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Scepticism around price of Games before cancellation

Con Chronis/AAP PHOTOS

There was scepticism about the cost of the Victorian Commonwealth Games even before the event was cancelled, an inquiry has heard.

The inquiry was also told that pleas to build infrastructure to benefit locals in the long term were overlooked.

Committee for Ballarat chief executive Michael Poulton said costings for the proposed 2026 Games did not make sense to him, considering his experience as chef de mission at the World University Games.

"The price tag was always a curious one," Mr Poulton told the Senate inquiry in Bendigo on Tuesday.

"I understood that it was the most expensive Commonwealth Games, but we also understood that the four regional hubs provided some challenges that previously those events had not seen in the past."

He told the inquiry the Games had been considered an opportunity to fast-track infrastructure plans, but was then "sceptical" about costs, including a $150 million plan to upgrade Mars Stadium in Ballarat.

An athletics track and an extra 5000 seats were set to be built in time for the Games, which Mr Poulton said would cost an "extraordinary" amount of money.

He claimed organisers overlooked a push to fund projects that would have benefited the local community, including creating an athletes' village out of medium-density units in inner Ballarat. They instead opted for an industrial area.

Mr Poulton said his organisation also pushed for a third train station to be built in the town, but was told buses would be the dominant form of transport.

"There is a sense that the regions are being a bit ignored here, that this is government decision-making that is based out of the Melbourne bureaucracy telling regional Victoria what is best for you," he said.

In July, Premier Daniel Andrews announced Victoria had withdrawn from hosting duties for the 2026 Games because costs had blown out to as much as $7 billion.

It was recently agreed that Victoria would pay organisers $380 million in compensation.

There is no government-backed proposal from any other city to take over the event, but mayors of the Gold Coast and Perth have expressed interest.

Later on Tuesday, Mr Andrews hit back at a suggestion from the Committee for Ballarat that the government did not listen to advice from regional representatives on how to run the Games.

"The Committee for Ballarat were not paying for the Games," he said.

"The Committee for Ballarat was making precisely zero contribution to the cost of the Games."

Mr Andrews refused an invitation to attend the Senate inquiry, saying it was a "political stunt and circus".

Ballarat Deputy Mayor Amy Johnson used her appearance to call for councils to be compensated for costs already incurred, and for local businesses that would have experienced a boost.

Council chief executives signing non-disclosure agreements also dominated the inquiry, with Ms Johnson claiming councillors were only given limited information on details before the cancellation.

Rural Councils Victoria representative Mary-Anne Brown said no event was due to be held in areas she represents. However, she said she was hopeful they would actually benefit from money being redirected from the Games into country infrastructure.