Senate debates

Wednesday, 28 September 2022


Sport: Australian Football League

7:53 pm

Photo of Andrew McLachlanAndrew McLachlan (SA, Deputy-President) Share this | Hansard source

From the perspective of an individual seeking redemption, it is by its very nature a deep longing for one's life to be made good through being engaged in a pursuit that is greater than oneself. In essence, it is seeking to renew oneself by a noble action in order to seek forgiveness from those you have wronged.

I have followed with interest the public commentary regarding James Hird's journey seeking redemption by putting himself forward to be the coach of the Essendon Football Club. I wish him well on this journey. He is very qualified for the role. Under his leadership, though not under his specific direction, 34 young men were administered with an experimental drug that had not been approved for human use anywhere in the world.

It now appears that the club is willing to consider his return to a leadership role, and the AFL has not thought to intervene. Presumably, the argument underpinning the view that he can return to coaching is that he has served out the penalty that was imposed upon him. I accept that this argument has some currency. What has been less discussed, from a current and past players' perspective, is whether he should be chosen to be the coach. I believe their voices must be heard.

Further, the community's perspective on whether he should be appointed must also be taken into account. Sporting clubs operate in modern Australia only with the benefit of social licence. The AFL is assisted by federal government monies, so I feel that, even from my eyrie in the Senate chamber, I can enter this debate. For an entity to retain its social licence, it must operate with legitimacy, credibility and trust. I note that, if Hird had demonstrated such leadership failings as a member of the ADF, he would've been discharged with no right of return. Such are the standards of behaviour our community expects from military leaders.

Forgiveness is achieved when an individual assumes responsibility for their wrongdoing. In other words, it occurs when it is acknowledged that a wrong was committed and that it caused harm, with the wrongdoer admitting that they were culpable. If Hird is to be seriously considered for a coaching role, he must make it very clear that he seeks forgiveness for a very great wrong. His public comments as reported to date do not make this clear. I hope that this is because of poor reporting of his position.

Further, Hird must commit himself to leading the club in a completely different manner to that of the past. The club must make it clear that, if it has not done so already, it will put in place mechanisms that will ensure that its players are properly protected. More importantly, it must make it clear to all that Essendon's past and present players have forgiven Hird. Importantly, current players must be able to leave the club without penalty should they not wish to serve under his leadership. To hold players to their contracts will, in my opinion, be oppressive and capricious.

Only then can Hird's appointment be entertained while allowing the AFL and the Essendon Football Club to retain their social licence to operate. To take any other course would be to devalue and degrade the players, as well as undermine Hird's ability to succeed in the role. I wish James Hird well on his journey and every success.

Senate adjourned at 19:57


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