Australian News

Chief medical officer Paul Kelly responds to AstraZeneca vaccine concerns

Australia’s chief medical officer Paul Kelly has defended the decision to roll out the AstraZeneca vaccine in the wake of concerns about its effectiveness.

Infectious diseases experts have joined medics in calling for authorities to halt the rollout in favour of coronavirus vaccines with higher efficacy rates to ensure herd immunity.

This follows results from several trials that showed that the Oxford University-AstraZeneca jab had an efficacy rate of between 62-90 per cent depending on the doses.

Professor Kelly said AstraZeneca vaccine was well above the World Health Organisation’s 50 per cent efficacy threshold.

“All of the three vaccines that have so far published their data in peer-viewed journals – AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Moderna – show a very significant effect against severe illness,” he said on Wednesday.

“They’re all good at protecting against severe illness and death. That’s why I say that lives will be saved by the AstraZeneca vaccine, I have no doubt about it.”

RELATED Virus plea: ‘Listen to the experts’

He conceded he was troubled by what he called “selective” reporting over AstraZeneca’s efficacy, warning it could undermine confidence in the jab.

“Confidence is absolutely the most important thing, and that’s what worries me about the coverage we had today in relation to the AstraZeneca vaccine,” he said.

“People will be nervous, of course. We need to give more information and we’re doing that. So I am worried about the selective use of the data that we have.”

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) is expected to approve the Pfizer vaccine by the end of January, with a rollout pencilled for mid to late February for five million Australians in priority groups.

The AstraZeneca vaccine is expected to have completed the approval process in February.

Professor Kelly said the jab would prevent death and severe illness 100 per cent of the time, like the Pfizer vaccine.

He said both vaccines would only be rolled out if they had the full tick for safety, efficacy and production quality.

“The EU has also pre-purchased 400 million doses of AstraZeneca, the US has pre-purchased 300 million doses of AstraZeneca, and the UK 100 million doses of AstraZeneca. So we‘re not an outlier there,” he said.

The UK has already begun immunising people with the jab under emergency approvals.

Most Australians are expected to get the AstraZeneca vaccine because it can be made in Melbourne, unlike the Pfizer vaccine that has to be imported from overseas due to its mRNA technology.

Infectious diseases physician Professor Peter Collignon told Sunrise that the AstraZeneca vaccine might not be as good as the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.

But he said those would be in short supply because they were not readily available and had to be stored in minus temperatures.

“I would be all for rolling out this (AstraZeneca) vaccine because it is much better than anything that is going to be available for quite a while,” Professor Collignon said.

Health Minister Greg Hunt on Tuesday refuted claims the government was conceding its vaccine strategy would not provide herd immunity.

“This is what the medical expert panel of Australia, the one that has helped keep us safe, has recommended,” Mr Hunt said.

In the wake of efficacy concerns, Labor leader Anthony Albanese told 2GB that the government should have invested in six vaccine candidates instead of three.

The opposition has long called for the rollout of the vaccine to be brought forward following the approval process.

But Mr Albanese said the party had never argued that authorities should circumvent the TGA process.

“We need to listen to the experts,” he said.

“Once it (the TGA) approves it, the vaccine should be rolled out.”

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Australian News

AFLNT postpones match on Tiwi Islands following land council’s coronavirus concerns

The chairman of the Tiwi Land Council wants his community to consider stronger coronavirus restrictions on visitors to protect vulnerable Indigenous communities.

Gibson Farmer Illortaminni’s calls follow a hotel quarantine worker in Brisbane testing positive for the more contagious UK variant of the coronavirus, and new clusters regularly emerging interstate.

“It’s been all over the world, like America, UK, Indonesia and right down to Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane,” Mr Farmer Illortaminni said.

“Our people are a bit worried, especially the elderly.”

The NT Government yesterday declared Greater Brisbane a coronavirus hotspot, meaning anyone from the area arriving in the Territory must undergo mandatory quarantine.

People who arrived before Friday morning do not have to quarantine, but many have been told to get COVID-19 tests and are in self-isolation until those results are returned.

The NT Government is also asking anyone who has come from Brisbane since January 2 to self-isolate and get tested, but this is not compulsory.

Gibson Farmer smiles at the camera from close range wearing a blue polo shirt.
Mr Farmer Illortaminni says extra precautions should be introduced to protect communities on the Tiwi Islands.(ABC News: Jane Bardon)

Mr Farmer Illortaminni said he would like to see tourists and essential workers return negative COVID-19 tests before entering the remote Tiwi Islands, north of Darwin.

“All the essential workers, they can come over, but we have got to take precautionary measures,” he said.

“We do not want people wandering around the Tiwi Islands that might have something.

“We need to check out everyone that goes on the [Tiwi] Islands — tourists and even essential service workers, they need to all get checked out.”

It follows the postponement of a Northern Territory Football League match on the Tiwi Islands after the Tiwi Land Council expressed concerns regarding two players had recently returned to the NT from Brisbane.

The match was scheduled to take place at the Tiwi community of Wurrumiyanga north of Darwin at 1:30pm today.

“Waratah self-reported they had two players that returned from Brisbane in that time frame and attended training on Thursday night, and one of those woke up yesterday morning with flu-like symptoms,” AFLNT community football manager Leigh Elder said.

“Thankfully the two players were tested and received negative results but obviously that didn’t arrive on our desk until after 8:00pm last night.”

Three Tiwi Bombers players leap for the ball
Saturday’s scheduled match between the Tiwi Bombers and Waratah will not go ahead due to coronavirus precautions.(Supplied: Tiwi Bombers)

The AFLNT said health officials had cleared the game to go ahead, but the organisation wanted to respect the caution of the Tiwi Land Council.

“Immediately we started working with the Health Department … after communicating with all the clubs and dealing with the Tiwi council, they just raised their concerns for the health and wellbeing of their community,” Mr Elder said.

“At the end of the day, I don’t mind people being cautious with this scenario.

“I think we were all hoping 2021 would be a whole new world but the reality is this problem is here for quite a while.”

Mr Elder said the AFLNT would discuss further options for the match early next week.

In March last year spectators and tourists from Darwin were prevented from travelling to the Tiwi Islands football grand final — a major event on the local cultural calendar.

The event, which coincides with one of the country’s largest Indigenous art fairs, usually draws thousands of visitors from across the country.

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Australian News

Coronavirus concerns push Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix to late 2021, says Aston Martin owner Lawrence Stroll

The Australian Grand Prix will be postponed to the back end of the Formula 1 season with Bahrain replacing it as the opening race in March, according to Aston Martin team owner Lawrence Stroll.

The move, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and quarantine restrictions, has been widely flagged in the media but is yet to be confirmed by Formula 1 or local organisers.

“Melbourne has been — it’s not officially announced but it will be — not cancelled but postponed,” the Canadian billionaire told Reuters.

“We will go there sometime in the fall [northern autumn] and the first race will be [in] Bahrain.”

Formula 1 has been promoting on social media the existing 2021 schedule, which has the season starting with the Melbourne race on March 21.

However, there has been speculation that current restrictions requiring international arrivals in Australia to undergo a two-week hotel quarantine period would make it logistically difficult to get F1 teams and support staff in place in time to allow the race to proceed.

Earlier this week, the Australian Grand Prix Corporation said it was working closely with the Victorian Government and Formula 1 on “conditions and arrangements relating to the staging of the Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne in 2021”.


Last year’s race was cancelled just hours before the first Friday practice session was due to begin, due to coronavirus concerns.

Stroll was speaking ahead of the announcement of a new team title sponsorship with IT company Cognizant.

People queuing up for entry into the early sessions of the Melbourne F1 grand prix.
Crowds had to be turned away from Albert Park because of the last-minute cancellation of the 2020 Australian Grand Prix.(ABC News: Patrick Rocca)

Formula 1 teams agreed to the change in a virtual meeting with Formula 1’s new chief executive Stefano Domenicali on Monday.

Sources said the same meeting also agreed for pre-season testing to move from Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya to Bahrain, without setting a date.

Last season’s race calendar had to be re-written due to the global pandemic, with an eventual 17 rounds in Europe and the Middle East and some circuits including Bahrain hosting two Grands Prix.


Stroll, also executive chairman of sportscar maker Aston Martin — which is returning to F1 as a constructor for the first time in 60 years in a rebranding of the Racing Point team — said he expected lingering difficulties.

“I do believe we’re in for a difficult two or three months,” said Stroll.

“There is a light at the end of the tunnel with the vaccine. I think the first few races will be slightly challenging.

“But Formula 1 management and the FIA, I really take my hat off to them to deliver 17 races as we did last year in 23 weeks, without really any major hiccups, in a very impressive manner.

“I think the worst is behind us and we’ve learnt through last year how to proceed with this year.”

Stroll and his son Lance, who drives for Aston Martin, both tested positive for the virus last year.


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Local News - Victoria

‘What if my friend didn’t contact me?’: Concerns over contact delays

Meanwhile, some managers of venues listed as exposure sites and their patrons say they haven’t been contacted by the Department of Health and Human Services, hearing the news first from friends or in the media.

Victoria’s COVID-19 response commander, Jeroen Weimar, revealed on Tuesday that information about some of the exposure sites had been changed “six times over” as more information had come to light since the Black Rock cluster was first identified last Wednesday.

Mr Weimar said he expected “everyday Victorians” to be checking the DHHS website “at least once or twice a day”.

He said all primary close contacts of positives cases were being contacted within 24 hours, though sometimes the news spread ahead of contact tracers – a trend he wanted to encourage.

“The bush telegraph has worked very effectively. People are already getting the news out,” he said.

Following public feedback, Mr Weimar also said a box had been created at the top of the exposure site page to better flag recent changes.


Mr Zafiris, a logistics worker in Melbourne’s northern suburbs, said the first time he was aware he may have come into contact with someone with coronavirus was on Sunday, when a friend noticed the brewery had become an exposure site during the time they visited, requiring 14 days’ isolation.

Later, he said the advice was changed to say that they didn’t need to isolate if they got a negative coronavirus test, before being changed again on Monday.

Mr Zafiris said he gave his contact details via a QR-code system when he visited the brewery with about 10 friends and their children on December 28, but as of Tuesday afternoon none of them had been contacted by the DHHS.

He said he was concerned elderly people or migrants might miss notifications and changes to the government website.

“They have your contact details, they have your phone number, so that’s why I was a bit frustrated,” he said.

The Black Rock cluster has been centred on a spreading event at the Smile Buffalo Thai restaurant on the night of December 21, which has so far accounted for 12 of the 27 cases. There are yet to be any other cases linked to other public exposure sites, with people instead catching the virus from close contacts in private homes, and one via a work connection.

But La Trobe University epidemiologist Associate Professor Hassan Vally said the danger of communication failures was that people with coronavirus would be missed and be moving around the community without knowing they were infected.


“As I heard another epidemiologist say, no one every gets to the end of a pandemic and says that we communicated too much,” he said.

“You’ve got to take on feedback and keep on adjusting your strategy.”

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Australian News

Luxury hotel quarantine contract for Australian Open cancelled after resident concerns

Plans to quarantine international tennis players and support staff in a luxury hotel in Melbourne during the Australian Open have been abandoned after residents threatened legal action against the Government.

The Westin Melbourne, located in the city’s CBD, was one of several hotels Tennis Australia and the Victorian Government had secured to house players and their entourages for 14 days of quarantine, prior to the grand slam starting on February 8.

But owners of the penthouse apartments inside the Westin said they were not consulted about the plan and some elderly residents were worried about health risks.

Police Minister Lisa Neville said the Government has found another hotel.

“We became aware on Sunday that there were some concerns that had been expressed by the residents in the apartments,” Ms Neville said.

“We were also concerned this may delay the standing up of the Australian Open so we’ve gone through a process of securing a new site.”

The sign at the front of the Westin Hotel in Melbourne's CBD.
Older residents at the Westin Melbourne said they were concerned for their health.(ABC News: Dylan Anderson)

One of the owners, businessman Tony Schiavello, said they had never been consulted about the arrangements.

Players would be driven to a separate facility to practice for up to five hours each day during the mandatory quarantine period, under strict bubble arrangements revealed by Tennis Australia last month.

Ms Neville said the cancellation of the contract with the Westin had been “mutually agreed” and that no compensation was being sought from residents.

Despite the decision, she said the Government was absolutely confident in the infection prevention and control system that had been put in place.

“The residents are completely separate,” she said.

Resident David Marriner said the change of plan was a relief.

“The concerns were that we would’ve found it difficult to get separation, but in saying that, we weren’t provided the information that perhaps would’ve satisfied us in that request,” Mr Marriner said.

The Government will publicly announce a full list of the contracted hotels to be used by players for quarantine next week.

Tennis Australia said it is working closely with Quarantine Victoria on suitable hotel options.

“Several hotels in Melbourne have already been secured, including a replacement for the Westin, to safely accommodate the international playing group and their team members as well as allow for them to properly prepare for the first Grand Slam of the year,” a statement from Tennis Australia read.

“The health and safety of everyone is our top priority.”

Australian Grand Prix facing delay

Meanwhile, the state government is still negotiating with organisers of the Australian Formula One Grand Prix amid speculation it will be delayed due to ongoing travel restrictions.

The season-opening race is scheduled to be held in Melbourne on March 21 but the F1 season could instead open a week later at the Bahrain Grand Prix.

People queuing up for entry into the early sessions of the Melbourne F1 grand prix.
Fans were left stranded outside the park when the 2020 Grand Prix was cancelled.(ABC News: Patrick Rocca)

“The Australian Grand Prix Corporation continues to work closely with the Victorian Government and Formula 1 on conditions and arrangements relating to the staging of the Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne in 2021,” the corporation said in a statement.

“Further detail will be provided upon finalisation of arrangements with all parties in the coming weeks.”

Ms Neville said no decision has been made to cancel or delay the event.

“Those conversations are live and active, absolutely about the Grand Prix in 2021,” she said.

“Obviously, public health will be a key factor and how you quarantine, all of those issues.”

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Australian News

Scott Morrison weighs into SCG Test concerns, Australia v India

Scott Morrison has given his tick of approval to the controversial SCG Test between Australia and India.

Cricket Australia on Monday announced that crowd capacity at the third Test would be reduced to 25 per cent of the stadium’s capacity following new health advice.

Leading medical experts had previously warned that the Sydney match could become a “superspreader” event.

But the Prime Minister told 2GB that he was not concerned about having a large group of people attend the outdoor event, which has been capped at about 9500 people.

“They have made some sensible decisions based on the medical advice,” Mr Morrison said.

“I think it’s great that it’ll be played in front of people.

“It’s being done in a safe way and they’ve got a good plan to deal with that based on the medical advice.”

Mr Morrison, who is working out of Canberra due to coronavirus travel restrictions, said he planned to watch the game while pouring over paperwork.

Earlier on Tuesday, Mr Morrison was also asked about sporting events planned in Melbourne after speaking with Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews.

Mr Morrison told 3AW that it had been wise to delay the Australian Open event until February.

He also strongly agreed with the decision to postpone the Formula One event – which was cancelled on the day of the race last March – adding that it could have been “very risky for Australia”.

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Australian News

India reportedly raises concerns over restrictions for Gabba Test, Sydney ready to host back-to-back Tests

New South Wales Acting Premier John Barilaro says it is up to the Queensland Government whether the SCG will host back-to-back Test matches, with Indian officials reportedly expressing concerns about having to play under quarantine conditions in Brisbane.

The Australian and Indian teams are set to fly to Sydney on Monday to continue preparations for the third Test, before flying to Queensland for the fourth and final match.

However, a source in the Indian camp has reportedly expressed concern over the team being forced into a hard quarantine upon entry to Queensland, saying they would rather the final — and possibly deciding — Test be played elsewhere.

The speculation about a venue change comes as both Cricket Australia and the BCCI investigate whether five of India’s players broke biosecurity protocols in Melbourne on Friday.

A video on social media appeared to show Rohit Sharma, Rishabh Pant, Shubman Gill, Prithvi Shaw and Navdeep Saini eating inside a restaurant.

Four men sitting at a table in casual clothes.
A fan captured footage of what appeared to be India cricketers enjoying a meal in Melbourne on Friday.(Twitter: Navaldeep Singh)

Players and staff within team hubs must sit outside when dining away from their hotel, as part of the sport’s strict protocols that have allowed the summer to go ahead.

The quintet have been separated from the rest of India’s squad, however they will be able to continue training.

Mr Barilaro said it was up to the Queensland Government to decide whether that possible breach would impact the border security protocols.

“If we’re going to put on another Test [in Sydney] after [the upcoming third Test] because of what’s happened to the breaches, that’s up to the Queensland Government,” Mr Barilaro said.

India reportedly unhappy about ‘quarantine conditions’

A Test match at the Gabba grounds in Brisbane.
India has reportedly said it does not want to enter a hard quarantine, meaning the Gabba Test could be at risk.(ABC Rae Allen)

According to the report in Cricbuzz, India’s belief is that since they have served their 14 days’ hard quarantine after arriving in Australia, they should be treated like members of the public.

Under current restrictions, which were reintroduced in light of the growing cluster of cases in Sydney, visitors to Queensland from Greater Sydney must serve two weeks’ quarantine.

While harder restrictions will be in place in Sydney, Cricket Australia boss Nick Hockley last week said Brisbane’s Test would be played under “quarantine conditions”.

It means teams will predominantly only be able to leave their hotels to train and play, as part of an exemption for them to cross the closed border from greater Sydney into Queensland.

It is a situation an Indian official said they would not be happy with, leading to speculation the team would push to have both remaining Tests played in Sydney.

However, opener Matthew Wade said the Australian team expected to play the fourth Test in Brisbane.

“The schedule has been rolled out and we prefer to stick to that,” Wade said.

“I would expect to go to the Gabba regardless if that is a quarantine-based hotel, play, come home [plan], we fully expect to go to Brisbane.”

The two teams are currently locked at 1-1 after India’s shock turnaround victory in the Boxing Day Test at the MCG.

When India last toured Australia in the 2018-19 season, India did not play in Brisbane.

Australia has not lost a Test at the Gabba since 1988.

‘Some concerns’ still exist over SCG plan

Jasprit Bumrah smiles and looks at his teammate as a group of men crowd around him
India levelled the series at 1-1 after a surprise win at the MCG.(AP: Asanka Brendon Ratnayake)

Mr Barilaro said the main priority was to get everything ready to host the third Test in Sydney — which is set to start on Thursday, January 7.

The Acting Premier said there were “some concerns about the SCG” ahead of the Test taking place, including splitting the ground into zones and what to do if there was bad weather.

However, the principal issue is the growing Berala cluster, with people from that area set to be told they should not attend.

“Firstly, we’re putting on a Test and [NSW] Health is working with the SCG, Cricket Australia and organisers to make sure that when the next Test is played in Sydney it’s done in a safe way,” Mr Barilaro said.

“There are some concerns about the SCG and the upcoming Test that [NSW] Health is working with those organisations.

“The other thing we are concerned about is the Berala cluster.

“If you’re coming from that area, the broader Cumberland area, in real terms we encourage you to rethink about going to the Test and there may be more said by Health and the Government in the next day or so in relation to that.”


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Australian News

Australia, India to play third Test in Sydney despite safety concerns over coronavirus outbreak

The third Test in Australia’s Border-Gavaskar Trophy series against India will stay at the SCG, after officials were satisfied by the NSW Government’s COVID-19 measures.

Cricket Australia confirmed the decision to keep the New Year’s Test at its traditional venue after several days of meetings that considered the impacts of the recent COVID-19 outbreak in Sydney.

Cricket Australia’s Interim CEO Nick Hockley said health advice from the NSW Government had informed today’s decision.

“Despite the many challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, I am delighted to say Cricket Australia remains on track to deliver the men’s international series as scheduled,” Mr Hockley said.

“We have met regularly over the past week to assess the unfolding public health situation in Sydney and gauge its impact on border restrictions around the country.

Cricket Australia will put in place appropriate biosecurity measures to ensure the safety of the matches.

India batsman Cheteshwar Pujara walks across the SCG outfield with his bat raised after getting out in a Test against Australia.
Cheteshwar Pujara plundered 193 in the first innings at the SCG in 2019.(AP: Rick Rycroft)

“We especially thank the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) for their continued support of the original schedule, as our respective teams compete in the most enthralling series,” Mr Hockley also said.

“It must not be forgotten that NSW Government and Sydney Cricket Ground provided exceptional support to bring India’s squad safely into the country and stage the brilliant Dettol ODI and T20I Series to start the men’s international season.

“I would also like to thank the Victorian Government and Melbourne Cricket Club for hosting a wonderful Boxing Day Test, not to mention their support over recent days in providing a strong contingency plan for the third Test, whilst we completed our due diligence.

Mr Hockley said the SCG event had “a wonderful recent history of hosting the Pink Test and Jane McGrath Day on the third day of play”.

a wide angle view of the Melbourne Cricket Ground from ground level
The Melbourne Cricket Ground hosted the second Test.(AAP: Scott Barbour)

McGrath Foundation cofounder and president Glenn McGrath said he was “thrilled” the Test would still take place at the SCG.

“In the coming days, we will be announcing our new exciting digital initiative for this year’s Pink Test, which will mean people can get involved, no matter whether they are in the stadium or watching from home,” he said.

“The Vodafone Pink Test is one of our key fundraising events of the year, so we hope people across Australia will help keep the ‘pink’ in the Pink Test and show their support by visiting to find out how they can get involved.”

Venues NSW boss Kerrie Mather echoed the jubilant sentiment.

“The New Year’s Test is our most important event of the year and the one that is most looked forward to by our loyal fans and members. This is a just reward for their considerable sacrifices this year,” she said.

“The SCG will work closely with the NSW Government and Cricket Australia to maintain its impeccable record in protecting the safety of players, staff, fans and members.”

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Australian News

concerns over Christmas light crowd despite COVID restrictions

Video footage appears to show a large crowd at Hillsong Church’s Christmas light display in Sydney’s northwest.

The video, aired on Channel 7 on Boxing Day, shows people at the church’s Sydney Hills campus at Bellavista.

A witness filmed the throng of people at the Christmas Light display, concerned about the apparent lack of social distancing at the gathering.

The display is not a ticketed or scheduled event but rather was open throughout December for the public to visit at times of their own choosing.

The Hillsong website advertises the display as a “drive through” attraction.

“Our Sydney (Hills) and Brisbane (Central) campuses will be decked out in twinkling Christmas lights throughout the month of December,” it says.

“Take a drive with your family, friends and neighbours, and soak up some Christmas cheer!”

Sydney Christmas services were held online this year with celebrity pastor Brian Houston.

COVID restrictions in greater Sydney limit outdoor gatherings to 100 people.

Places of worship are allowed 300 people in a distinct area as long as there is only one person per four metres squared.

Hillsong was contacted for comment.

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Australian News

Former Hockeyroo Lily Brazel claims mental health concerns not taken seriously, will front Hockey Australia independent inquiry

The Hockeyroos are a team always under pressure, but seven months out from the Tokyo Olympic games they are facing a very different pressure — the type that breaks people.

Since winning back-to-back gold medals in Atlanta 1996 and at home in Sydney 2000, Australia’s women’s hockey team is expected to win gold every time they enter a tournament.

And Tokyo 2021 is no different.

But there is an internal crisis happening on the eve of what was meant to be the biggest moment of their lives.

Comparisons have been made to the Matildas, who were forced to confront their own crisis months out from the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Hockeyroos and Argentina hockey players scramble in front of goal.
A lot is expected of the Hockeyroos, so losing in the quarter-finals of Rio 2016 was a major disappointment.(AP Photo: Hussein Malla)

The timing for football then, as with hockey now, was devastating.

Stories have been circulating. Past senior players featured in a statement by the Australian Hockey Players’ Association (AHPA) pointing to a “toxic environment” involving cultural and leadership issues.

Governing body Hockey Australia responded by commissioning an independent review, but that was criticised by players for not being independent enough, nor coming soon enough.

There are selection appeals in the wings and legal action underway in Western Australia’s Equal Opportunity Commission.

Hockeyroos defender says mental health concerns brushed aside

Until recently, Lily Brazel was a Hockeyroos midfielder whose life for the past 18 years was dedicated to becoming an Olympian.

Rather than preparing for Tokyo, she’s preparing for a day in court.

Lily Brazel with the ball on her hockey stick for the Hockeyroos.
Brazel has 52 caps for the Hockeyroos since her 2017 debut.(Supplied: Lily Brazel)

Today, she will describe her experiences and grievances to the independent panel conducting the Hockey Australia inquiry, chaired by the Australian Institute of Sport’s manager of conduct and professionalism, Richard Redman.

She will tell the inquiry about her mental health struggles and her request for some time away — a request she claims was denied and her concerns never taken seriously.

“During August … I brought it to their attention how much I had been struggling over the course of the year, which I had mentioned and been sort of communicating to them since COVID,” she said.

“They had been quite aware of what was going on for me mentally and that I was seeing an external psychologist.”

Request for leave sparked contract ultimatum, Brazel claims

Brazel says she asked for six weeks off to reconnect with her club team in the hope she could rediscover her love of the game, which she said was missing for “well over a year, if not two years” in the national program.

“I was in a pretty dark space, I wasn’t able to get out of bed, I had anxiety going to training and most days when I came home I was feeling pretty empty and I expressed all that to them,” she said.

“I needed to step away to find this headspace that I could live in. I just couldn’t do that remaining in the program.”

Brazel claims that during meetings with Hockey Australia she was constantly made to feel like she didn’t have a real problem, that her issue wasn’t serious, and was told if she wanted to take leave she would lose her spot in the team.

Hockey Australia did not wish to comment on any aspect of Brazel’s allegations because they are a part of her legal claim for unfair dismissal.

Brazel said choosing her mental health over her commitment to remain in the Hockeyroos squad was the right choice at the time but an unfair one for her to have to make.

“I felt like I wasn’t quite being true to myself by being in there because it felt so wrong and I felt so unhappy and I was just trying so hard to hold on to this idea that I had created when I was seven, when I was 10, when I was 14, 16, 18, and just hang on to that with everything that I had,” she said.

A grainy old photo of Lily Brazel in the uniform of her junior hockey team.
Brazel wanted to be a Hockeyroo since she was a kid, and giving that up wasn’t easy.(Supplied: Lily Brazel)

“But at 25 my values had changed, my mental state had changed, and holding to that dream no longer felt true for me.”

Since leaving the team, the months that have passed and the conversations she has had have not been easy.

“I felt so lost and broken. I felt like I had walked away from that dream and was so uncertain what life looked like now, and who I was, and what I would do,” she said.

“It’s been, and it still is, really hard to not give up that dream but [it’s even harder] to see it disappear over an issue I think could have been handled so differently.”

Her case will be heard by the WA Equal Opportunity Commission, with a date to be set in the new year.

High-performance programs being questioned across sports

Meanwhile, the independent inquiry is expected to deliver its report to Hockey Australia in February.

The players association has actively pushed for the report to be made available to key stakeholders outside of the Hockey Australia board, including the AHPA.

Hockey Australia chief executive Matt Favier told The Ticket the allegations made were serious and warranted investigation.

“It’s fair to say 12 months ago when we were looking forward to what was the 2020 Olympic Games, we felt we were in a very good place,” he said.

“I think 12 months on, the level of complexity around many factors to our program have certainly been something that we didn’t anticipate — the extent of this particular set of challenges.”

COVID-19 and the delayed Tokyo Olympics may have added an extra layer of pressure to hockey’s high-performance unit, but the nature of these sorts of programs is being questioned more often.

Cricket Australia held a culture review, not long after the Australian Olympic Committee had its own.

There’s currently a review of Gymnastics Australia being done by the Human Rights Commission, which was also tasked with reviewing racial equality inside Basketball Australia.

The Collingwood Football Club is due to release its own culture review after allegations of racism.

Brazel said athletes expected pressure in any top-level sport, but there should be alternatives in the models used.

“There needs to be that pressure, I suppose, to have successful teams, but I think what Hockey Australia has got wrong, and many sports have, is this ‘disposable approach’ we have to our athletes that we’re just trying to get the best out of them instead of creating this environment where they can be their best selves and be the best player they can be,” she said.

“It’s just like constant seeking for better, and for improvement, that can really derail you if you’re not appreciated or valued for other things or just who you are as a person and the environment doesn’t notice you.

“I think that’s where Hockey Australia is really failing the women’s side of the program.”

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