Department secretary told not to tell his minister about Commonwealth Games fiasco

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A senior Victorian public servant was told not to tell his minister about the potential collapse of the Commonwealth Games – even though it was his responsibility to keep her informed.

Since the cancellation, the focus has been on who knew what and when, given now-Premier Jacinta Allan and Housing Minister Harriet Shing had spruiked the doomed regional event in parliament just a month before it was abandoned in July.

Victorian secretary of the Department of Jobs, Skills, Industry and Regions Tim Ada (right).Credit: AAP

Speaking at an estimates hearing on Thursday, Department of Jobs, Skills, Industry and Regions (DJSIR) secretary Tim Ada was pressed on why he never told Shing – who was minister for Games legacy at the time – that lawyers had been called in to provide advice about withdrawing from the 2026 event.

Ada, who learned about the developments on June 19, said Victoria’s top public servant, Jeremi Moule, had instructed him that this would be handled by a senior member of the government.

When asked if the topic of cancelling the Games had come up between June 19 and 22 – when Shing says she was eventually told – Ada said: “Certainly not.”

“Because I was told very clearly by the secretary of the Department of Premier [and Cabinet] that that wasn’t something I was allowed to divulge,” he said.

“I was told at the time that Ms Shing would be told … that wasn’t something that I was required to do.

“I was advised in strict confidence, and advised that Minister Shing would be told by a member of the government.”

Nationals MP Danny O’Brien asked Ada if it was normal practice that the secretary of a department would not be allowed to brief their minister on a topic related to their portfolio.

“Usual practice, Mr O’Brien, is that secretaries are required to advise ministers of matters … that is certainly the approach I take to this role,” Ada said.

Harriet Shing, the former minister for Commonwealth Games legacy, during an inquiry into the Commonwealth, Olympic and Paralympic Games in October.Credit: AAP

“I also take it quite seriously when the head of the public service talks to me about matters such as this one.”

Ada agreed with O’Brien when asked if the decision had put him in a difficult position because the standards of public service required him to keep his minister informed.

“That’s certainly the approach I’ve brought to this role over the last eight months,” he said.

Ada also agreed that he’d been put between two competing bosses, referencing Moule and Shing.

“That’s how I felt at the time,” he said.

On June 14, then-premier Daniel Andrews and Allan – who was minister for the Commonwealth Games at the time – were aware that law firm Arnold Bloch Leibler would be engaged that day. But Shing – despite having ministerial responsibility for some aspects of the Games – was not updated on the development until eight days later, on June 22.

A spokeswoman from the Department of Premier and Cabinet confirmed that Moule had instructed Ada to wait for Andrews or his office to inform Shing.

“The secretary of the Department of Premier and Cabinet spoke with his counterpart at the Department of Jobs, Skills, Industry and Regions to inform them that DPC had been asked to provide advice to the government on the full range of options in relation to the future of the Commonwealth Games, which included seeking external legal advice,” the spokeswoman said in a statement.

“The secretary of DPC was advised (and as such told the Secretary of DJSIR) that ministers would be informed by the former premier or his office and that Mr Ada should allow that to occur.”

However, a parliamentary inquiry into the cancellation of the Games earlier heard that Allan was the one who eventually informed Shing, not Andrews or his office.

Opposition spokesman for tourism, sport and events Sam Groth said the premier needed to face the Games inquiry herself.

“Jacinta Allan must explain why a senior public servant needed to keep the engagement of lawyers to cancel the Commonwealth Games a secret from his minister,” he said.

Allan, as a member of the lower house, cannot be compelled to give evidence to the upper house inquiry.

The Victorian government cancelled the event on July 18, claiming costs had escalated from the budgeted $2.6 billion to up to $7 billion, but it will still proceed with $2 billion in Games-related legacy projects and support for regional areas.

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