Rarely would I take issue with my fellow columnist Rita Panahi, but her article last Friday, headed “Hawthorn should pay up for racism report fiasco” must be answered.
Rita stated that Hawthorn Football Club vilified three of its former employees, and we should pay millions in compensation.
Serious allegations were made public by Cyril Rioli and his wife through The Age. The allegations were serious, and the club board decided quickly, led by board member Ian Silk, that we should establish whether any other past or present Indigenous player or staff member had similar experiences.
Mr Silk then headed a committee that appointed Binmada, an Indigenous organisation headed by Phil Egan, assisted by Dr Meaghan Katrak Harris, to hear the experiences of Indigenous players and staff of their time at Hawthorn.
This was a cultural safety review.
Not all wished to participate.
Binmada had previously been engaged by the AFL, the federal government and others to work on Indigenous matters.
Some of those who did talk to Binmada told of experiences that shocked the board. And some experiences were good.
On receiving the report, Hawthorn immediately informed the AFL, and referred the report to the AFL Integrity Unit as we were required to do according to the AFL Respect and Responsibility guidelines.
Before AFL Integrity could start its work, with the assistance of Hawthorn, to establish the correctness or otherwise of the allegations, some family members of the Indigenous players leaked their stories to the ABC.
That started a media firestorm.
In that and other media reports that followed, former employees Alastair Clarkson, Chris Fagan and Jason Burt were named, totally unfairly, as the process by AFL Integrity to check the allegations with the three had not even started.
The leaking of the allegations, for whatever reason, by the Indigenous family members destroyed the natural process of investigation.
Binmada was commissioned only to hear the stories of our Indigenous personnel. We never anticipated a report outlining such allegations. Binmada was not the appropriate organisation to seek to verify or otherwise investigate the allegations.
That was the role of AFL Integrity using any process it wished to adopt. So, Hawthorn did not, and would never, vilify its people. Those who went public vilified those they accused before the facts were established.
It has now been suggested by the AFL that Hawthorn should pay both the Indigenous families who made the allegations, including those who leaked contents of the report, and the three former employees compensation just to settle the issue once and for all.
The fact that the Hawthorn board is considering such payments is absolutely absurd.
Worse, it sets a shocking precedent for all clubs in the future should any employees make unsubstantiated public claims simply to have them settled by mediation or agreement for financial gain.
Hawthorn has become the laughing stock of the legal profession that we might pay compensation for seeking to ensure we had a safe working place, when the normal process of establishing the truth was derailed by those who leaked the report.
When Gill McLachlan wound up his four-person panel on May 30 this year he said there were no findings against Clarkson, Fagan or Burt.
That said, it must also be correct that McLachlan or the panel had reached the conclusion that there was no substance in the allegations. I accept that at face value.
McLachlan also told me that the only reason the AFL was pursuing Hawthorn was to establish who leaked the report. Not to penalise Hawthorn in any way. Discussions between lawyers during the process accepted and said Hawthorn was not at fault for the process it had adopted and followed.
So why now would the AFL be demanding any compensation be paid to accusers and accused by Hawthorn? And what has Hawthorn actually done that warrants such payments? The AFL has not articulated an action or offence.
No wrong by Hawthorn has actually been established.
If the AFL argues the wrong was the public exposure that Clarkson, Fagan and Burt endured, that was not caused by Hawthorn, but those family members who leaked their stories, without giving AFL Integrity the opportunity to establish the facts.
I am sorry, Rita, but your vilification of Hawthorn is unwarranted and incorrect. On the evidence, no compensation should be paid by Hawthorn.
We have seen in the past that appeasement never works. We need strong, fair and accurate leadership at the AFL and its clubs.