Queensland Budget - Local firms ask for a share

Queensland budget: local firms plead for their share of $5bn construction splash

The Australian Newspaper reports on the 15th June 2017 The Australian Article

Regional companies have warned against Queensland’s $5 billion infrastructure cash splash, the focus of Labor’s re-election budget, being directed only to big Brisbane-based construction companies.

Adrian Gabrielli, Townsville’s largest local builder, said he was forced to consider opening a ­Brisbane shopfront to vie for major state government jobs in his own north Queensland city.

Mr Gabrielli, whose company turns over $50 million annually and employs 50 people, said smaller regional construction firms were often overlooked for state government tenders in favour of top-tier Brisbane-based firms.

This week’s Queensland budget included a 2017-18 capital works program of more than $10bn, of which $4.8bn will be spent on regional infrastructure.

Mr Gabrielli urged the Palaszczuk government to consider giving most of that work to ­regional construction companies to benefit local communities.

“I want them to increase infrastructure spending … but it also needs to be designed to accelerate recognition of regional communities to give them life again,” Mr Gabrielli told The Australian.

“The world seems to be going back to the big city. That’s why we are thinking of opening up a small office in Brisbane. I feel we’re passed over because we’re a Townsville company.”

That ran contrary to the Palaszczuk government’s pledge to create jobs outside Brisbane, he said, and hurt regional centres like Townsville, where the unemployment rate, at 10.7 per cent, is nearly twice the state average.

Mr Gabrielli said bigger Brisbane-based companies working in regional areas might employ small numbers of local tradesmen for certain jobs but the work was temporary and had limited flow-on for regional economies.

When regional firms were chosen, however, more jobs were permanent, local apprentices were employed, equipment and supplies were bought locally and local sports teams and clubs got sponsorships.

Treasurer Curtis Pitt said the government tried to hire regional firms as much as possible, but it needed to ensure projects were built to specification and gained best value for money.

“Ideally, we’d love to have a local contractor, but we very often get local people employed even when it’s not a local company that has the job,” Mr Pitt said.

“When we put projects into regional areas, we want to make sure as many localised builders as possible are able to get that work.”

Brisbane-based, ASX-listed construction major Watpac was awarded the $250m managing contract for the new Townsville stadium, to which the state government is contributing $140m.

Mr Gabrielli said his company did work for governments, both state and local, as was currently completing a job for the government-owned energy company Ergon.

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