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Whalan explosion: NSW government paid contractor Ventia $1.5 billion for public housing maintenance

REMY VARGA
The Nightly
3 Min Read
The blast at Whalan in Sydney's west levelled most of the two-storey home.
The blast at Whalan in Sydney's west levelled most of the two-storey home. Credit: AAP/ Fire and Rescue New South Wales

The company contracted to maintain a public housing property annihilated in a suspected gas explosion that killed a woman in Sydney’s west has been paid more than $1.5 billion by the NSW government.

NSW Police is investigating the cause of the explosion at the property on Waikanda Crescent in Whalan after emergency services for days combed through the wreckage searching for the body of Mhey Yumol Jasmin.

Neighbours of the Waikanda Crescent property have reported smelling gas over the past year, with at least two reports made to the company contracted by the state government for the maintenance of the property.

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The Nightly can reveal that the NSW government has paid essential infrastructure services provider Ventia $1.54 billion for the maintenance of the state’s 130,000 public housing dwellings since 2016.

The original contract, which slugged taxpayers $246 million for a year of maintenance services, was scheduled to end on December 16 in 2020 but was amended under the previous Coalition state government to end on June 30 in 2024.

Fire and Rescue at the scene of a collapsed townhouse in Whalan
NSW Police at the explosion site. Credit: Bianca De Marchi/AAP

A Homes NSW spokesperson said the existing contract would be replaced by a “new bespoke maintenance services contract” as the agency moved internally the responsibility of responding to public housing maintenance requests.

“Homes NSW is currently finalising negotiations with businesses to partner with for the new and reformed maintenance system which will commence in July 2024,” said the spokesperson.

“The Homes NSW Maintenance Hub will be live and available for people to call with maintenance-related enquiries from July 1, 2024.”

The overhauled maintenance system will cost an estimated $4.5 billion over a period of potentially 10 years, with the money spread between different contractors as required.

This week NSW Housing Minister Rose Jackson acknowledged maintenance of public housing was lacking as she flagged announcements in the sector in the looming state budget.

‘‘We are still receiving information about the maintenance on the property,” she said.

“Just to be clear, currently maintenance is outsourced in NSW public housing.”

Fire Rescue workers at the scene in Whalan
Rescue teams worked around the clock to comb through the ruins in Whalan. Credit: Mark Evans/AAP

NSW Greens spokesperson Jenny Leong said the state government had a responsibility to ensure public housing properties remained at a safe and habitable standard.

“The recent tragedy at Whalan is a painful reminder that adequately maintaining public housing is a matter of life and death,” she said.

“Across NSW public housing tenants, many of whom have underlying health conditions, are forced to wait months for mould removal, pest control, and repairs to broken hot water systems - if contractors show up at all.”

Mhey Yumol Jasmin, a 30-year-old nurse, was visiting her mother on Saturday when the townhouse exploded, the property collapsing into a pile of brick and concrete.

Her family thanked emergency service personnel for their efforts in searching for the 30-year-old nurse whose body was found in the kitchen of the collapsed home at about 3.20am on Monday.

“We’d also like to thank the public for their prayers and for respecting our privacy at this tragic time,” said the family in a statement.

Jasmine Mhey was reported missing following the blast.
Jasmine Mhey was killed in the blast. Credit: 7NEWS

Ventia, a publicly listed company, has major contracts with federal, state and government agencies and earlier this month was awarded an asset management award for sustainability over work the company completed with Transfield on the M2 Motorway in Sydney’s Hills district.

A Ventia spokesman said the company was cooperating with Homes NSW as the gas explosion in Whalan remained under investigation.

“Ventia works closely with Homes NSW to deliver tenant services, including responding to items such as reported gas leaks, which it takes seriously and responds to swiftly,” he said.

“As has already been reported, in the last 12 months Ventia has received 2 reports of the smell of gas at the impacted property, both of which were completed, with one referred to the gas utility’.”

Energy infrastructure company Jemena has said it is cooperating with the investigation into the suspected gas explosion. It is understood responsibility for a property’s internal gas works is with the owner of a property.

Emergency services returned to the property on Tuesday after residents reported smelling gas.

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