Transcript: Doorstop, Canberra - 14 September 2023


Press Conference, Canberra

Thursday, 14 September 2023

Subjects: Interim Report from the Inquiry into Australia’s Preparedness to Host Commonwealth, Olympic and Paralympic Games, Dan Andrew’s decision to cancel 2026 Commonwealth Games


SENATOR CANAVAN: Well, it's great to be here with my colleague, the Shadow Minister for Sport, Anne Ruston. Today, just now in the Senate, we've tabled an interim report of the Rural Affairs and Regional and Transport Committee on the Preparedness of Australia to host - well we were going to host - a Commonwealth Games, and the Olympic and Paralympic Games. We have tabled this report because the clock is ticking, the clock is ticking to find a solution for the Commonwealth Games in just a couple of years and to prepare properly for the Olympics in nine years time. We're all shocked by the decision of the Victorian Government and we realise it's not the Federal Government's fault, but it is the Federal Government's responsibility to solve problems. And this is a massive problem for our country, and all Commonwealth nations, that we at the moment do not have a host for a 2026 Games. I'll let Anne speak a bit more about that. As a Queensland Senator, I'm also very concerned about the lack of consultation that's occurred in Brisbane on especially the decision to host the athletics at the Gabba. A school is about to be destroyed and a community up-ended, and they found out in the media that their kids didn't have a future school to go to in the next few years. That's not good enough. And the worst thing that could happen for us is if there were to be lots of local protests while the world's eyes are on Brisbane. It would be best if we don't have angry communities for the 2032 Olympics. The ideal outcome, obviously, would be that we have local suburbs, local communities sharing in the joy of the country and the world in hosting the 2032 Olympics. Now, there's time here, there's nine years to go. So we're asking for the Queensland Government to review their decision on the athletics, with the local community this time, with their participation, and regardless of their decision to make sure the local community is involved in decisions like where their children go to school in East Brisbane for the future. I'm happy to take questions later as well, but I'll hand over to Anne.

SENATOR RUSTON: Thanks very much, Matt. In relation to the 2026 Commonwealth Games and the decision of the Andrews Labor Government in Victoria to cancel the Games in that state - Whilst, as Matt said, this is not a decision of the Federal Government, the reality is that the decision of the Andrews Government has had a massive impact on Australia's international reputation, it's had a massive impact on Australia's international athletes, both able-bodied athletes and our paralympians and para-athletes. And we believe that the Federal Government needs to take responsibility, to work with the states and territories, to work with the Commonwealth Games Association to come up with an Australian solution. Because no matter how much Mr. Albanese and his Sports Minister want to keep their head in the sand about this issue, this is an issue that affects Australians, it affects Australian athletes and it affects Australia's international reputation. And so, abrogating responsibility for finding a solution I think is actually showing the shallowness of this government and their lack of preparedness to actually govern on behalf of all Australians. But I think most particularly today, it is so disappointing that the Federal Government is not prepared to stand up, not just for a generation of athletes, elite athletes, right now who won't have the opportunity to be able to perform on home soil, but future generations of young Australians who we know are inspired by elite athletes. We've seen it just recently with the extraordinary increase in the number of young Australians who want to play football following the huge success of the Matildas. We know that these home soil games have a massive impact on many young Australians and their preparedness to get out and get active. And we know, absolutely, the statistics show it time and time again that when young Australians are active, they're healthier and they're happier. It's not just good for their physical health, it's good for their mental health. And so we have just missed an opportunity, a huge opportunity for young Australians to be inspired by our Commonwealth Games athletes in 2026. And so we're calling on the Commonwealth Government to actually get your head out of the sand and come out and help us collectively find a solution, an Australian solution to holding the 2026 Commonwealth Games right here in Australia, so that we can benefit from the huge, huge success that home grown games and home soil events have for Australians and particularly young Australians going into the future.

REPORTER: One of the origin reasons for the Inquiry to be held was the Palaszczuk Government keeping the, you know, scrapping the independent oversight body and replacing with a method being done inside the Premier's office. There's no findings in the report today. Can we expect to see that in the final report or is -

SENATOR CANAVAN: Yeah, look, as I said, this was an interim report to deal with, I think, issues of urgency here, given the clock is ticking. Obviously, we do need to make decisions about the Gabba and the Athletics very, very soon, and likewise 2026 is even more urgent. So, we've put this report out not to cover all issues, just to cover those that are most urgent. We obviously have taken evidence already about concerns around the change in governance model. We have some more hearings to come and I'm sure we'll have things to say about those changes in our final report.

REPORTER: Senators, just quickly, could you just elaborate I guess on the challenges that you've had in getting answers from the Victorian State Government about their decisions to cancel the Games?

SENATOR CANAVAN: Yeah, look, I do think the Daniel Andrews Government has been running an unprecedented protection racket here to protect themselves from parliamentary scrutiny. It's a well-established principle that we as a Federal Parliament cannot compel state governments to appear at Senate committees. We can only ask them to cooperate. I would note in this instance that the Queensland Government did cooperate and I thank them for that cooperation. It was in great contrast to the Victorian Government, which refused any of their officials to turn up. And as I said, that's their right. But worse than that, the Premier sent threatening letters to a variety of private citizens and organisations to prevent them from giving evidence to a Senate committee. This is a grave interference with the work of the Federal Parliament, I think an unprecedented one. We certainly haven't to date found a precedent for this, and in my contribution in the Senate just then, we are taking further advice on this and it's probably another thing we'll return to in our final report.

REPORTER: Just lastly, before the report was tabled, Daniel Andrews said it was a stunt and that he wouldn't read it. What do you make of that?

SENATOR CANAVAN: Well, I don't think Daniel Andrews read the business case either. So, I wouldn't, I wouldn't - I'm not holding my breath for him to read our report. But it might be a little bit better if in the future Daniel Andrews did get across the detail, because he made this promise. He has ultimately left regional communities in Victoria high and dry, and we saw firsthand their disappointment in Bendigo at being played for mugs here. There is no doubt in my mind that Daniel Andrews, and his government, used the people of regional Victoria for his base political purposes in an election campaign. He made the promise just before the election to get their support and then just after he dumped them on the side of the road like a trash can. It's no way to treat your own people and I just wish the Victorian Government show a little bit more diligence in the future. They're obviously not going to help at all going forward and probably we don't really want their - the Commonwealth Games Federation probably doesn't want their help. But it comes back to this fact that we have a problem here and not all problems that come across the Federal Government's desk are their fault. But it does come with the role as Prime Minister to often get your hands dirty and fix things when your nation asks you to. One thing that hasn't been mentioned here, which I think is important to stress, is that the Sports Minister has not yet even had a briefing from her Department about this issue, either a written briefing or a verbal briefing. She's had no formal briefing from her Department about the situation that we now face in terms of not being able to host or have a host for the 2026 Olympics. The Minister hasn't met with the Commonwealth Games Federation or Commonwealth Games Australia, nor has her Department. This is a Pontius Pilot approach from this Government, where they are washing their hands of it all, and I don't think that's fair to Australia's athletes that want to compete for gold in a few years time and want to prepare themselves well for the Olympics a few years later as well.

REPORTER: Just quickly, did your report make any recommendations or findings in regard to a way forward for the Victorian Government's relationship with the Comm Games Australia and the Federation?

SENATOR CANAVAN: Look, I think that's really a matter for the Victorian Government. They've obviously got a very damaged relationship now with both the Commonwealth Games Federation and Commonwealth Games Australia. I'm really, and our committee, is focussed on seeking a solution for the 2026 Games. As I just mentioned, that's unlikely to involve the Victorian Government in any tangible way. So we're looking for other solutions here, like of course involving the Gold Coast or any other local communities that want to work with the Federal Government and/or the Commonwealth Games Federation. I would hope that over time that relationship can be repaired. I would hazard a guess it'll probably take a new government to see a fresh change there at some point between the Victorian Government and the Commonwealth Games Federation. I should keep in mind too that I think one thing that will be pursued in the Victorian Parliament here is the terms and conditions of the cancellation deed between the Commonwealth Games Federation, Commonwealth Games Australia and the Victorian Government. Again, because of the the Victorian Government's vow of silence they've imposed on others, we were unable to get the details of that. But I think it's notable that the Commonwealth Games Australia would not rule out whether or not there was a non-disparagement clause in that deed of cancellation. That is, did the Victorian Government use taxpayers dollars to gag the Commonwealth Games Federation and Commonwealth Games Australia from criticising them or their decisions? I'm sure my colleagues in the Victorian Parliament will take that forward and try and get some answers.

REPORTER: Sorry, just quickly, Martin Pakula - what did the committee find in terms of his evidence given that he gave evidence that the Government [inaudible]?

SENATOR CANAVAN: Yeah, well look, we thanked Mr Pakula for coming along again. We appreciated his co-operation and he wasn't forced in any way and we thank him for that. Look, he couldn't shed much light though on issues, again because of that remarkable letter that Dan Andrews sent him, and pretty much a copycat letter to other witnesses appearing before our inquiry. So it's a grave matter to try and interfere with evidence being provided to a parliamentary committee and it would appear on the surface that that's what the Victorian Government is trying to do. So as I said, we'll probably take this issue up further. But again, I thank Mr Pakula. It's just a shame he couldn't be more honest and frank with us.


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