Tools down on NBN rollout
Jonathan Swan explains the latest hurdles facing NBN Co, as contractors in two states down tools and the rollout grinds to a halt.PT2M35S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2pznx 620 349 July 15, 2013
The national broadband network has been hit by a series of contractual crises, with workers downing tools over payment disputes.
The growing number of financial disputes raises questions about whether the cost of building the network - estimated at $37.4 billion - could blow out as the Coalition has been predicting. The conflicts could also further delay the installation of the network.
On Monday morning, construction work stopped in Ballarat after pay disputes. Hours later, subcontractors in Tasmania held ''crisis talks'' over day rates and were understood to be weighing up whether they would continue working on the project.
Contractors roll out the NBN in NSW. Work has halted in the Victorian town of Ballarat and is under threat in Tasmania due to contract disputes. Photo: Domino Postiglione
These conflicts are part of a larger, and worsening, headache for NBN Co. Contractors appear to be struggling financially and subcontractors are downing tools because they are angry about not being paid on time, or in some cases, not being paid enough, for their work.
In NSW, Queensland and the ACT, main contractor Silcar has yet to re-sign with NBN Co because it wants better terms. And in Western Australia and South Australia, contractor Service Stream is in a trading halt on the stock exchange and has flagged a ''material loss'' on its national broadband network contract.
In Ballarat, two subcontractors have downed tools in two months. It is believed the Australian Broadband Company and DirectBor are complaining about the same problem - that contractor Transfield Services has not paid them on time.
A spokesman for Transfield Services said that was ''factually incorrect'', though he said construction had halted in Ballarat due to the dispute.
The Hobart crisis talks were being held between as many as six subcontractors and the state's main national broadband network contractor, Visionstream. Visionstream has not responded to Fairfax Media but the ''crisis talks'' were confirmed by Tony Cook, the chief executive of the Civil Contractors Federation of Tasmania.
Opposition communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull says his new ministerial counterpart, Anthony Albanese, ''must immediately commit to an audit of the NBN rollout'' following the latest reports about construction freezes.
Mr Albanese's office declined to comment.