A major scandal engulfing the Australian netball world all stems back to a sickening suggestion uttered on TV four decades ago.
Netball Australia’s chairwoman stepped down on Monday and Diamonds players are set to meet with Hancock Prospecting in coming days, as the sporting body scrambles to mend the divide between the team and its major new sponsor.
A $15 million partnership between Netball Australia and the mining giant — spearheaded by Australia’s richest woman Gina Rinehart — sparked player backlash after Hancock Prospecting branding was placed on the team’s uniforms for the Constellation Cup series.
Fox Sports first reported that the protest stems from Indigenous player Donnell Wallam, who is preparing to make her debut for Australia.
In the 1980s, Ms Rinehart’s father, late mining magnate Lang Hancock, infamously suggested that Indigenous Australians should be sterilised to solve “the problem”.
“Those that have been assimilated into, you know, earning good living or earning wages amongst the civilised areas, those that have been accepted into society and they have accepted society and can handle society, I’d leave them well alone,” he told a news broadcast.
“The ones that are no good to themselves and can’t accept things, the half-castes — and this is where most of the trouble comes — I would dope the water up so that they were sterile and would breed themselves out in future and that would solve the problem.”
The news footage was included in the 1984 documentary film Couldn’t Be Fairer, about the racism suffered by Indigenous Australians in Queensland at the time.
The film’s title is a reference to then Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s comment that, “We treat them the same as everyone else — couldn’t be fairer.”
Introducing Mr Hancock’s interview, the newscaster asked viewers “if you’d believe this as a solution to the Aboriginal problem”.
“Herd the worst of the Aborigines into one area, and put a chemical in their water that sent them sterile,” he said.
“In time there’d be none of them left. Well that solution has been put forward by none other than one of the Premier’s closest friends, West Australian mining magnate Lang Hancock.”
Also featured in the Couldn’t Be Fairer segment were contemporary TV interviews with town mayor and a grazier making disparaging comments about Indigenous people.
“The do-gooders came along, these bureaucrats and the rest of them, who write great theses on things down south about problems in the north, and they decided that they better go and civilise these savages of ours,” the mayor said in the clip.
“So they brought them into the towns, threw them in amongst the people, and they close their eyes and shut their eyes to the problems that confront the white population.”
Mr Hancock, who died in 1992 aged 82, was a controversial figure even during his life for his views on Aboriginal people and his right-wing political views.
He was once quoted as saying, “Mining in Australia occupies less than one-fifth of one per cent of the total surface of our continent and yet it supports 14 million people. Nothing should be sacred from mining whether it’s your ground, my ground, the blackfellow’s ground or anybody else’s. So the question of Aboriginal land rights and things of this nature shouldn’t exist.”
Ms Rinehart has also previously said climate change is not a man-made phenomenon — something former Australian captain Sharni Norder claimed is against the values of the team.
‘She does good deeds’
Despite her late father’s controversial views, Ms Rineheart has been praised for her charitable work in Indigenous communities.
Clinton Wolf, managing director of the National Indigenous Times, wrote in an op-ed on Monday that the negativity towards the Netball Australia sponsorship was “hypocritical”.
Mr Wolf, who is a non-executive director of Indigenous children’s charity Madalah, said Ms Rineheart and the Roy Hill Community Foundation had come through with a “multi-year, multimillion-dollar funding arrangement” after the WA government refused.
“Madalah is proud to say that Mrs Gina Rinehart’s companies are among Madalah’s most important sponsors and supporters,” he wrote.
“The Roy Hill Community Foundation’s Hanrine Futures Program funded by the Hancock Group of companies will provide long-term scholarships as well as training, work experience and internships through to employment.
“Did Madalah agonise over partnering with Mrs Rinehart and her companies, absolutely not. Many of the students who were provided scholarships are traditional owners of land on which mining activities are taking place and it is their families and communities urging the students to take advantage of the opportunity of a lifetime.”
Mr Wolf said there had been “much criticism” of Ms Rineheart because Lang Hancock was her father.
“Since when do we judge someone because of who their parents are or were or what they said?” he wrote.
“In spite of the negative headlines, Madalah’s experience has been that Mrs Rinehart is a kind and generous person who genuinely cares about Madalah and its Indigenous students.
“Mrs Rinehart should be applauded for her generous sponsorship of Netball Australia, Madalah and a host of other very worthy causes that desperately need financial support which she supports without fanfare.
“While others have criticised her from the sidelines, she does deeds with a good heart. Actions always speak louder than words.”
Netball chair steps down
It comes after Netball Australia chairwoman Marina Go stepped down on Monday effective immediately in the wake of the player backlash.
But the body is holding its ground, and new chair Wendy Archer declared the sport has reinforced its ties with the mining giant.
Netball Australia on Tuesday released a statement refuting reports of a player boycott, while confirming the sport is trying to mend the divide between the dressing room and its new sponsor.
The statement also included an admission the governing body did not divulge aspects of its partnership with Hancock Prospecting to players.
Ms Archer said the Australian Netball Players Association was advised in July of “an impending mining partnership” but acknowledged the “identity of Hancock Prospecting was not shared due to commercial sensitivity following ANPA’s unanimous support of a private equity takeover bid for the Suncorp Super Netball competition”.
The sport has described the partnership as “groundbreaking”.
The commercial agreement was a lifeline for the governing body, which has lost more than $7 million over the past two years, mostly due to costs associated with Super Netball.
Netball Australia says it is an absolute priority for the organisation to address, and resolve, individual player concerns about the partnership as soon as possible.
“Since becoming aware of cultural sensitivities raised by a Diamonds squad member in respect of the Hancock sponsorship uniform logo placement, Netball Australia and Hancock Prospecting have been working tirelessly to acknowledge and recognise the sensitivities, to further understand the concerns of that squad member and to provide avenues for support,” it said.
Netball Australia said it would move to organise a meeting between the entire playing group and representatives from Hancock Prospecting.
“Mrs Archer said the players had been supportive throughout this process and refuted claims that the Diamonds had engaged in any form of boycott or refused to wear uniforms with the Hancock Prospecting logo during the recent games in New Zealand,” the statement said.
“Netball Australia did not require the Hancock Prospecting dress to be worn during the Constellation Cup due to additional obligations placed on Netball Australia by the Australian Netball Players Association.”
Netball Australia said it “believed that it was not in the best interests of the players, the sport or Hancock Prospecting to wear the dress at this time” and that Hancock Prospecting had been “accommodating and supportive of ensuring that players are not unnecessarily distracted”.
Australia takes on New Zealand in the Constellations Cup Second Test at John Cain Arena in Melbourne on Wednesday.