Local building firms demand a fair go

GOVERNMENT tenders are under scrutiny with local construction companies claiming they miss out on many big projects because of red tape.

Mendi Group managing director Jeff Doyle said the current tender system and red tape hurdles hindered local firms in bidding for work.

“Some tender packages released by the state and federal governments are too large for a firm like mine to undertake,” Mr Doyle said.

“I want to be involved in these projects, but as the principal contractor rather than a subcontractor.”

Mr Doyle said if, for example, a $100 million project was broken into smaller packages of $20 million each, it would be easier for local firms to make successful tenders.

“Currently the projects are far too large for local firms to get a look in,” he said. “There are a lot of good-quality civil contractors in Townsville. All we need is a chance.”

It comes as Townsville City Council yesterday adopted a budget of $55.3 million for its CBD utilities upgrade, to be spent primarily on local suppliers, contractors and subcontractors. BMD Constructions, which has a permanent office in Townsville, will manage the project, which is expected to create more than 100 jobs. The project will take four years to complete, replacing 20km of water and sewerage pipework, some more than 60 years old.

Building firms in Australia are divided into three tiers, which rank their ability to take on certain projects, with tier one the highest division.

Herbert Liberal MP Ewen Jones is campaigning for a change to the system and has launched a survey for contractors to share their experience of the tender process.

Mr Jones said Townsville firms deserved a better shot at winning government tenders.

“We’re 1400km away from a capital city, we’ve got 200,000 people and we’ve got a viable construction industry,” he said. “Local firms are good to about $20 to $40 million. When it’s a $100 million project and there’s no company in that bracket, they miss out.”

Mr Jones said the survey, launched on his website, was a chance to hear concerns from the industry. “We need to ensure every dollar spent in our community stays in our community,” he said. “This requires government at all three levels to look at their processes.”

Mayor Jenny Hill said the Federal Government needed to do more to address imbalances in the tender process.

“The Federal Government defines its tenders as anywhere in Australia or New Zealand,” she said. “That’s the sort of thing that needs to be addressed.”

Cr Hill said the Government should use its Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility now, while the city has a high level of unemployment, to fund private works that were waiting for seed funding to stimulate the economy.

Townsville Labor MP Scott Stewart said the feedback on the construction of the city’s Ring Road raised concerns about metropolitan tier-one firms winning the work.

“Over 84 per cent of people working on the Ring Road were actually locals,” he said.

Thuringowa Labor MP Aaron Harper said it was important that all work on new projects was undertaken by local workers but sometimes it proved difficult. “There are speciality areas such as pylon driving where very few firms have the skills,” Mr Harper said. “Some of the components of those projects have to go to firms from outside the region.”

Mr Harper said he was aware the tier level criteria for large jobs could disadvantage local firms and had flagged with Premier Anna­stacia Palaszczuk the importance of hiring local workers.

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