NOT HAPPY: Les Williams from WK Civil is leading the fight to have subcontractors paid for the work they did for collapsed builder Walton Constructions.
NOT HAPPY: Les Williams from WK Civil is leading the fight to have subcontractors paid for the work they did for collapsed builder Walton Constructions. Brett Wortman

Adviser blames Daily for builder’s trouble

A COMPANY that advised Walton Construction in the months ahead of it going into liquidation has launched an extraordinary attack on the Sunshine Coast Daily.


In a media release, the Mawson Group has claimed the Daily's coverage, which has focused on the damage done to subcontractors owed $69 million, forced the winding down of a company it set up to take over Walton projects.
Walton subcontractors have rejected the claim, saying the Daily was the only newspaper in Australia interested in their plight.


They claim Mawson failed to inform them that they would not be paid for the debt they incurred and the work they did in the final months before Walton's collapse.

WINDING UP OR SIZING DOWN? The Mawson Group media release showing the changes made during its creation.
WINDING UP OR SIZING DOWN? The Mawson Group media release showing the changes made during its creation.

THE BACKGROUND:

A PRESS release was sent out on Friday by the Mawson Group, the Melbourne business adviser that oversaw the final months of Walton Construction before it went into liquidation last October owing $69 million.

Sunshine Coast subcontractors working for Walton on the Nambour Coles project lost $2.9 million.

The media release refers to Tantallon Builders, one of two companies Mawson set up to take over profitable contracts from the failing builder.

The document produced by Mawson publicist Mike Smith, of Inside PR, included the edited changes made during its creation. They make clear that internally there was confusion over whether Tantallon was going out the door or shrinking.

Earlier versions of the release can be seen in red with a line through words to be deleted. The first headline for the document says "44 jobs lost, building company fails after SCD campaign". "Fails" was later changed to "contracts".

Tantallon is a month away from completing a number of contracts for Queensland Rail. It is also doing work on Wesley Hospital and defect rectification for Santos.

The depth of the confusion about the company's future can be seen in the first line of the media release. It originally stated "The Tantallon company is winding up, causing the loss of 44 jobs and future work for Queensland contractors". It was then changed to replace "winding up" with "contracting".

Tantallon manager Dave Scott said on Friday: "I don't want nervous subcontractors, I want to ensure I do what I said we will do."

They would have every right to be nervous given that the original version of the media release's fourth paragraph, referring to Tantallon director Julian Kirzner, said "Mr Kirzner said the closure was the direct result of a campaign by journalist Bill Hoffman and the Sunshine Coast Daily since the collapse of Walton in October, 2013".

That was then changed to "A campaign by community journalist Bill Hoffman significantly contributed to the contraction of Tantallon".

Another company, Lewton Asset Services, set up under the direction of the Mawson Group to take over Walton's Victorian jobs, collapsed three weeks ago, leaving employees and subcontractors unpaid. From August to October 2013, the Mawson Group, in consultation with Walton's sole director Craig Walton, made arrangements to take over the assets and $17 million worth of work in process from Walton Construction and Walton Queensland before those companies went into liquidation.

Subcontractors are furious that during those two months they incurred debt and did work for which they would never be paid.

On the Sunshine Coast young landscape businessman Beau Hartshorn lost his house and his company after being left out of pocket nearly $600,000.

Mr Scott said the "contraction" of Tantallon was due to a lack of work.

Subcontractors burnt by the Walton collapse have reacted angrily to Mr Kirzner's comments, saying the Daily had ensured their stories were told and heard.

"As for the Mawson Group, as far as we are concerned, you have given them every opportunity to tell their side of the story,'' Kylie McIlroy, representing affected Townsville subcontractors, said. "Being the good Samaritans they are making themselves out to be and in the nature of transparency, why have they declined to be interviewed? If the Mawson Group really wanted to do the right thing by subbies

they would have informed us of the difficulties Craig Walton was having a considerably lot earlier in the piece.

"They would not have allowed subbies to collectively incur millions of dollars worth of debt by the way of paying for materials and labour etc.

"The Mawson Group knew subbies were incurring massive amounts of debt and did nothing to protect us. They knew we would never get paid. They set the subbies up all for the betterment of Craig Walton."

Les Williams, spokesman for the Walton Subcontractors Alliance, said he was really happy that the subcontractors and employees of Tantallon Constructions were going to be paid.

"Mr Kirzner and the Mawson Group did not show the same concern for around 600 Queensland creditors and the former 25 Walton staff left with around $30 million debt," he said. "Tantallon's future was killed by its own dark past. Mr Walton and his associates of Mawson could have taken a completely different approach to Walton's collapse by approaching the market place and the subcontractors but chose not to.

"Was the Daily responsible for the collapse of the Victorian company Lewton Assett Services, another company that arose from the ashes? LAS recently tanked owing $800,000 to more subcontractors.

"I receive calls from all over the country commending the Sunshine Coast Daily and Bill Hoffman for his work in exposing what went on with the Walton collapse.''

Mr Scott said Tantallon would continue but that staff had been cut back to six because of lack of work.

He said the company would complete current projects which include work for Queensland Rail and Wesley Hospital by the end of April or the first week in May.

Mr Scott said Mr Kirzner had given assurances that all employee entitlements and all subcontractors would be paid.

"That's my goal,'' Mr Scott said. "I don't want nervous subbies. I certainly want to ensure we do all we have said we would do."

Mr Scott revealed Tantallon had offered to put money in trust with Queensland Building and Construction Board to ensure payment.

He said the regulator had preferred the company handled that process itself.

QLD RAIL RESPONSE

In a partial response to a series of questions put forward on Friday, a spokesperson for Queensland Rail said:

"Tantallon Constructions has advised they will continue to complete existing projects for Queensland Rail. Tantallon Constructions currently has two contracts with Queensland Rail for Central station upgrade works and a refurbishment at Mayne Control. Queensland Rail will continue to obtain statutory declarations from Tantallon confirming all subcontractors have been paid for work they have done for Tantallon on behalf of Queensland Rail."


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