Projects hit as civil works group crashes with $6.5m debt
CRASH AND BURN
A south east Queensland civil contracting group has crashed and burned, leaving a series of unfinished road and infrastructure projects in the lurch.
The O'Leary Civil Group and six related companies collapsed last week with estimated debts of $6.5 million owed to about 250 unsecured creditors, including subcontractors.
The tax man is also chasing another $1 million, liquidator Gavin Morton told City Beat yesterday.
Morton said he was voluntarily appointed by sole director David O'Leary after a statutory demand issued by the ATO was about to expire, which would have inevitably lead to a wind-up action in court.
He believes creditors are likely to recover little or nothing from the wreckage despite some money set aside by the group over the past few weeks to cover wage claims and other entitlements. It's understood about $250,000 in super is owed to 30 or so former employees.
In a desperate bid to stay afloat, the companies offloaded roughly $3 million worth of heavy equipment about three months ago.
The fire sale to pay off creditors saw the likes of Caterpillar tractors, dozers, rock breakers, water trucks, utes, bobcats and forklifts all head out the door.
NAB is the only secured creditor and it's chasing about $700,000 from O'Leary, who had signed personal guarantees to help source finance.
O'Leary, a native of Ireland, launched the business in the Gold Coast suburb of Gilberton in 2008 and, by last year, it had grown to have more than 100 staff and a fleet of 40 machines.
Major clients of the group included local governments, as well as Lendlease, Seymour Whyte, McConnell Dowell, Queensland Urban Utilities, Logan Water Infrastructure Alliance and CPB Contracting.
Among its current projects was the problem-plagued upgrade of Kingsford Smith Drive, a $650 million exercise that has already gone over time and over budget.
O'Leary did not return a call seeking comment yesterday.
Change is on the horizon five months after the still-unexplained suspension of Peter Carne as Public Trustee of Queensland. His acting successor, Samay Zhouand, sent a lengthy email to all staff last week revealing that external management consulting mob Bushell & Cornish had been tapped to lead an "organisation governance and structure review''.
The probe of the much-maligned agency is well advanced and should wrap up shortly, with recommendations for a shake-up expected before the end of the year.
Zhouand was quick to reassure jittery staff that the review aimed at modernising the Public Trustee was "not about making major changes'' that would affect their daily work.
Critics allege the office is frequently toxic so it was intriguing to see Zhouand remind his troops that he is "committed to a safe, respectful and inclusive workplace and culture''.
"Please be kind to each other,'' he implored.
In a separate email, Zhouand flagged changes to the troubled new IT system "Athena''. He revealed that a number of external firms working on the project had been cut in a bid to slash costs.
A Public Trustee spin doctor said yesterday that 10 contractors were let go from the $30 million "digital transformation'' initiative, which she described as "within budget''.
ROW ROW YOUR BOAT
Jack Hutchinson, patriarch of Brisbane construction giant Hutchinson Builders, turned 85 last month but still goes rowing once a week.
It's a sport that has fired up his imagination since he first took to the water as a Churchie schoolboy in 1950.
He subsequently rowed in annual regattas, coached a team in Toowong to 20 national championships and went on to coach the national squad five times.
That dedication earned him a standing ovation from about 700 guests at a rowing community lunch last week at the Brisbane Showgrounds, where he was awarded life membership in Rowing Queensland.