By sports editor Russell Bennett
The AFL Gippsland commission’s May monthly meeting began at around 6pm at Morwell Bowls Club tonight (Tuesday). By 6:05pm, all of its six commissioners were asked to resign by AFL Victoria.
Those commissioners were acting chairman John Schelling, John White, Greg Maidment, John Brookes OAM, Cayte Hoppner and Paul Buckley – the latter of whom was not at the meeting.
The stunning development happened as part of agenda item 4 in the meeting – ‘AFL Victoria Update’.
White, from Pakenham, has had a long involvement with the Garfield Football Club; is a former chief executive of Super Rules, and coached high-level football in Queensland.
He spoke with the Gazette soon after the dramatic developments unfolded.
“I’m devastated,” he said.
“As a commissioner for two-and-a-half years, with a deep passion for community football, I feel this decision has long-term implications for the direction of football throughout the Gippsland region.
“In my view, it appears there’s some motive by AFL Victoria in regards to the future of football in our region.
“This evening we were aware that AFL Victoria was attending our regular monthly commission meeting.
“Our understanding was that the purpose of that meeting was to review the AFL Gippsland commission.
“There is no secret to the fact that the AFL Gippsland commission has struggled, like many other commissions, to make ends meet financially as they administer football across the region.
“AFL Gippsland found itself in the position of not having sufficient funds, and had sought to have the support of AFL Victoria to assist in rectifying a historical problem, which we believed was going to happen.
“To our surprise, the AFL advised at the start of the meeting that it was their view that the commission was trading insolvent and they requested that all commissioners resign.
“Their view was a form of protection for the volunteers who sat on the commission.
“During questioning at tonight’s meeting, it was established that – given our resignations as commissioners – additional directors were appointed immediately, all of AFL Docklands-origin, and the AFL would fund the deficit incurred by AFL Gippsland.
“Further questioning established that, perhaps, people understand that the current model adopted from the Peter Jackson Review has not delivered what was seen as an instrument of success for football.
“This, in no way, damages the good work being undertaken by the current staff of AFL Gippsland.
“(Region general manager) Ben Joske has been a breath of fresh air and has shown fantastic leadership, and has put the ship on the right course.
“This has devastated the commissioners again, as the working relationship between all was starting to show positive results.
“Had AFL Victoria supported the commission, as had been requested, this situation could have been avoided.”
The Gazette understands that the AFL Gippsland commission imposed a levy on its clubs in 2017, which was designed to assist the state of its accounts. That amount has, in the main, not been paid – according to documents seen by the Gazette.
White concluded by saying: “I posed a question (at the meeting) about the future fees associated for the clubs in the Gippsland region. While there was no direct response to that question, it’s fairly clear that the cost for these clubs will increase significantly.”
A memorandum sent out on Tuesday night from AFL Victoria’s community football development manager, Stephen O’Donohue to ‘Region Commission Chairs and Region General Managers’ – seen by the Gazette – states: “AFL Victoria advises that the AFL Gippsland Commission has resigned, effective immediately.
“In discussions between AFL Victoria and the AFL Gippsland Commission, it became apparent that a fresh approach to the region was required. AFL Victoria will appoint an interim Commission while it consults with local stakeholders on the makeup of a new Commission.
“The AFL Gippsland Region Administration Centre (RAC) will continue to operate in its current format, and the changes do not impact on other regions.
“Whilst the AFL Gippsland Commission has worked in the best interests of the game in Gippsland, the time is right to revitalise the Commission to progress the game. AFL Victoria believes the changes will help further support football in Gippsland and ensure the best possible structure to deliver investment for the growth and development of Australian Football in the region.
“AFL Victoria thanks the AFL Gippsland Commission for their contribution to football in the Gippsland region and wishes them well in their future endeavours.”