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Hawks' denial of systemic Indigenous racism takes conciliation process back to the Human Rights Commission

Andrew Mathieson -

A stalemate in Hawthorn Football Club's racism saga involving Cyril Rioli, two of his once Hawks teammates, two of their wives and a former Indigenous club employee has forced the two parties to another round of conciliation talks.

From a list that was awkwardly disclosed from the offices of Arnold Bloch Leibler for the Australian Human Rights Commission, there are still 18 matters unresolved from the mediation more than a month ago in Melbourne.

Should the Indigenous group and the AFL club cannot find common ground, an impasse looms that will send both of the parties to a Federal court hearing over litigation against the Hawks.

Largely it would require former Hawks coach Alastair Clarkson, ex-football manager Chris Fagan and staffer Jason Burt to admit their guilt to the accusations – something they have always denied about the claims.

Reports suggest the issue is Hawthorn’s refusal to accept unwavering requests from the affected Indigenous families, including a personal apology and a public apology, acknowledgement of pain, stress and hurt they suffered during their time at the club, an explanation to the club’s actions and financial reparations.

It is believed legal representatives for Clarkson, Fagan and Jason Burt also had their own issue over agreeing to the wording in response to the firm claims of systemic racist behaviour that the men believe is holding the case back from moving forward.

The second hearing has come about after Rioli, Jermaine Miller-Lewis, Carl Peterson, wives Shannyn Ah Sam-Rioli and Montanah Miller-Lewis, and club Aboriginal liaison officer Leon Egan felt they “had lost control of their lives”.

“We were separated from our families,’’ they said in a statement to the hearing.

“We were told an unborn child would ruin our futures.

“We were treated as special projects and control of our lives was taken from us.’’

The claims are that a number of isolated, demeaning incidents were spread from the 2008 season right through until 2016, all the while during the Hawks winning the four premierships.

The pushback over the wording of apologies for the club could delve deep into the Hawks’ war chest, which is set around the $1.5 million mark that has been set aside.

Estimations have that the club could have to fork out more than $3 million should the action go to the Federal court. 

An agreement to all of the Indigenous group’s requests beforehand will reduce the final legal costs for the Hawks dramatically.

Club president Andrew Gowers has for all intents and purposes implied the club will be willing to pay some form of compensation regardless should the matter reach court.

“What that (compensation) looks like is tricky and it’s complex, but I’m confident that we will reach a resolution, and that is adequate and acceptable,” he said ahead of the conciliation talks at the Australian Human Rights Commission.

But the players and their families have no hesitation in heading to court should they not receive justice that they are satisfied with from the final outcome.

The Australian Human Rights Commission has insisted to instruct all participants that the process is confidential and the club also cannot comment about what is said in the conciliation while it is ongoing.

However, Clarkson did admit at a Kangaroos' football press conference straight after going through the process over two intense days that the conciliation was, “a really important step to take, and as I’ve said, we’re really grateful that the Human Rights Commission provided that platform for us".

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