Premier says no conversations about cancelling Games until the day lawyers were called

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Premier Jacinta Allan says she had no conversations about the possibility of cancelling the 2026 Commonwealth Games until the day lawyers were called in to give advice on how to abandon the multi-city regional event.

Instead, she insists she was being truthful when she told a committee on June 13 that the event was making “tremendous progress” – but also says she wasn’t surprised when she found out on June 14 that then-premier Daniel Andrews was calling in legal advice to axe it.

Premier Jacinta Allan on Thursday.Credit: Jason South

Allan has repeatedly rejected accusations that she misled the parliament’s public accounts and estimates committee in June about the state of the Games just 24 hours before law firm Arnold Bloch Leibler was engaged to provide advice about withdrawing from the event.

“We can do this. We know we can do this,” Allan said on June 13, when she was the minister charged with delivering the Games. “There is huge energy, excitement and effort.”

Allan on Wednesday said then-premier Daniel Andrews informed her a day later, on June 14, that he was seeking legal advice to withdraw from the Games.

Asked on Thursday if she was surprised by that revelation, she said she was not.

“You need to make sure that you’re getting a range of different options and advice from across government, and from time to time, that will need external advice as well,” she told journalists. “And so, no, in answer to your question, no, I wasn’t particularly surprised.”

In question time, Opposition Leader John Pesutto again accused Allan of misleading parliament in her June 13 evidence and asked if she had any conversations or communications about the possibility of cancelling the Games before June 14.

“No,” Allan told parliament.

She has said there was no basis for Pesutto’s allegation she misled parliament in her June 13 evidence, a claim she denies.

In a statement, Pesutto said Allan’s version of events was illogical.

“Jacinta Allan is expecting us to believe that she genuinely thought the Games were doing tremendously on June 13, that she had no prior conversations questioning its future, that she wasn’t surprised lawyers were called in to cancel it on June 14, but that Andrews had not cut her out of the loop,” Pesutto said.

“And that they had appropriate cost advice that prompted them to seek legal advice, all within a 24-hour window.”

Allan has twice said she was not kept in the dark by Andrews – who was known in cabinet for centralising decisions in his office irrespective of ministerial responsibilities – while he was premier and she was the minister responsible.

She was forced to cut short a long-planned family holiday to come home to formally cancel the Games.

Cabinet signed off on the decision the night before Allan and Andrews announced Victoria was abandoning the Games on July 18, five weeks after lawyers were engaged, claiming costs had blown out from $2.6 billion to as much as $7 billion.

Ernst & Young, which worked on the original business case, was paid $54,000 for an initial contract, plus $3.1 million and another $652,000 in subsequent contracts.

KPMG, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Sayers Advisory were among a three-page list of consultants hired to advise the Department of Jobs, Skills, Industry and Regions. Five of the dozens of contracts came after lawyers were engaged in June.

Allan said the full scale of the blowout, which the government has declined to release the financial workings to prove, was not clear until the final weeks leading up to the July decision.

The Age has repeatedly asked the premier’s office for evidence that advice prompting the government to engage lawyers to withdraw from the Games came in the 24 hours between Allan’s June 13 comments and the engagement of Arnold Bloch Leibler.

“There were a range of options and advice was sought from the public service: ‘Do you continue, do you look at alternatives, what does not proceeding with the Games look like?’ And in terms of that last question, of course, we needed legal advice, we needed legal advice to help consider that question. And that was the advice that was being sought,” Allan said on Wednesday.

A government spokeswoman said: “As the premier has made clear – the government was aware of cost pressures prior to the time the lawyers were contracted, and on that basis requested further work and options from officials to deliver the Games within budget.”

The law firm’s contract, at a cost of $1.27 million, was revealed in a response to a Department of Premier and Cabinet questionnaire to an upper house inquiry probing the Games cancellation.

Hearings begin on Monday.

The government, which is continuing with $2 billion worth of legacy projects for the regions, in August reached a $380 million settlement with the Commonwealth Games Australia and Commonwealth Games Federation.

Allan was also asked in question time if she read and responded to an April letter from the government-appointed Victoria 2026 organising committee chair Peggy O’Neal that highlighted “the critical timelines for decision-making” after seeking $722 million in extra funding.

“I met on a number of occasions with the chair and the CEO of the organising committee, and in terms of the response to the chair’s request, that was made on July 18 when we made the announcement [to cancel],” Allan told parliament.

Greens leader Samantha Ratnam, asked on Thursday morning if she held concerns about the fulsomeness of Allan’s evidence in June, said that was for the premier to explain.

“We have stated on the record before that we have been quite concerned about the decision-making processes that led to the cancellation and whether there was enough transparency and accountability in the whole process,” Ratnam told journalists.

In the June 13 hearing, Nationals MP and committee member Danny O’Brien began to ask for an updated estimation of the total cost of the Games.

“What is the estimated total cost –,” O’Brien said.

“Thank you, Mr O’Brien. Your time has expired,” committee chair and Labor MP Sarah Connolly replied.

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