VPS blamed for Commonwealth Games debacle

A Victorian auditor general’s report into the state’s withdrawal from the 2026 Commonwealth Games has put the blame squarely at the feet of public servants.

The Auditor General’s Office (VAGO) examined the cost of securing, planning for and then withdrawing from the 2026 Commonwealth Games and the quality of agencies’ advice to the government.

It concluded $589 million of public money was wasted as a consequence of actions taken by the Department of Premier and Cabinet (DPC), Department of Treasury and Finance (DTF), Department of Jobs, Skills, Industry and Regions (DJSIR).

“This waste would have been avoided if agencies had worked together better to give frank and full advice to the government before it decided to host the games,” wrote auditor general Andrew Greaves.

“The government relied on DJSIR’s business case when it decided to host the games and determined the budget. The business case raised the risks associated with hosting the games. But it underestimated the costs and overstated the benefits. DJSIR, DPC and DTF knew this but did not advise government to delay a decision on hosting until a fit-for-purpose business case could be provided.

“DPC and DTF consistently raised cost and other risks during 2022 and early 2023. But they did not advise government that hosting the games might be unfeasible until June 2023.”

VAGO recommended DPC and DTF work with the Public Sector Commission (VPSC) to comprehensively review the standard of advice provided, which it said didn’t meet the standard established in the Public Service Act.

The government has rejected this recommendation, but accepted in part a second recommendation that lays out the content such a review should cover.

The full report paints a picture of a systemic failure to communicate frank and full advice from the first step of the process. It argued DJSIR’s business case for the games was inadequate to support an informed decision by the government on the likely costs and benefits of hosting.

While the business case itself noted the need for additional costings to be done, time constraints meant these were never performed. In particular, the report says it relied on “desktop research” of what previous games cost, rather than go through a rigorous research and consultation process that accounted for lacking infrastructure in the regional centres that were to host some of the games.

DTF and DPC’s contributions to the audit suggest they are similarly unimpressed by DJSIR’s performance. They told the auditor general the department did not always work with them cooperatively and failed to provide them with requested information. This affected their ability to provide timely and accurate advice.

But the audit office did not give them a pass either, suggesting their advice to the government was not in line with either their statutory obligations as public servants, or in keeping with the best practice for large-scale project management.

Greaves said DTF’s and DPC’s advice to the government about the games was clear about the risks, but not always sufficiently comprehensive and frank.

“At key stages, both departments formally recommended that the government proceed with the games despite significant and unresolved concerns,” he said.

“Before the state signed the host contract, DTF identified material concerns and risks for the state relating to the reliability of DJSIR’s estimated costs for the games. DTF suggested that the actual costs were likely to exceed the quantifiable benefits from the games.

“This meant that the benefit-cost ratio for the games was likely below one. Despite these concerns, DTF supported recommendations that the state host the games and underwrite the costs. DPC had similar concerns about the reliability of the Games’ costs. But it placed no emphasis on these concerns when it briefed the premier in April 2022 in support of the state signing the host contract.”

DPC, DTF and VPSC were contacted but did not respond prior to publication.


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