10 May 2023

Dodgy Decmil: contractor struggles with payments on Archer River project

| Matt Nicholls
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ALREADY in a race against time to prepare for the wet, workers on the approach to the Archer River were last week preparing to walk off the job after a pay dispute with the head contractor.

Cape York Weekly can reveal that Decmil, which won the $8 million contract to build and seal 2.8km of road on the southern side of the roadhouse, had not paid a number of suppliers since August.

On Friday, one major Cape York subcontractor didn’t show up on site after a promised payment failed to come through.

After being contacted by Cape York Weekly on Friday morning, Decmil scrambled to make payments that day.

“All subcontractors have been paid in full. Some of those payments were made today,” a spokesperson for the company said on Friday afternoon.

It can be confirmed that some outstanding invoices were paid on Friday, although some local suppliers say they have yet to see owed payments.

With more payments due this week, there are concerns Decmil will struggle to finish the project.

A well-placed source said the Department of Transport and Main Roads had been in contact with McConnell Dowell, the company in charge of building the Archer River bridge, about finishing the Decmil job.

“I think (Decmil) want to get fired by TMR because the costs are blowing out,” a source said.

“If TMR did give them the sack, it would probably cost them less money.

“If I was a Cape York company I would be keeping a very close eye on Decmil and making sure they didn’t rack up major debts.”

However, TMR said there had been “no change” to the scope of works.

“Subcontractors on the Archer River Crossing Southern Approach project have direct contractual arrangements with the principal contractor, Decmil,” a TMR spokesperson said.

“Details of contracts are commercial in confidence.

“There has been no change to the scope of either the Archer River Crossing or Archer River Crossing Southern Approach contracts.”

While most subcontractors and suppliers are on monthly terms with Decmil, Cape York Weekly can reveal at least one business did its due diligence and entered seven-day payment terms with the Perth-based firm.

The ASX-listed company has endured a horror decade, with its share price dropping from a high of $13.73 to a lowly 18 cents at the time of writing.

Even before the pandemic hit Australia, Decmil’s share price had dropped to $3.57.

The Archer River project is looming as a black mark on the otherwise successful Cape York Region Package, which has resulted in hundreds of kilometres of sealing works throughout the Peninsula, including the construction of the Saltwater Creek bridge at Musgrave.

There have already been a number of delays at Archer River, with the approach meant to be completed by now.

That work isn’t expected to be finished until July next year at the earliest.

The completion date for the bridge is also up in the air.

At a meeting in Cairns last week, TMR district director Ross Hodgman could not provide a timeframe for the job to be finished after the geologist who studied the site made a major blunder when assessing the rock in the river bed.

Mr Hodgman did not comment when asked about the geologist at last week’s meeting in Cairns.

McConnell Dowell brought in a drill so it could pour concrete in the river bed prior to the wet season, but it broke down not long after arriving on site.

It has since been fixed and steady progress is being made.

But the same can’t be said for the important approaches.

The Archer River area has so far managed to avoid any storm activity, but a downpour is likely to cause havoc.

“There’s a mad rush now to get ready for the wet season but I don’t think it’ll stand up to a typical wet,” the source told Cape York Weekly.

“The drains are too small, for starters. Whoever designed it didn’t have a grasp on a Cape York monsoon season.”

However, TMR said local knowledge was used.

“For every project along the Peninsula Developmental Road, local businesses, Traditional Owners, and trainees from the Cape York region are on the ground before and during construction providing important local knowledge,” the spokesperson said.

“As part of the Archer River Crossing Southern Approach project, existing drains and culverts are being upgraded to current standards.

“Contractors across all Cape York projects are preparing for the coming wet season.

“Contractors will ensure all works to date are protected from the weather as best as possible, to keep the road in a safe condition and allow for construction to continue at the end of the wet season.”

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