The independent investigation into allegations of past racism at Hawthorn “will begin immediately” and, ultimately, be released publicly when finished after the full terms of reference for the four-person panel were confirmed and released.
But whether all the complainants will take part remains uncertain, with AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan encouraging the legal representatives of the First Nations players and families to “engage in the process as soon as possible”.
The AFL a fortnight ago announced Bernard Quinn KC would lead the investigation into allegations of racist behaviour, bullying and/or other inappropriate conduct by Hawthorn staffers — particularly towards First Nations players — between 2008 to 2016. Quinn will be joined by fellow panellists Jacqualyn Turfrey, Tim Goodwin and Julie Buxton.
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It came after a report commissioned by the Hawks, titled Cultural Safety Review: Of Past and Present Indigenous Players and Staff of the Hawthorn Football Club, coupled with an ABC Sport article, detailed several disturbing allegations from First Nations players on how they were treated during the club’s golden era under four-time premiership coach Alastair Clarkson. Subsequently, Clarkson and Chris Fagan stood down from their roles at North Melbourne and Brisbane respectively — despite repeatedly denying the allegations — until the independent probe had taken place.
In a statement on Thursday, the AFL confirmed the terms of reference and process plan after weeks of behind-the-scenes haggling. The league said the terms had been developed over the past three weeks following “extensive consultation with the Investigation Panel and lawyers representing First Nations former players and families, and former Hawthorn coaches among others”.
The Terms of Reference and Process Plan confirms:
— The ability for all participants to share their perspectives, to hear the perspectives of other participants and to respond.
— An opportunity for mediation if a party seeks it during the process.
— A projected end date for the investigation in December 2022.
The report prepared by the investigation panel will be released publicly. It’ll include recommendations as to whether any persons, according to the panel, should be subject to disciplinary action.
The investigation, which will run independently of the AFL, will begin “immediately”, with the panel now able to gather relevant documents from the participants. Initial written or otherwise communicated statements are due on November 4, with responding statements and documents required according to the timetable set out in the process plan. Final submissions from participants are due on December 6.
The investigation will be conducted in a “culturally safe, secure, and respectful manner”, according to the AFL statement, with the projected end date for the panel’s report still set for December.
“Given the seriousness of the allegations, it is important that we set up an independent investigation that is fair and provides a clear and safe process to investigate the matters referred to the AFL by the Hawthorn Football Club,” AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan said.
“The Terms of Reference provide the guide rails for which the investigation can be undertaken in a culturally safe environment.
“We have listened to the feedback and taken further steps to ensure the panel has independence from the AFL and therefore there have been a number of additional protections added, including the Investigation Panel having the ability to retain their own law firm, exercising control over release of the final report and being able to retain their own subject matter experts.
“This matter was brought to the AFL by the Hawthorn Football Club at the request of the families. We encourage those affected to take part so the panel can get to the bottom of the allegations with due process and natural justice to those who have made claims and those against whom allegations have been made.
“While we still do 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, we encourage their legal representatives to engage in the process as soon as possible.
“We have taken the time that was necessary to get this process right from the outset. This is an incredibly important investigation and once the panel has reported back, we need to come together as an industry and co-ordinate a much wider response to ensure we have a culturally safe environment across all clubs and within the AFL ecosystem.”
Originally published as AFL announces significant update in Hawthorn racism scandal