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Hawthorn racism scandal: Hawks president Jeff Kennett clashes with Ally Langdon and deflects critics

Hawthorn president Jeff Kennett has bizarrely referenced a gas plant explosion 24 years ago in a bid to deflect criticism of the AFL club after horrific racism claims were made by former Indigenous players. 

The controversial outgoing club figure claimed at the club’s presentation night on the weekend that the scandal was just a ‘bump in the road’, and doubled down on those claims in an explosive interview on Channel 9 on Monday morning. 

The harrowing allegations include claims an Indigenous player was urged to tell his partner to abort their child and break up with her by senior coaching figures Alastair Clarkson and Chris Fagan. 

That allegation, one of just many disturbing claims, are some of the worst one could imagine levelling at a sporting club; and Today Show journalist Ally Langdon took exception to Kennett downplaying the scandal.  

‘It is far more than a bump in the road, isn’t it, these allegations are shocking?’ Langdon asked Kennett.

The pointed question elicited a bizarre response by the former Victorian premier and founder of mental health organisation, Beyond Blue. 

Hawthorn president Jeff Kennett has deflected criticism from the club after shocking claims of racism were levelled by former Indigenous players

‘These allegations took place six to 12 years ago and they are shocking, I accept that. We had a process in place to try and work out to what weight we should put to those allegations,’ Kennett said. 

‘But can I tell you, to me a crisis is something I experienced some years ago when (I was) premier, when I … was told that the Langford Gas Plant had an explosion, people had died, people were injured, and the gas supplies to Melbourne had been cut off. 

‘That to me is a crisis. These allegations are shocking, but they have to be managed and dealt with,’ said Kennett.

The incident Kennett bizarrely referred to was a 1998 industrial accident at the Esso natural gas plant in Victoria’s south-east that killed two workers and injured eight. 

Journalist Ally Langdon asked some pointed questions of Kennett during an explosive interview on Channel 9 on Monday morning

Journalist Ally Langdon asked some pointed questions of Kennett during an explosive interview on Channel 9 on Monday morning

It led an incredulous Langdon to ask whether the club’s racism scandal: ‘isn’t a crisis because no one has died?’, as the interview began to get a little heated. 

‘No, no, I’m saying this is how you go about managing a situation …  the only way we are going to get to a conclusion is if we manage it calmly and we allow all parties now to have their say. That is what we are trying to do,’ Kennett replied, as he started to become more flustered.

At Hawthorn’s presentation evening, Kennett attacked the Indigenous players and their families making allegations towards the club for going to the media, leaving Fagan and Clarkson to face the heat, primarily.

Hawks president Jeff Kennett spoke at the club's presentation meeting on the weekend, and said he was 'somewhat flabbergasted' at the racism allegations

Hawks president Jeff Kennett spoke at the club’s presentation meeting on the weekend, and said he was ‘somewhat flabbergasted’ at the racism allegations

‘Sadly, they made a decision to talk to the press … they named people with whom they had very real issues. That was unfair to those (people), so therefore we need to have this resolved,’ he said at the presentation.

Langdon questioned the Hawks president on why he believed the players talking to a respected human rights journalist ‘wasn’t fair’, saying she was of the opinion they were following due process, and Kennett’s attack was unnecessary. 

‘I think when you call it a bump in the road it quite offensive to those players,’ Langdon said.

Journalist Ally Langdon also questioned Kennett and why he believes that it wasn't fair the Indigenous players went to the media

Journalist Ally Langdon also questioned Kennett and why he believes that it wasn’t fair the Indigenous players went to the media

It led a steaming Kennett to attack her, the Indigenous players and their families and go into bat for the club and their ‘processes.’

‘I haven’t attacked the players and it is your sort of comments that make the situation more difficult .. it is also offensive so those (Fagan, Clarkson) they have accused,’ he replied. 

‘This is why I don’t come on your show very regularly, if you continue to interrupt, you won’t get the answers you seek. I don’t know why they went public. 

‘But when you (participate in) a confidential process, and you ask for confidentiality yourself, but you don’t give it to those that you are accusing of making these terrible allegations, then that is unfair. It is not natural justice,’ said Kennett.

Jeff Kennett has been the president of Hawthorn for more than 11 years across two stints

Jeff Kennett has been the president of Hawthorn for more than 11 years across two stints

Kennett had already said he was ‘somewhat flabbergasted’ by the claims that had come out of the club’s racism report; but believes ‘something good will come of this.’

He then confirmed he has ‘tried to communicate’ with some of the Indigenous players who are making the allegations; but said they appeared to be no longer communicating through the club.

Unsurprisingly, the families have said they are reticent to speak to the independent AFL inquiry, given they have already outlined the alleged trauma in graphic detail to both the Hawthorn investigation and ABC human rights journalist, Russell Jackson. 

Ex-Hawthorn coaches Alastair Clarkson (left) and Chris Fagan (right) have temporarily stood down from their posts as they wait the outcome of an independent AFL investigation

Ex-Hawthorn coaches Alastair Clarkson (left) and Chris Fagan (right) have temporarily stood down from their posts as they wait the outcome of an independent AFL investigation

Fagan and Clarkson have both released scathing statements slamming Hawthorn’s racism report for not including them in interviews – and with many calling for the inquiry to be finished by Christmas, the AFL faces a highly delicate situation to appease both parties.

Hawthorn commissioned their racism report earlier this year after claims of poor treatment on the part of Jeff Kennett towards premiership hero Cyril Rioli, amongst others. 

So serious were the allegations, the AFL will now take over with an independent investigation of their own. 

Hawthorn commissioned their own confidential racism report after claims raised by ex-players, and the AFL will now investigate the allegations

Hawthorn commissioned their own confidential racism report after claims raised by ex-players, and the AFL will now investigate the allegations

The AFL’s panel is set to comprise four as yet unknown members, and WorkSafe Victoria have also confirmed they will be investigating whether there are any health and safety concerns at the club.

Clarkson, who recently joined the Kangaroos, and Fagan, who coaches at Brisbane, have both stood down from their roles as they wait the outcome of the independent investigation. 

‘To be clear, even though you have these players not talking to anyone now, clearly upset, (a) WorkSafe probe and (an) AFL investigation, is it not a crisis?’ Langdon questioned Kennett to end the interview.

‘It is certainly not. It is something that has to be managed,’ the defiant Hawthorn president replied.

Jeff Kennett speaks at Hawthorn's presentation night on Saturday

Jeff Kennett speaks at Hawthorn’s presentation night on Saturday

And how is the current mood at the Hawthorn? One would imagine there would be a sombre atmosphere given the seriousness of the allegations.

‘Fine. Absolutely. These alleged incidents – and I am not trying to downplay them, but until the other side, those who have been mentioned can put their case, we’ve got to refer them as alleged – took place between 6-12 years ago,’ Kennett said later in the morning on radio station KIIS 101.1.

‘We had our best and fairest on Saturday night. It was a wonderful occasion.’

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