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FOR – Motions — Australian Football League

Andrew Wilkie

I seek leave to move the following motion:

That the House:

(1) notes that:

(a) last night the Member for Clark revealed deeply disturbing allegations of egregious misconduct within the AFL provided by former Melbourne Football Club President, Glen Bartlett, former Melbourne team doctor, Zeeshan Arain, and Shaun Smith, father of Melbourne player and now alleged drug trafficker Joel Smith, including:

(i) the prevalence of drug abuse and other prohibited behaviour across the AFL;

(ii) in particular the "off the books" drug testing of players at Dorevitch Pathology in Heidelberg, facilitated by the former Chief Medical Officer of the AFL, Peter Harcourt;

(iii) the resting of players testing positive in these secret tests, ostensibly on account of injury;

(iv) wilful inaction by AFL executives; and

(v) the removal of Mr Bartlett as President of MFC after he suggested to current AFL Chairman Mr Richard Goyder and then AFL Chief Executive Mr Gillon McLachlan that AFL officials be regularly drug tested;

(b) this subverts the official drug testing conducted by Sports Integrity Australia on behalf of the World Anti-Doping Authority; and

(c) the Member for Clark was denied leave from the Government when seeking to table documents containing evidence relating to these allegations; and

(2) therefore allows the Member for Clark to table the documents referred to in his speech.

Leave not granted.

I move:

That so much of the standing and sessional orders be suspended as would prevent the Member for Clark from moving the following motion:

That the House:

(1) notes that:

(a) last night the Member for Clark revealed deeply disturbing allegations of egregious misconduct within the AFL provided by former Melbourne Football Club President, Glen Bartlett, former Melbourne team doctor, Zeeshan Arain, and Shaun Smith, father of Melbourne player and now alleged drug trafficker Joel Smith, including:

(i) the prevalence of drug abuse and other prohibited behaviour across the AFL;

(ii) in particular the "off the books" drug testing of players at Dorevitch Pathology in Heidelberg, facilitated by the former Chief Medical Officer of the AFL, Peter Harcourt;

(iii) the resting of players testing positive in these secret tests, ostensibly on account of injury;

(iv) wilful inaction by AFL executives; and

(v) the removal of Mr Bartlett as President of MFC after he suggested to current AFL Chairman Mr Richard Goyder and then AFL Chief Executive Mr Gillon McLachlan that AFL officials be regularly drug tested;

(b) this subverts the official drug testing conducted by Sports Integrity Australia on behalf of the World Anti-Doping Authority; and

(c) the Member for Clark was denied leave from the Government when seeking to table documents containing evidence relating to these allegations; and

(2) therefore allows the Member for Clark to table the documents referred to in his speech.

There is an urgent need to suspend standing orders and deal with this motion, because we now know that there's a secret game happening behind AFL games, and the government needs to act urgently to stop it. In the Federation Chamber last night, I ventilated deeply troubling allegations of misconduct in the AFL, in particular concerning the systemic failure of the AFL to effectively test for and prevent the use of prohibited drugs or to sanction players and officials found to have used prohibited drugs. I noted:

… the term 'white line fever' has taken on a different and sinister meaning at the AFL.

And I made it perfectly clear that the allegations are detailed in signed statements which I tried to enter into the parliamentary record but was stopped from doing so by the government in what I assume was a massive misstep or a cover-up.

Since then, the whistleblowers who provided the material have implored me to do everything I can to ensure that these documents are tabled and read by the Prime Minister, because they're tired of cover ups. We all are. Incredibly, the AFL have this morning chosen not to deny the allegations. The Swans CEO is even being reported as having spoken to the AFL, who have admitted that the off-the-books drug testing regime does in fact exist.

The whistleblowers are so concerned, and I am pushing so hard on this, because such appalling behaviour endangers the lives, safety and future of players and officials; subverts the official drug testing conducted by Sports Integrity Australia on behalf of the World Anti-Doping Agency; and is a fraud on the governments and taxpayers that provide millions of dollars in support to the AFL directly and indirectly, through tax breaks, grants and beneficial capital works, conditional on the AFL being a signatory to and complying with the World Anti-Doping Code. This evidence shows that they are wilfully breaking this requirement.

In essence, the scheme facilitated by former AFL chief medical officer Peter Harcourt would give players access to off-the-books drug tests, before games, at Dorevitch Pathology in Heidelberg in Victoria. If no drugs were detected in the players' systems, they would play. If drugs were detected, the player would be advised to fake an injury. This allowed players to circumvent the match day drug testing by Sports Integrity Australia, as required under the World Anti-Doping Code.

Substantiating this claim is a signed statement from former Melbourne Football Club doctor Dr Zeeshan Arain in which Dr Arain explains how the scheme allows players to use illegal drugs and continue to play through the season. But, as Dr Arain explains, this isn't just a Melbourne problem; it's an AFL problem, with multiple players coming to Melbourne from other teams with pre-existing cocaine dependencies, more than suggesting that drug-testing workarounds are, in fact, commonplace elsewhere in the AFL.

Moreover, I've obtained documents indicating a shocking unwillingness by senior AFL executives to address drug abuse and, in particular, cocaine use—like the very detailed notes of a meeting between former AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan, AFL Commission chairman Richard Goyder and former Melbourne president Glen Bartlett. Two things jump out at you from that record. One, echoed by Mr Barlett in his signed statement, is that the AFL hid concerns about alleged cocaine use by Melbourne coach Simon Goodwin from Mr Bartlett for up to 18 months. The second is that in that meeting Mr Bartlett, who is a lawyer, said he planned to introduce drug testing of players and officials, arguing that sports administrators also should be drug free. Here's the rub: within eight weeks of that meeting, Mr Bartlett had been unexpectedly pushed out of the AFL, despite having just recently been asked to serve as president for three more years. Best I say that again: Glen Bartlett was dumped by the AFL just eight weeks after the meeting with Gillon McLachlan and Richard Goyder where he suggested mandatory drug testing for AFL executives.

There's also the signed statement from retired player Shaun Smith, the father of current player Joel Smith. Joel, of course, is under investigation for allegedly trafficking drugs to his teammates. In his statement, Shaun maintains that his son had not been a cocaine user prior to joining the AFL and attributes his son's situation to the AFL's aiding and abetting of drug use—and he's right, we now know.

To be clear: the AFL is not a private company, and these matters are no ordinary drug scandal. No, the AFL is an entity regulated by the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission and receives hundreds of millions of dollars in direct and indirect tax breaks, government grants and beneficial capital works. In reality, the AFL is just a big business, sustained, in part, by helping players secretly break the World Anti Doping Agency code. Moreover, it is not an exaggeration to say that the off-the-books testing scheme sees the AFL effectively involved in a multi-hundred million dollar fraud on the taxpayer.

Australian Rules football plays an incredibly important part in the lives of so many of us, including the kids at Auskick clinics. To be absolutely clear: I'm thrilled that Tasmania is set to finally have an AFL team, but it's exactly because of all that that we expect the AFL to act with integrity and for us not be left wondering just how many young lives have been ruined by illegal drug use known to but not acted on by the AFL.

This matter calls for intervention at the highest level, which is why I asked last night, and why I'm asking again right now, that the Prime Minister personally intervene in this matter, study the documents in my possession and do everything he can to restore and protect the reputation of our beloved game.

In light of all of this, I ask the House to suspend standing orders and to support this motion urgently, because the whistleblowers need the detail of their allegations to be known and the context in which they've spoken up to be understood.

Lisa Chesters

Is there a seconder for the motion?

Zoe Daniel

I rise to second the motion from the member for Clark. In support of the tabling of documents that go to the integrity of, arguably, our nation's favourite sport, these allegations are serious. They go to whistleblower protection, which is grossly inadequate in this country, and it's the reason we're forced to talk about this under privilege this morning. They go to the AFL's duty of care to its players.

In Melbourne and in my electorate, football is life. From Auskick to community club footy to the VFL and VFLW to the big games at the 'G, this is the beating heart of Melbourne. In many ways, as I've said before in this chamber, maybe we've lost sight of what football is about. It's about kids, families, health and fun, not big money and fame.

These allegations go to that loss of perspective. As many know, my father played in the VFL and I grew up at footy training, really. Both of my teenagers play AFL and dream of playing at the highest level. I note that Goldstein, in many ways, is Demons' heartland, and, as an Essendon supporter, I know what drug scandals can do to clubs.

There is zero benefit to me of speaking to this motion, but there is a cost of not fully examining these allegations and releasing these documents to the sport and to the players. These documents must be tabled. I don't stand here to make a judgement on recreational drug use. However, the point of this debate is about what drugs can do to clubs and players—create a culture of normalisation of cocaine use and, in some cases, addiction—and how to protect players, young men and now young women in the hothouse of professional sport, who are on unusually high incomes, often at an early age, and are therefore highly vulnerable.

The documents in question include sworn statements from whistleblowers, which I've examined in granular detail and which the member for Clark has outlined extensively, and this is what we seek to table today.

As well as the concerns about whistleblowers and the way they're treated and role modelling, the thing that jumps out at me most is the allegations from the former Melbourne Football Club doctor. In his statement, Dr Zeeshan Arain says:

At the end of the day it's a business and the players are treated as a commodity. There is no desire to address this issue because it's a fickle world particularly for people in power and people making money.

He says:

Ultimately this is a management issue. The culture comes from management. The players are there to play football. The players don't define culture.'

I note that the AFL uses an opaque three-strike medical model as a way of protecting players from lengthy bans for non-performance-enhancing recreational drug use. My question, then, is: is this other off-the-books testing that's alleged the same thing, and do the sports integrity agencies, WADA and ASADA, endorse it, as it appears directly designed to subvert their systems, with faked injuries thrown in? The exact AFL policy needs to be clearly explained and justified, particularly given the implied concern in these statements about the take-up of recreational cocaine use after players join the AFL and whether such a subversion approach not only facilitates that but covers it up and is in turn innately dishonest. This is a matter of trust, and it's a matter of player welfare.

If one thing convinced me to make this speech, it was this line in the doctor's sworn statement:

Right now, I would not let my children play AFL …

For me, not only as an MP but as a parent and a self-described football tragic, this goes to the future of our children and the very future of the sport. I therefore call on the government to allow these documents to be tabled to open this up to proper scrutiny.

Long debate text truncated.

Summary

Date and time: 12:50 PM on 2024-03-27
Allegra Spender's vote: Aye
Total number of "aye" votes: 15
Total number of "no" votes: 51
Total number of abstentions: 84

Adapted from information made available by theyvoteforyou.org.au

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