AFL appoints panel to investigate Hawthorn racism allegations

<span>Photograph: Julian Smith/AAP</span>
Photograph: Julian Smith/AAP

The AFL has announced a panel to investigate allegations of racism at the Hawthorn football club, but it remains unclear if the First Nations players behind the claims will participate.

The league said in a statement on Wednesday that it had appointed an independent panel of four barristers, to be led by Bernard Quinn KC, two of whom are also Indigenous, to investigate what has been dubbed the greatest scandal in AFL history.

According to the claims made during an independent investigation commissioned by Hawthorn, players were forced into separating from their partners, and one was told to tell his partner to terminate her pregnancy.

The claims related to alleged conduct by former coach Alastair Clarkson, and football department staff Chris Fagan and Jason Burt, all of whom have strongly denied any wrongdoing.

The claims were referred to the AFL integrity unit, and the panel was due to report back in December. The AFL said it expected the panel’s report, including its findings and recommendations, would be made public.

Related: Could the Hawthorn review unleash a new reckoning in the AFL?

It remains unclear whether the five players at the centre of the claims will take part in the investigation, as they were concerned that any panel established by the AFL could not be truly independent. Leon Zwier, who represents four of the players and is considered the contact person for the fifth, was not available for comment.

The AFL said in its statement that it did not know the identities of the former players who made the claims, but had “repeatedly requested this information from their lawyers to assist in the good conduct of the investigation and related processes, which has been declined”.

Quinn will be joined on the panel by Jacqualyn Turfrey, who practises in commercial, family and criminal law, and is a Palawa woman; Tim Goodwin, a Yuin man who practises in commercial and public law, and is on the board of the Human Rights Law Centre; and Julie Buxton, a former human rights and youth justice adviser to Victoria’s commissioner for Aboriginal children and young people who also worked with the United Nations Serious Crimes Unit in Timor-Leste.

“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,” AFL general counsel Andrew 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.”

Dillon said the investigation would specifically look at the period covering 1 January 2008 to 31 December 2016 inclusive and would run independently of the AFL.

The final terms of reference are yet to be finalised.

Dillon said it was important that the terms confirmed that there was an opportunity for mediation and the projected end date of the investigation.

He said that while the AFL was open to a wider investigation encompassing all clubs the priority was to investigate the information passed on from Hawthorn.

“Beyond this immediate investigation, we are open to listening to all the ideas that are being suggested however importantly for the short term we need to run a proper independent process on these allegations, and we believe this investigation will help inform whatever we do next as an industry,” Dillon said.

The AFL said it had sent the proposed terms of reference and plan for the investigation to lawyers for the players, Hawthorn, Clarkson, Fagan, Burt and Binmada, the consultancy that completed the Hawthorn investigation, on 30 September.

The panel and senior lawyer Peter Gordon, who is representing the AFL, is now expected to work with the parties on the investigation, the AFL said.