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Human Rights Commission rejects attempt to have Hawthorn racism claims dismissed

Andrew Mathieson -

Three disgruntled ex-Hawthorn players and their past Indigenous club liaison officer have won their first legal battle over blocking attempts to dismiss the involvement of the football club in the prolonged racism scandal.

Lawyers representing the Hawthorn Football Club, four-time AFL premiership coach Alastair Clarkson and ex-senior staffer Jason Burt failed to have their petition against the discriminatory claims of poor treatment from Cyril Rioli, Carl Peterson, Jermaine Miller-Lewis and also Leon Egan thrown out.

The decision by the Australian Human Rights Commission was also based on accusations coming from partners Shannyn Ah Sam-Rioli and Montanah Miller-Lewis from 2008 to 2016.

Former football manager Chris Fagan was not a part of the petition after the Brisbane Lions coach was also named in the damming Binmada Report, along with Clarkson and Burt, in which the claims were first instigated from.

The First Nations men and their families sought legal advice after an investigation by former AFL player Phil Egan, the author of the report, and were later advised to take their claims to the Human Rights Commission.

The final verdict from the Human Rights Commission on Thursday is set to open up a world's first hearing in professional sports of its kind where team officials could be liable for prosecution over shocking claims of systemic racism.

The allegations included that players were reportedly isolated from family and told to leave their partners for good that even included one unnamed player of the three men that alleges he was urged to terminate the pregnancy of his partner.

Clarkson, Fagan, and Burt have always strongly denied the claims.

All witnesses at the proposed hearing will be required to have sworn testimony and be subjected to cross examination during the process.

The outcome has arrived after the Human Rights Commission is not to be governed by a statute of limitations, instead having a broader discretion to accept the claims unless otherwise proven.

The commission's protocols also offered the players and partners protection to speak with absolute freedom about the events they claim happened during their respective stints at the club without further legal ramifications.

The two parties are now set to head to the conciliation process to come to an agreement.

But should Rioli, Peterson, Miller-Lewis and Egan with their families fail to accept a final resolution, their next step is to head into a Federal Court hearing.

Previous attempts at mediation under an AFL-appointed head of an inquiry, following the completion of the Binmada Report, has already failed.

An independent investigation into the allegations at the AFL club also ended with a result of "no adverse findings" made against any individual.

The club, who should be focusing on the AFL season beginning next month, is waiting for the final outcome before the Hawks intends to offer some form of financial compensation to the four Aboriginal men.

They have said to believe the final bill will cost Hawthorn up to $3 million.

"We want to see this matter resolved fairly for everyone involved," Hawks president Andy Gowers said after the Human Rights Commission.

"This has been our focus from the outset.

"We are continuing to work through the process in good faith.

"The commission has instructed all participants that the process is confidential and the club cannot comment publicly while it is ongoing."


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