Victoria’s top public servant raised the option of cancelling the 2026 Commonwealth Games almost three weeks before the official announcement.
Speaking at a parliamentary inquiry into Victoria’s Games bid on Monday, Department of Premier and Cabinet secretary Jeremi Moule said he first flagged cost blowouts with then-premier Daniel Andrews on June 13.
“All options were on the table”, including considerably reshaping the Games or cancelling them, Mr Moule said.
“It was the advice of my department, provided by me personally to the premier, that gave the government cause to reconsider the delivery of the Games and in fact, whether to have them at all.”
He then booked flights to London, aware that whatever decision was made he would need to make a considerable announcement to the Commonwealth Games Federation – which he felt needed to be delivered in person.
He left Melbourne on July 15 and was notified of the decision to cancel on July 18.
The inquiry was previously told now-Premier Jacinta Allan had been informed months earlier the Games would cost almost $2 billion more than first thought.
Department of Jobs, Skills, Industry and Regions secretary Tim Ada said Ms Allan, who was then head of the event’s delivery, was warned in early March.
The department’s updated budget estimate of $4.5 billion was knocked back in April as it was told to explore cutting costs while still meeting the government’s regional hosting commitments, Mr Ada told the inquiry.
It was announced in April 2022 multiple regional centres would host the Games, with a $2.6 billion cost confirmed in the budget the following month.
But the Games were canned on July 18 with Mr Andrews citing costs of up to $7 billion.
Mr Ada said his department provided another submission to Ms Allan in June seeking $4.2 billion but it was not formally considered and rejected on July 14.
The Victorian government first sought legal advice on withdrawing from the Games on June 14, the day before Ms Allan told a budget estimates hearing of “tremendous progress” on the event.
Mr Ada found out about the legal advice about June 19.
Former chief executive officer of the now-defunct Office of the Commonwealth Games Allen Garner said he was kept in the dark about the hiring of lawyers and had no knowledge of how the updated costing figure of $6.865 billion came to be.
“Well, it looks like it is made up … because no one can tell me how we got there,” inquiry deputy chair and Liberal MP Joe McCracken fired back.
Ms Allan has repeatedly said the revised estimate of between $6 billion and $7 billion materialised in the weeks leading up to the cancellation.
She confirmed last week she received a letter from organising committee chair Peggy O’Neal after asking for a $722 million boost to its $1 billion budget on February 22.
The inquiry will request Ms Allan give evidence but she has ruled out appearing.
Former Games boss Jeroen Weimar and organising committee chair Peggy O’Neal also spoke at the inquiry on Monday and cited many reasons for the cost blowouts.
They said, if provided with the extra $722 million requested, the committee could have delivered the Games.
The bespoke model of the Games – in five smaller cities over 12 days, as well as the unusual short timeline to organise them – made it impossible to pivot when met with challenges, which meant extra costs were unavoidable.
The Victorian government agreed to pay $380 million compensation to organisers, with additional costs, taking the total beyond $500 million.
The inquiry will deliver an interim report by the end of April.