A report from Victoria's Auditor-General's Office on major projects has provoked a sharp response from the state government's Department of Transport.
The independent report urged greater transparency for big projects - those valued over $100 million - and stated several had gone over-budget, were running late, or had changed scope since they were first announced.
In Ballarat, three major projects were mentioned repeatedly - the hospital upgrade, the Ballarat Line Upgrade, and the Western Highway's duplication to Stawell.
The report noted the cost of the highway duplication had increased by 30 per cent to $656.36 million, and had added five years and three quarters to its expected completion date of 2015-16.
The hospital upgrade had gone through two scope changes, and another year and one quarter added to its estimated completion date.
Its budget increased by 17.3 per cent to $541.6m.
The Ballarat Rail Line, commissioned early in 2021 after construction "officially" finished at the end of 2020, increased in cost by 22.1 per cent.
The report analysed publicly available data, budget documents, and asked government departments for submissions.
It concluded the Department of Transport was by far the area with the most expenditure, and also the sector with the least number of business cases for its projects, but conceded there were other ways this information was presented.
The pandemic also affected about half the projects - according to the report, "(f)or the 110 projects we surveyed, entities disclosed that 52, or 47.3 per cent, were affected by the pandemic".
"The pandemic mainly impacted projects' time and cost. In some cases, the impact was positive because works could be accelerated due to public facilities being closed," it stated.
The report was compiled because "(a)s at July 1 2021, Victoria has $144 billion invested in public sector capital works. This includes transport and water infrastructure, hospitals, schools and other community facilities. Given the size and importance of this investment, Parliament and the community expect to know how projects are performing against their scope, time, cost and benefit expectations".
However, the state government dismissed concerns around cost and time overruns raised in the report, stating it was "littered with errors in how the data is applied", "gaps and misrepresentations", and "lacks context".
Increased infrastructure investment had led to "cost and resourcing pressures" globally, with "unprecedented demand".
"This VAGO report does not provide an accurate picture of the record level of investment the government is currently delivering right across Victoria - in schools, hospitals, prisons, rail and road upgrades," a government spokesperson said in a statement.
"Whether it's upgrading a local road or removing a dangerous level crossing, we will continue to listen to the Victorian people and deliver our election commitments that are based on community needs and wants.
"The majority of Victoria's 165 Big Build projects are on time and on budget - and they transform how Victorians travel whilst supporting more than 50,000 jobs.
"Most of these projects are fully accounted for in our budget papers."
Departments and delivery agencies already face extensive budget scrutiny including rigorous funding requirements and reviews by the Department of Treasury and Finance, the development of business cases, regular Cabinet scrutiny and VAGO's annual financial audit of the Department of Transport's Annual Report.
The state opposition emphasised one line in the report - "(The Department of Treasury and Finance) and public sector entities' reporting to Parliament and the public about major projects' performance is not timely, relevant or sufficient" - and said a "public works committee", similar to New South Wales, was needed.
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Shadow treasurer David Davis said in a statement communities were "waiting longer for key infrastructure".
"Instead of being up front with Victorians - Labor continues to hide the true extent of its infrastructure mismanagement and cost blowouts," he said.
"Money is being squandered; money that could have supported families and businesses through the COVID crisis and the COVID recovery."
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