Skip to content

ABC Radio Central Victoria, 29 August 2023

Prue Bentley: Senator Sarah Henderson, who is part of the inquiry, was in Bendigo today and joins us now. Senator Henderson, I believe that was your voice just at the end of that little grab there.

Senator Henderson: Yes, it was. And good afternoon. Great to join you.

Prue Bentley: So what were you hearing today?

Senator Henderson: Well, we heard more very concerning revelations about the contempt with which the Andrews Labor Government has treated regional organisations following the shock axeing of the Commonwealth Games. As you were hearing, evidence from Cr Ben Taylor, who along with the Deputy Mayor, Amy Johnson, revealed that their CEO, Evan King, in Ballarat was forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement in relation to many aspects of the planning of the Commonwealth Games. Now that reflects a shocking lack of transparency and an accountability and is consistent with what we’ve heard yesterday in Melbourne, where not only ministers and state government officials refuse to appear before the inquiry, but they also tried to shut down their advisers and consultants and the like. Ernst and Young refused to answer a whole range of questions, even though it prepared the business case, which now apparently shows a $4 billion blow-out in the budget for the Commonwealth Games. So a really concerning lack of transparency, Prue, a lack of accountability and as we heard today over and over again, local organisations were treated very badly by this government.

Prue Bentley: Sarah Henderson, isn’t it just normal practice to have people who are entering into a financial or some sort of commercial arrangement to sign privacy agreements?

Senator Henderson: Sorry, Prue, I have lost you. I don’t know whether you can hear me, but I can’t hear.

Prue Bentley: Yes, I can hear you.

Senator Henderson: Can you hear me? Oh, yes. You’re back now.

Prue Bentley: We’ve been having a few gremlins in the studio today.

Senator Henderson: Some little glitch at the ABC, mind you, it’s not the only glitch at the ABC in recent days!

Prue Bentley: No, we’ve been having a couple.

Senator Henderson: But we won’t go down that rabbit hole.

Prue Bentley: Indeed.

Senator Henderson: I could be here all night regaling you with my stories about the ABC.

Prue Bentley: I’ll go back to my question, Senator Henderson, is it not normal and reasonable for people, for organisations and certainly governments who are entering into major financial agreements to sign privacy agreements?

Senator Henderson: No, not at all, and in fact, any agreement that the council enters into has got to be approved and agreed by councillors. So it’s very clear that this was an attempt to shut down information to keep the planning secret.  And the fact that the mayor and councillors were denied this information from the CEO effectively meant that local government can’t do the job it’s meant to do. This is an affront, frankly, to our democracy, Prue, and it really does demonstrate the lengths the government, the state government will go to keep these matters secret. This is unprecedented, I have never known this to happen before. This was not in the context of a highly confidential commercial agreement. This was about all the plans for the Games, which seriously impacted on the Ballarat community. And as we heard from the Committee for Ballarat today, all of the needs of Ballarat were basically ignored or ignored. They didn’t feel they had a voice at all. So look, really concerning developments in the Senate inquiry today.

Prue Bentley: Jacinta Allan, who is the Deputy Premier, has labelled the inquiry a political stunt. She says the state’s Auditor-General is best placed to look into this issue. Why is a federal Senate inquiry that is looking into our preparedness to host major events drilling so deeply down into this Commonwealth Games saga?

Senator Henderson: Well, the Senate inquiry, which also involves Labor Senators so it’s not a Coalition Senate inquiry, it’s the work of the Senate and it’s a very important part of the work of the Senate to conduct an inquiry into all sorts of matters. The preparedness for both the Commonwealth Games and the Olympic Games and the Paralympics is an issue of national importance. We have a great national interest in terms of protecting our reputation. And this was set up a number of months ago when we became very concerned about the preparedness for the Games. All sorts of indications that the government’s planning was in chaos, particularly in Victoria, less so relating to the Olympics, of course, but we were deeply concerned and so we set up an inquiry and, of course, our worst fears came true when a number of months later this was axed.

And I have to say it is very concerning that the minister responsible, who’s also a local member in Bendigo, doesn’t seem to think it’s important to be accountable for a $4 billion blow-out in the budget. So Prue, just consider this, when the government took the budget to the Commonwealth Games Association back in May, the budget was $2.6 billion. All of a sudden, out of the blue, two months later, that budget is between 6 and $7 billion. I mean, Jacinta Allan doesn’t even deserve her job. This was her day job to deliver the Commonwealth Games. She has failed dismally and she needs to be held to account. But the problem with this government is, in so many respects, it is failing Victorians. It is driving our state to its knees with its lack of accountability, its lack of transparency and its financial incompetence, which of course, has seen so many issues with the running of the state’s finances, including billions upon billions in debt. $171 billion is the debt projection, really, frightening numbers. But this is all about holding governments to account and when they fail communities, they need to be held to account.

Prue Bentley: Senator Henderson, thank you very much for your time today.

Senator Henderson: Thank you so much for your interest. And we’ll come and I’ll come back on and talk about the ABC another day. Okay.

Prue Bentley: Thanks very much. I’m sure we’ll look forward to that.

Share this