The Victorian state government has been accused of deliberately undermining a federal inquiry into its decision to axe the 2026 Commonwealth Games.
The claims were made by a Senate inquiry into Australia’s preparedness to host the Commonwealth, Olympic and Paralympic Games, which tabled its interim report to federal parliament on Thursday.
According to the report, the Victorian government “actively worked to hinder the engagement of other witnesses”, meaning the inquiry “ faced challenges gathering the information it required.”
The interim report accuses the state government of limiting the inquiry’s ability to gather and consider evidence on costings, stakeholder engagement and the decision-making process to cancel the event.
“Key questions remain unanswered, including the repeated revision of cost estimates, and contradictory evidence and statements about whether the Victorian Government first approached Commonwealth Games organising bodies or vice versa,” the interim report states.
Plans for the 2026 games to be held in regional Victoria were scrapped in July after Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews revealed estimated costs had blown out to nearly $7bn.
The controversial decision saw Victoria’s government pay out Commonwealth Games bodies $380 million in compensation after canning the event.
The Senate inquiry also found that the ‘devastating’ impact of the Commonwealth Games cancellation should necessitate an urgent federal government intervention to save the canned 2026 event.
“The committee recommends that the Australian Government takes on a facilitation and co-ordination role in order to salvage the 2026 Commonwealth Games being held in Australia,” the report reads, noting that “a reduced or decentralised” format may be necessary to hold the Games.
The report calls on government to establish an intergovernmental forum by the end of 2023 to bring together representatives from federal, state and local government, along with business associations and community groups, to examine options to salvage the 2026 Games.
Failing this, the inquiry recommends that the federal government develops a policy to “address the missed opportunities and impacts from the cancellation of Victoria 2026”.
The inquiry also recommends that the federal government develop new guidelines for future major sporting events which make Commonwealth support conditional on state and territory governments notifying any cancellation well in advance.
Opposition infrastructure and transport spokeswoman Bridget McKenzie, who participated in the inquiry, said it had found that state and federal governments hadn’t engaged in good faith with local communities after the cancellation.
“In Victoria, the missed opportunities of the Commonwealth Games have been devastating,” Nationals senator Bridget McKenzie said.
“Something is wrong in my home state of Victoria, for Daniel Andrews to stand up and be unable to substantiate why that’s blown out to the tune of several billion dollars … expert after expert that we heard from couldn’t explain it either.”
Inquiry chair, senator Matt Canavan said the federal government had failed to pick up the slack following the Victorian state government’s decision to cancel the games.
“We realise it’s not the federal government’s fault – but it is the federal government’s responsibility to solve problems and this is a massive problem for our country and all Commonwealth nations that we at the moment do not have a host for 2026 games,” senator Canavan told reporters in Canberra.
“But being in government, being the prime minister, means ultimately the buck does stop with you to solve issues.”
“This committee heard that the Minister for Sport, Ms Wells has yet to even receive a briefing about the cancellation of the Commonwealth Games from the department. Not even a written briefing.”
The report also finds that the Victorian government refused to engage with the inquiry. Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews himself labelling it a “political stunt”.
“I would note in this instance that the Queensland Government did co-operate and I thank them for that co-operation is in great contrast to the Victorian Government which refused any of their officials to turn up,” Mr Canavan said.
“I do think the Daniel Andrews government has been running a an unprecedented protection racket here to protect themselves from parliamentary scrutiny.”
The federal Senate inquiry into the cancellation of the 2026 Games held hearings in Melbourne and Victoria, but no state government officials attended.
The inquiry revealed claims by local councils in regional cities slated to co-host the Games, that they felt unheard by the state government when attempting to co-ordinate preparations for the event.
The inquiry also heard from Gold Coast mayor Tom Tate, who pressed for a roundtable of decision makers – including sport bodies, the Commonwealth Games Federation, and state and federal governments, over his proposal to hold the cancelled 2026 games in his hometown.
However, the outspoken mayor’s push was again rebuffed by the Palaszczuk state government.
The inquiry is expected to conduct further hearings in regional areas before handing down its final report in December.
The office of Sports Minister Annika Wells was contacted for comment.