The independence of the AFL’s proposed investigation into allegations against former Hawthorn coaches is being questioned by families interviewed for the club’s cultural safety review.
- The AFL announced a four-person investigative panel to look into incidents alleged to have occurred at Hawthorn between 2008 and 2016
- A lawyer for one of the families who made the allegations said her clients felt like they were being “marginalised” by the process
- The AFL said the panel had “a strong and diverse mix of experience and skillset as well as First Nations representation”
On Wednesday, two of the families confirmed to ABC Sport they had only learned the identities of the four-person investigative panel via media reports.
Responding to news that Bernard Quinn KC will chair a panel including barristers Tim Goodwin, Julie Buxton and Jacqualyn Turfrey, a member of one of the families interviewed by ABC Sport and for the Hawthorn review said she had been caught unawares by the announcement.
A member of another of the Hawthorn families said: “Nobody from the AFL has communicated with us at all on anything”.
She said her family had also been rocked by media reports claiming that former Hawks coach Alastair Clarkson, who has denied allegations against him, may commence his coaching duties at North Melbourne before the completion of the investigation.
“If the AFL allows that, it shows they truly don’t care about us,” she said.
“Gillon McLachlan has previously stated that our wellbeing is at the forefront, but it does not feel like that to us.
“The only consistent message we hear from both sides is that it’s unfair on the accused, as though what happened to us was fair, and that it’s all our fault for speaking to the media. The reality is the AFL and Hawthorn did not speak to us or give us any support after we contributed to the review.”
The AFL did not respond to ABC Sport’s request for clarification on Clarkson’s start date.
Lawyer Judy Courtin, who represents one of the Hawthorn families, said an inquiry established by and funded by the AFL could not hope to be independent.
“My clients, yet again, feel they are being marginalised,” Ms Courtin told ABC Sport.
“For an inquiry to be fair, its establishment should take into consideration the needs and concerns of all parties. As this family’s legal representatives, we have not been approached by either the Hawthorn Club or the AFL.
“An inquiry that is paid for and established by the AFL, and absent of any input from my clients, is not and cannot be independent.
“Not only were my clients allegedly forcibly torn apart as a couple nearly a decade ago, they continue to be treated with disdain.
“We wrote to the President of Hawthorn, Mr Jeff Kennett, last week on behalf of our clients seeking some urgent funding for counselling. We are yet to receive even an acknowledgement of our letter. Where is the club’s priority of its First Nations’ players? This is a disgrace.”
Findings expected to be made public in December
Despite the AFL’s promise of transparency and an independent investigation, the league has so far not fully explained the process by which the investigative panellists were appointed and did not respond to ABC Sport’s request for a detailed explanation of the process.
In its statement announcing the four-person panel, the AFL went as far as to criticise the families of First Nations former Hawthorn players who refused to be identified as part of the investigative process.
“The AFL does not know the identities of the persons / families who have recalled their accounts within the Hawthorn Football Club review or with the journalist who published those accounts,” the statement read.
“The AFL has repeatedly requested this information from their lawyers to assist in the good conduct of the investigation and related processes, which has been declined.”
The families have told ABC Sport that the health and emotional wellbeing of themselves and their children is their first priority, and that the possibility of their identities being leaked was a cause of significant emotional distress. For the sake of the review commissioned by Hawthorn, they had been guaranteed anonymity.
The AFL’s statement said it expected the findings to be made public in December.
“The appointed independent panel, assisted by the law firm Gordon Legal, will now work with the above representatives on undertaking a culturally safe process that provides due process and natural justice to those who have made claims and those against whom allegations have been made, with the intention of providing a report in December 2022,” the statement said.
“As noted, it is expected that the report, including findings and recommendations, will be made public at the end of this process.”
Responding in part to media reports which claimed each of the families were being represented by Leon Zwier of the law firm Arnold Block Leibler (ABL), the AFL statement said the investigation’s terms of reference would be shared between ABL and other lawyers for families.
“The AFL had previously been informed that ABL represented all five families identified under pseudonyms in the report but was informed last Friday night that one of the families had recently instructed another lawyer with whom ABL was acting collaboratively,” the statement said.
‘These are very serious allegations’
In the AFL’s statement, its general counsel Andrew Dillon said the investigative panel had “a strong and diverse mix of experience and skillset, as well as First Nations representation.”
It will assess incidents alleged to have occurred between January 1, 2008 and December 31, 2016 inclusive and will “run independently of the AFL”.
“These are very serious allegations, and it is important that we have an independent panel that is able to hear the perspectives of all involved and to provide natural justice to those making the claims and those who have had claims made against them,” Mr Dillon said.
“It is also vitally important that the panel is able to complete its work independently of the AFL. Bernard Quinn KC, the chair of the independent investigation and panel members Jacqualyn Turfrey, Julie Buxton and Tim Goodwin are all eminently qualified barristers that will be able to provide their intellect and significant expertise to the process.”
“The four-person panel, with their diverse backgrounds including in respect of Ms Turfrey and Mr Goodwin as First Nations persons will also have the ability to bring in additional outside expertise, whether that be in cultural safety, football administration or any other area the panel believes extra resource is needed.”