have to be published in full on the Small Business Commissioner’s website to provide “greater transparency”.
Mr Chapman had sought for his office to have sole discretion to hear building disputes but he said the government thought that was a “step too far”.