Ararat Regional Business Association president Robert Bates and business development officer Faith Warner are concerned that the stalling of the prison expansion project could have a detrimental effect on the Ararat community. Picture: PETER PICKERINGARARAT – Ararat Regional Business Association has called on the State Government to intervene in the Hopkins Correctional Centre crisis before Ararat is plunged into an economic situation similar to that experienced during the early 1990s.
The work site at the prison was shut down last week after Aegis Consortium member St Hilliers Ararat Pty Ltd went into liquidation, owing hundreds of thousands of dollars to contractors.
ARBA members and a number of high profile business people, along with Ararat Rural City Council, met with the Minister for Corrections Andrew McIntosh last Thursday and also with Opposition leader Daniel Andrews.
Those at the meeting made it clear that when the prison project was first announced, assurances were made by the government.
“There was a commitment initially from the government when council had public meetings and meetings with Business Association businesses and they guaranteed this wasn’t going to happen,” ARBA president Robert Bates said.
“There was an assurance this wasn’t going to happen from the very first meeting.”
Mr Bates said after the meeting with the Minister, he understood the complications of the situation, but pointed out that the contractors and sub contractors needed to be paid immediately.
“The money’s been held back for months now and so the suggestion I put up to the Minister is that the State government pay these people immediately and retrieve that money from the consortium.
“They’re saying the government is working through this legally, I accept all that, but that’s not helping our local sub contractors at all, and I see that the rub off here is that some of those could be in financial trouble and that rubs off on to the rest of the business community and we fall over like a deck of cards.
“I pointed out to the Minister we’ve ‘been there done that’ years ago when the government closed the railways, Aradale and Telecom was transferred to Ballarat. I pointed that out to the Minister that we’ve been there, we know what it’s like, other communities may not have experienced what we’ve experienced back in the late 80s and 90s.
“The Minister is telling us they will be paid eventually, but when, the question we asked is when, and there was no answer. There was no answer to anything.”
ARBA publicity officer Phil Clark said what the Minister was really saying was that it wasn’t the Government’s responsibility, it was the responsibility of the contractors.
“The Mayor, the CEO, the councillors that spoke and Robert on behalf of the business community, all said the government needs to step up and do something,” Mr Clark said.
According to the ARBA members one businessman flagged a solution they believe the Government should consider.
“The government has no commitment to release any money until stage one is completed, but because it is about 70 percent completed, (he) came up with the idea that maybe the government should release some of that money in order for our contractors to be paid,” Mr Clark said.
“That was a brilliant idea and that was something that was stressed to the Minister, hopefully with acknowledgement that with some of the project complete, that some of the funds can come through to fund the local contractors that have committed a lot of money to it.”
Mr Bates said the situation was urgent and that no business could go without cash flow for very long and he believed unemployment would be a consequence if the situation wasn’t resolved quickly.
Last month ARBA participated in the Regional Living Expo in Melbourne, a State Government funded initiative to promote the ideals of living and working in regional Victoria.
“Two weeks later we’ve got what’s happening at the prison, we’ve got the DPI (closing) and ARBA is concerned about the impact that will have on the community,” Mr Clark said.
Ironically, prison officers attended the expo promoting the job and lifestyle Ararat has to offer, with many people expressing interest in applying for the jobs which are expected to increase as a result of the completion of the prison expansion, the completion date of which is now unknown.
“There are people who have committed to come here and work at the prison, some may be in training now, preparing to shift families – where are these people, left in limbo?” Mr Bates said.
The prison crisis will be far reaching, with Mr Clark saying that people have already tendered their notice to vacate properties, despite being in the middle of leases.
“They’ve just had to pack up and go and get work to feed their families,” he said.
“And there’s going to be more of them I imagine. There’s other businesses in town that are going to be affected like that I’m sure.”
Mr Bates said the emphasis must be on getting the money flowing immediately and that the ‘government is the only one that can do that’.
“I know they’re going to say it’s setting a precedent and we can’t do this, but they’re going to have to change a few things, because Ararat will suffer and will go back where we were and it’s unfair because we’ve all worked hard,” he said.
“There was a definite assurance that this sort of stuff wasn’t going to happen, because it’s happened before.
“These people just walk away, it’s so wrong.”
Mr Bates is now urging the business community to get behind ARBA and offer their support.
“If there was ever a time we needed them to sign up and get with us it is now, and the more strength we’ve got the more power we’ve got.
“Our mission statement is that we get out there and we work for Ararat and sit beside Ararat Rural City through their Economic Development Unit to work for businesses no matter who they are, and if they’ve got a problem, we can either take it to the Council for them or take it to the government.
“A lot of them still think we’re just a group of retailers, that’s all we are. And it’s wrong.
“Our membership now is 103 I believe, but there’s a lot more out there, some of them are negative, it’s time they became positive and got involved, even just become members, it’s all we’re asking.
“If they want to sit back and think this isn’t going to affect them, well, they’re in for a big shock because if this doesn’t come back (the prison job), all of them, even retailers, are going to be affected.”
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.