Indigenous Australians Minister Linda Burney tells AFL to take Hawthorn club allegations seriously

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Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney is backing further investigation into historical allegations against coaching staff at Hawthorn Football Club. 

Warning – this story contains details of self-harm, pregnancy loss, and intergenerational trauma for Indigenous people.

It comes after an external review commissioned by the Hawthorn Football Club uncovered allegations that key figures at the club demanded the separation of young First Nations players from their partners and pressured one couple to terminate a pregnancy for the sake of the player’s career. 

The review covered the time when Alastair Clarkson was the head coach at the club.

“It is inconceivable in this day and age … the allegations that have been made by the players involved, the families involved, the communities involved with the Hawthorn Football Club,” she said.

Hawthorn racism review to allege former coaches demanded pregnancy termination

Clarkson and Chris Fagan are named in a Hawthorn review into how First Nations players were treated during Clarkson’s time at the helm of the Hawks.

Ms Burney has spoken with AFL boss Gillon McLachlan and social policy and inclusion lead Tanya Hosch regarding the subsequent investigation the AFL ordered into the club. 

“The discussions were around what the AFL was going to immediately do and that is, of course, the investigation that Gill McLachlan announced today,” she said. 

“He also made a commitment to keep me abreast of those investigations, which I welcome. This has to be taken seriously.” 

Ms Burney says the allegations should have all sporting clubs examining their relationships and treatment of First Nations players, especially considering the contribution First Nations players make to the game. 

“AFL and NRL hold a very important place in the Aboriginal community,” she said. 

“Every single sporting club in every code should look carefully at the way in which they’re dealing with First Nations players to make sure that their workplace is a safe one and a culturally appropriate one. 

“That is what is needed.”

Ms Burney said she did not think the allegations would deter Aboriginal people from pursuing careers in the AFL, but that the community would be watching the investigation “very carefully”.

“The Aboriginal community, when it comes to AFL in Victoria, in South Australia and the Northern Territory and Western Australia absolutely adore it, it’s almost part of contemporary culture,” she said.

“Young men and women will be taking [the investigation] very seriously but I don’t believe it’ll stop them having the desire to participate.”

Other government ministers, including Defence Minister Richard Marles and Finance Minister Katy Gallagher, have both voiced support for the AFL to ensure workplaces are safe for Indigenous people.

Alastair Clarkson, who recently signed a lucrative contract to coach North Melbourne, will not start his new job so he can participate in the investigation.

He has refuted “any allegation of wrongdoing or misconduct” regarding the claims and that he was “shocked by the extremely serious allegations”.

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