Brisbane builder Canstruct vies for Antarctic base project

Brisbane builder Canstruct vies for Antarctic base project

A family-owned Australian company hopes to be part of the first major revamp in 25 years for New Zealand's Scott Base research facility in Antarctica.

Founded by Robin Murphy in the 1960s with a specialty delivering projects in remote locations, Brisbane-based Canstruct has been longlisted for Early Contractor Involvement (ECI) in the project, whose design phase alone is worth NZ$18.5 million (AUD$17 million).

Canstruct was one of five firms taken to Scott Base recently for a week-long site visit to observe the challenging Antarctic environment where temperatures can plummet to -50°C.

The base was originally developed in 1957 as a supporting base for the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition (CTAE), and the existing site comprising 12 separate buildings was constructed in the early 80s with works carrying through to the mid-90s..

In order to ensure critical scientific research can continue, these buildings will be replaced by three large interconnected buildings and a separate helicopter hangar.

Designed to accomodate 100 people at a time, the project poses unique engineering and construction requirements.

"There is no greater honour as a professional to simply be a part of this ECI process - whatever the outcome," Canstruct chief operating officer Damien Cavanagh tells Business News Australia.

"While winning is the ultimate goal, we feel being a part of the ECI process is a win on its own especially for the Australian industry as a whole.

"Hopefully, in time, we can share our experience and lessons learned with our future project partners and everyone can benefit from this."

Cavanagh says what is most fascinating about the project, aside from its unique location, is the fact the facility is "literally the pinnacle of science, research and development that propels human progress".

"I believe in what Stephen Hawking once said so eloquently: 'We are very, very small, but we are profoundly capable of very, very big things'," he says.

"This mentality underpins our business operations at Canstruct and why I love working here because we know we are capable of big things and we go out and consciously do this on our projects for everyone's benefit and not just ours, as a company."

Cavanagh's team, who have delivered projects throughout the South Pacific, felt intense emotions during the visit to Antarctica.

"Where in other scenarios you may find competitive hostility, this was completely different in Antarctica where everyone brought a harmonious attitude and desire to collaborate," he says.

"In true ANZAC spirit, we bonded well with our New Zealand colleagues and can't wait to continue working with them. I feel strongly about Australia and New Zealand partnerships and this is a great opportunity to nurture a relationship both countries value."

Since its inception, he says Canstruct has evolved from a civil contractor to a community and development partner with a strong focus on socio-economic benefits, social inclusion and gender equality where it operates.

"Canstruct began over half a century ago through the vision of our founder, Robin Murphy," says Cavanagh.

"Robin ventured deep into the highlands of Papua New Guinea. The company has not looked back since then. We have delivered projects in almost all sectors rail, road, bridges, lighthouses, marine works, hospital and many more.

"I strongly believe that in this day and age, it is not sufficient for contractors to "build and leave". There must be elements of corporate responsibility, gender equality, environmental protection and social inclusion. Without these values being built into a project, all you have is a structure."

The Murphy family still retain ownership of the company and play a key governance role in the busines, but Cavanagh says their passion today has morphed into philanthropic activities.

"The Murphy Foundation was founded as a vehicle that provides a way for the family to be actively involved in charitable organisations focused on social causes," he says.

The COO adds the group has worked with international energy companies as well as sovereign South Pacific Islands to deliver the most complex of projects.

"This has included deep sea cables, roads, bridges, buildings, a hospital, community centre, reverse osmosis plants and a range of other infrastructure that has supported socio-economic development in the South Pacific," he says.

He notes projects in remote locations including Papua New Guinea, New Caledonia and Nauru have presented challenges around procurement, logistics, subcontractors and other issues.

"We have delivered multiple projects for the Australian Government (including Australian Aid projects) in remote locations which is vastly different from delivering a project on mainland Australia.

"Delivering projects in remote locations comes with complexities and challenges that are not present on the mainland and requires a particular personality in the contractor."

"Given our capabilities in bringing various professionals together to deliver remote location projects, we feel we are strongly placed to deliver this [Scott Base] project."

He says only time will tell if the ECI is granted to Canstruct, but emphasises the company would not have risked its reputation by expressing and interest in the project if it could not give its clients confidence and management commitment.

"Our team does not adopt a "scattergun" approach to winning work we aim for what we know we can handle," he says.

"With that in mind, its unlikely we will suffer any loss if we do not win. Again, the prestige and unique nature of this project means that there are no losers - not even the four in the shortlist who won't make it as the winning contractor."

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