‘Bushwhacked’: Shock over Games Gabba plan

Former Brisbane lord mayor Graham Quirk led the review. Picture: Dan Peled / NCA NewsWire

Key players in the planning of the 2032 Brisbane Olympic and Paralympic Games were given little to no notice the Queensland government was going to scrap the $2.7bn Gabba rebuild and ignore a recommendation to build a $3.4bn Victoria Park inner-city stadium.

An inquiry into how prepared Australia for the Brisbane 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games will examine how the major event will leave a legacy of sporting infrastructure.

The senate inquiry was launched after former Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s decision to dump an independent infrastructure agency to oversee projects for the 2032 Games in favour of keeping it in-house.

The senate inquiry is looking at whether Australia is prepared to host the 2032 Brisbane Olympic and Paralympic Games. Picture: Dan Peled / NCA NewsWire

The Coalition and Greens are heading the inquiry, which is holding a public hearing in Brisbane on Wednesday.


Key stakeholders were left in the dark when the then-Palaszczuk government announced it would rebuild the Gabba Stadium for the Games, a decision that has since been axed.

Senator Richard Colbeck said the former Coalition government was unaware the state government was looking at the Gabba as an option when it agreed to go 50/50 split on the Olympic bid.

“For me, this project, the Gabba and all of the problems it’s brought with it, is symptomatic of the politics the Queensland government played with the Olympic bid,” the former Morrison Sport Minister said.

“It should not be forgotten that without the commitment of the Commonwealth government to provide a 50/50 funding split, it would not be happening.

“They gave us a list of projects in 2021, that list did not involve the Gabba.

Former coalition sport minister Richard Colbeck said the Morrison government was bushwhacked when the Gabba was named for the Olympics. Picture: NCA NewsWire / John Gass

“This is the politics that has been played with this Games bid by the Queensland government all the way through to the detriment of the progress of getting the job done.”

Mr Colbeck said Wednesday’s public hearing had raised “more questions” about the Gabba decision – both before and after it was scrapped – and how the state government went about the planning.

“We were completely bushwhacked by the Queensland government when they announced the decision to put the Gabba on the table for the Olympics and Paralympic Games in 2032,” he said.


Premier Steven Miles appointed Graham Quirk as the lead of the independent review of Brisbane 2032 Olympic and Paralympic venue infrastructure in January.

The former Brisbane lord mayor conducted a 60-day review of the Games’ legacy in which he recommended a $3.4bn new stadium in inner-city Victoria Park.

His stadium option was put forward to replace the state government’s planned $2.7bn knockdown and rebuild of the Gabba cricket ground.

Ultimately, Mr Miles endorsed a cheaper plan, opting to scrap the government’s original Gabba rebuild plan and instead use existing infrastructure.

Former Brisbane lord mayor Graham Quirk provided the state government with an independent review into the Games legacy. Picture: Dan Peled / NCA NewsWire

Suncorp Stadium will be used for the opening and closing ceremonies and the Queensland Sport and Athletics Centre (QSAC) in Nathan for athletics.

QSAC, then QE2 Stadium, hosted the Commonwealth Games in 1982 and is scheduled to be upgraded ahead of 2032.

Former Brisbane mayor Graham Quirk recommended Victoria Parklands as the major Brisbane Olympics site. Picture: NCA NewsWire / John Gass
Suncorp Stadium is now planned to host the opening and closing ceremonies. Picture: NCA NewsWire / John Gass

Acting on behalf of the IOC, John Coates told the inquiry he was made aware of the state government’s decision to go with the QSAC option when State Development Minister Grace Grace called him on March 15.

Mr Coates said Ms Grace told him the government was planning to reject the Victoria Park option, three days before Mr Quirk’s review was made public.

When asked whether he was aware of a “shadow review” performed by the state government while the Quirk review was under way, Mr Coates said he wasn’t involved in anything related to the government’s decision to select QSAC despite favouring upgrading the facilities.

John Coates says the QSAC proposal makes the most sense. Picture: NewsWire / Sarah Marshall

Mr Coates said the Gabba rebuild wasn’t an “Olympic requirement”, given it would mostly benefit cricket and the AFL.

Mr Coates said the IOC would still have to review the QSAC reconstruction, but that would be done in “close consideration” with the transport department.

“No one will tick off on QSAC unless the satisfactory solution is there for transport, whatever it is going to be for the Olympics … (but) it’s not going to be for the opening and closing ceremonies,” he said.

Mr Quirk said the independent review he led recommended the Victoria Park greenfield site over the Gabba rebuild because it was the “superior option”.

“Even with a full Gabba rebuild, we would not get a tier 1 stadium … competitive with other stadiums in Australia,” he said.

Senator Matt Canavan, who said he was a “conservative and a cricket lover”, said he had concerns the Gabba rebuild would lose its historical legacy.

Senators Matt Canavan and Bridget McKenzie put questions to Mr Quirk during the hearing. Picture: Dan Peled / NCA NewsWire


Queensland Department of State Development and Infrastructure Director-General, Graham Fraine, told the inquiry he was informed about two weeks before the Quirk review to look into alternative options to Victoria Park and the Gabba rebuild.

However, when questioned by Senator Bridget McKenzie about who asked him specifically to do the “shadow review”, Mr Fraine said he couldn’t recall and took the question on notice.

“Every man and his dog has got an opinion on where this should be without focusing on the fact that the transportation infrastructure, wherever you put the stadium, will take some time,” Senator McKenzie said.

“We’re still a year later, for this committee, no closer to that (answer).”

Senator Bridget McKenzie says the committee is no further informed about how much transport infrastructure will cost than they were one year ago. Picture: Dan Peled / NCA NewsWire

Australian Sports Commission chief executive Kieran Perkins said the sports body didn’t provide a submission to the Quirk review, despite it being an open submission process.

“It’s a federal agency, it’s not our role to get involved in the public infrastructure,” Mr Perkins said.

Several national sporting organisations have publicly come out in varying levels of support or disapproval of the Olympics plan.

However, Mr Perkins said ASC has not gotten involved in “discussions about speculation what may or may not happen in Brisbane in 2032”.

“In terms of the operational activities, there’s a lot of work being done to build out the program for 20232 plus,” Mr Perkins said.

Mr Quirk says there’s still enough time to ensure the region is prepared to host the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Picture: Dan Peled / NCA NewsWire


When asked about whether the Queensland government was too focused on the October state elections than the Olympic legacy, Mr Quirk said he could understand why spending money on the Gabba rebuild or the Victoria Park option would seem as “extravagance when families are doing it tough”.

“Any observer would come to the conclusion that there is a fear of the cost of living crisis we’re living through at the moment is driving decisions that would not normally be made in the case,” Mr Quirk said.

But Mr Quirk said it was important people had something to look forward to and see that their city was evolving.

“Even during the Great Depression, people were looking for hope. They had a racehorse called Phar Lap that they looked to for hope.”

Despite the delays, Mr Quirk told the inquiry he believed while no work had been started in terms of construction, community groups would still be able to enjoy facilities before and after the Games.

“The recommendation all of the facilities will be available for community use whether before the games or after the games, depends on when they’re completed.

“They can have years of use of the facilities prior to the Games.

“We would see significant use of facilities before the Games. Even with the Victoria Park proposal, we would have seen cricket be used before the Games.

“There’s not reason some of those indoor sports centres can’t go out to market pretty soon.”

Senator Anne Ruston said the inquiry would be looking at what opportunities are being missed because of delays in construction, despite Brisbane being named a host city in 2021.

“We had a runway into the Olympics and we’ve seem to have squandered that already in terms of time,” Senator Ruston said on Wednesday.

The special senate inquiry is also examining how and where every taxpayer dollar is being spent on the major event.

Other terms of reference for the inquiry will also address the appropriateness of oversight and accountability measures and the impact on housing affordability.