Ghosted Games: Officials asked why top bureaucrat was visiting, but got no answer

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UK-based Commonwealth Games officials asked why Victoria’s top bureaucrat was flying over to meet them but did not receive an answer until they sat down 11 days later and learned the state’s 2026 regional event was in tatters.

The detail was revealed in a trove of emails released to the opposition under freedom of information and obtained by The Age, as senior bureaucrats faced a parliamentary inquiry investigating the cancellation.

Jacinta Allan, Harriet Shing and Daniel Andrews announce Victoria is withdrawing from the Commonwealth Games on July 18.Credit: AAP

Two weeks before the decision, on July 3, an email sent on behalf of Department of Premier and Cabinet secretary Jeremi Moule requested a meeting with the Commonwealth Games Federation in London specifically for July 17.

That was the same day cabinet signed off on the cancellation and appears to show bureaucrats knew a decision of some form would be made that day, weeks in advance.

Bureaucrats said Moule was available all day but suggested 3pm London time, then moved it to 3.30pm, after midnight in Australia. Then premier Daniel Andrews announced the withdrawal the following morning in Melbourne, claiming costs had gone from $2.6 billion to up to $7 billion.

“The secretary of the Victorian Department of Premier and Cabinet, Jeremi Moule, is visiting London in a couple of weeks,” Global Victoria wrote on July 3 to request a meeting with Commonwealth Games Federation chief executive Kate Sadleir.

“I was hoping to enquire whether Katie would be available to meet with Jeremi on Monday 17 July in London?”

The meeting with Sadleir was arranged, and on July 6, the Commonwealth Games Federation asked what was the purpose of the meeting: “Can you confirm exactly who will be attending and what [Moule] would like to get out of the meeting.” The federation did not receive an answer.

Commonwealth Games Federation president Dame Louise Martin was unavailable to meet as she is based in Scotland. “Please send apologies from Dame Louise and hope he has a successful trip to London.”

Moule on Monday told the parliamentary inquiry that on June 30, he formed the view the Games would either be fundamentally changed or cancelled.

“At that time, no decisions had been made. But it was clear that the government would need to make a significant decision regarding the Games to either materially reshape it in a way that would require renegotiation of the host contract or to cancel its hosting commitment. The meeting was set for 17 July,” Moule said.

Cabinet ministers have since said they were unaware of the possibility of cancelling the Games until the days leading up to the cabinet meeting.

Harriet Shing — who was minister for Commonwealth Games legacy, which the government has always maintained was the purpose of hosting — last week said she only learned lawyers had been called in about a month after the fact.

Department of Premier and Cabinet secretary Jeremi Moule addressing the upper house inquiry on Monday.Credit: AAP

Moule on Monday said he could have cancelled flights if cabinet had come to a different decision but even materially reshaping the Games warranted a sit-down meeting.

“The matter needed to be agreed at cabinet, and so I did not receive my authorisation to deliver my message to the Commonwealth Games Federation until after the cabinet meeting,” Moule told the upper house inquiry on Monday.

The government’s expenditure review committee also discussed the cancellation on July 14 and July 15.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Premier and Cabinet said: “The Victorian government had not yet made a decision about the Commonwealth Games when the secretary called for a meeting with the Commonwealth Games Federation. A government decision to fund the Games as proposed, significantly reshape them or cancel them, had to be made in July.”

Moule had previously met the federation’s chief executive and president. The government has maintained a decision needed to be made by July before major contracts for infrastructure were signed.

Opposition Leader John Pesutto told The Age the latest emails further justified calls for Premier Jacinta Allan to front the parliamentary inquiry and explain “what she knew and when she knew it”.

“With every passing day there is new and conflicting evidence and this whole debacle becomes murkier,” Pesutto said.

Allan can decline an invitation to the upper house inquiry as a member of the lower house. Shing, from the upper house, is expected to give evidence in coming weeks.

David Martine, secretary of the Department of Treasury and Finance, at the parliamentary inquiry on Friday.Credit: Eddie Jim

Department of Treasury and Finance secretary David Martine on Friday said he provided advice on the initial January 2022 business case, which fatally underestimated the funding required.

“I’m satisfied we provided good advice at the time,” Martine said.

Visit Victoria chief executive Brendan McClements on Friday said the cancellation had not damaged the state’s international reputation as a major events destination, despite widespread concerns the decision had a detrimental impact on Victoria’s trustworthiness to see through commitments.

“If anything, it’s increased the interest in people coming to Melbourne and Victoria,” McClements claimed.

Allan, then the minister for delivering the Games, gave evidence to budget estimates on June 13 that the government was making “tremendous progress”.

Her evidence has been under scrutiny given she was briefed in March that the Games were then projected to be $1.9 billion over budget, at $4.5 billion. Shing was also briefed about cost overruns in the months from March and April.

Andrews was informed on June 13, shortly after Allan’s evidence that public servants would not support using the extra funding required to run the Games. Andrews briefed Allan a day later, on June 14, when law firm Arnold Bloch Leibler was engaged to provide advice on whether Victoria could withdraw.

The state settled a $380 million compensation bill with the Commonwealth Games Federation and Commonwealth Games Australia.

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