The Victorian government seemingly ignored advice suggesting it use Kardinia Park as the aquatics venue for the 2026 Commonwealth Games.
The recently released business case for the event references the Geelong sports precinct 27 times, but Premier Daniel Andrews insists the site was never going to be used.
The government announced a new aquatics centre would instead be built on a greenfield site in Armstrong Creek, and a gymnastics centre and athletes village would be built in Waurn Ponds.
Each are located in the seat of South Barwon, where Labor incumbent Darren Cheeseman was facing re-election at the time on a margin of around three per cent.
Mr Cheeseman was until recently the Parliamentary Secretary for the Commonwealth Games, a role that came with an additional $50,000 per annum wage. The government MP drew heavy criticism for maintaining the title, and attached salary, after the games were scrapped and he’s repeatedly refused to answer questions about when he first knew the games were to be ditched.
Polwarth MP Richard Riordan says the government was trying to sandbag regional seats like South Barwon, by announcing new infrastructure projects there for the games regardless of how much it cost.
“We always knews this was going to be a high cost option because under pressure, even last year when questioned about the aquatic centre at Armstrong Creek, and the accommodation in the various regional communities – and Geelong in particular – the government didn’t have a clear plan,” he said.
“It was a cheap stunt to prove to Victorians that the government cared about regional Victoria,” he said.
“We now know only six months after the last state election that it was all just a big Daniel Andrews lie.”
It’s proving to be anything but a “cheap stunt”, with the government confirming a $380m cancellation fee for the games had been settled on. Mr Riordan has suggested that figure could be far more, given the government may well have already signed a series of contracts related to the games.
Initial cost estimates to stage the games were $2.6b, but last month the government delivered the shock news that it had pulled the pin on hosting the 2026 event because it was now likely to cost up to $7b.
Mr Riordan and his opposition colleagues say they’re not surprised that the government blew its budget out given its determination to build new venues regionally.
“Blind Freddy could see there were clear and more efficient ways to host an international event,” he said.
“The government didn’t even publicly discuss, or talk about doing the Commonwealth Games in the most efficient manner, which was to use premium already built facilities such as those at Kardinia Park, and improving infrastructure that could remain in place.
“It just proves how hairbrain the scheme was.”