Building giant John Holland created a “culture of fear” at Perth’s new children’s hospital site that can be blamed for the scandals that have plagued the long-delayed $1.2 billion project, a parliamentary inquiry has heard.

The company used subcontractors that underpaid workers who were too scared to speak out about unsafe working conditions, the inquiry into problems around the hospital's construction heard on Wednesday.

Workers infamously discovered asbestos in roof panels imported from China last year.

"They were exposed to unacceptable OHS issues and again because of the way John Holland ran the site, workers were constantly under pressure in respect to their insecure employment," Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union organiser Doug Heath said.

The hospital's opening has been delayed 18 months and is not expected to take patients until next year.

Unsafe levels of lead in drinking water and the failure to fix the problem is the reason for the delay.

The major project has been beset by problems, with the lead levels blamed on the use of cheaper brass instead of stainless steel fittings on mixing valve assembly boxes although the source has not been conclusively solved.

Mr Heath accused head contractor John Holland, appointed by the previous Barnett government, of cutting costs by using subcontractors that paid below award wages, did not have experience on major projects and used labour hire firms to employ cheap labour such as inexperienced backpackers and foreign workers.

"There is an obligation on government projects to have a higher level of rigour applied, we are talking about taxpayer money being spent on these jobs," he said.

Chief health officer Tarun Weeramanthri said there had been a "striking failure" in documents reporting water quality during John Holland's construction of the hospital.

"Systems failures occur because proper processes aren't in place and people aren't properly trained ... I don't think the documentation was good enough. I don't think the assurance process was rigorous enough," he said.

Dr Weeramanthri played down concerns raised last week by the head of the state's chemical testing centre that the high lead levels in water at the hospital meant there was a risk of it also occurring at WA schools.

He said he wanted to speak to ChemCentre chief Peter McCafferty about it but was confident in the stringent high standards and regulations around WA's water supply.


By Greg Roberts
  • Thanks Justin for this update on the never-ending saga of this hospital. It's no surprise to learn about the culture of fear and bullying – it underpins the whole industry, impacting on workers, many subcontractors and as always, the end consumers – but in this case the funding consumers (the public) were not represented. Hence the WA Government's appalling response to John Holland's use of asbestos, the 10,000 defects hidden from the public – and the scandal of lead in the water! All OKd by the WA officials – not their money – but their children's lives. Amazing how they cannot see through the mire, money at the forefront and no recognition that buildings are really about 'people'. But our officials are in bed with business – the two are in fact one – tied at the hip pocket!

    Although there have been huge problems with all the 'new' hospitals built in the various states across Australia in the last few years, the Perth Children's Hospital must take the cake as the biggest disaster of all – and hospitals publicly funded. Yes, it's not their money they're playing games with! Well done John Holland on the taking the prize for the worst of all these disasters! And remember the WA Building Commission 'Inquiry' findings last year that re the asbestos debacle. Yes, neither John Holland nor Yuanda, nor anyone else was to blame! All were to blame – so no-one was to blame! Of course the 'regulator' was hardly 'independent' – its lack of any oversight or enforcement of 'laws' at the core of this and all WA construction disasters – of which there are plenty.

    As for "a higher level of rigour" – there is nil rigour in the 'do as you like' building industry. And at the end Weeramanthri "played down fears" – naturally he would. They all deny, lie and spin to protect the cowboys and deceive the public who ultimately are the big losers. It is more than a state issue. It is just another example of shameful Government, no 'governance' and bullying by and for the boys on Team Business!

  • If you were a contractor on the this Hospital and working for the head contractor who was very slow at paying I think that they might have decided to get their own way back. I think that a contractor has inserted a few lead bars in the main water service mains. They would just sit in these pipes and as the water flows into the building the lead would be washed off the bars, this is very difficult to find without isolating the supply legs and taking zone readings or inserting cameras.

    The thermostatic mixer valves blamed a month or two ago are all made of Brass they may not be Australian compliant but that is another mater