The AFL has announced that AFL Commissioner Professor Helen Milroy will join Paul Briggs AM as Co-chairs of the league’s National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Council as part of new changes to improve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander outcomes across all areas of the game.

Professor Milroy, the 2021 WA Australian of the Year, Australia’s first Indigenous medical doctor and the AFL’s first indigenous Commissioner after being appointed in 2019, will join Mr Briggs as Co-Chairs of the Council as the AFL seeks to drive greater alignment across the industry and strengthen the competition-wide approach to the implementation of the AFL’s Enhanced Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander Strategy. 
 
AFL Chief Executive Officer Gillon McLachlan said the appointment of Professor Milroy to work with Mr Briggs would elevate the work of the Council and bring its work closer to the AFL Commission. It was part of changes to the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Council (formerly Indigenous Advisory Council) recommended in a recent review by former Essendon and Melbourne Chief Executive Peter Jackson.  
 
Mr Jackson’s review found the Council was a valuable body but would benefit from greater AFL support and a clearer alignment with the AFL Commission, the AFL and its state bodies, the players, clubs and community leagues and clubs. 

AFL Commissioner Professor Helen Milroy

“Helen Milroy brings great personal and professional experience to the role as Co-Chair of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Council,” Mr McLachlan said.

 “Paul has been outstanding in his role as inaugural chair of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Council (formerly the Indigenous Advisory Council) and was instrumental in driving the enhanced strategy which pushed for greater indigenous representation across the AFL industry, including the appointment of the AFL’s first indigenous Commissioner. 
 
“Together they will be a powerful combination in advocating for greater opportunities and ensuring greater alignment across the AFL industry and in adopting the recommendations of the Jackson Review to create more opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in our game.”
 
Professor Milroy said: “I am looking forward to working with the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Council and with Paul Briggs as the co-chair. Together we can drive the reform necessary, not only to improve cultural safety across the industry, but also to enhance our game. 

We must identify and address the many barriers and problems currently faced by our communities across the industry and create a safe journey into the future for all

- Professor Helen Milroy

“We have already seen the remarkable contribution our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities have made over many years and there is more to come. However, we must identify and address the many barriers and problems currently faced by our communities across the industry and create a safe journey into the future for all.”
 
Mr McLachlan said that another recommendation of the Review would see the appointment of the Chair of the AFL Players' Association (AFLPA) Indigenous Advisory Board Shaun Burgoyne. He will join the Council to provide direct input from the AFL playing group. 
 
He said Professor Milroy and Mr Briggs will formalise a number of new appointments to the Council in the coming weeks as recommended in the review, including the addition of a female player to provide greater insight into the hurdles facing women at community and elite level. 
 
Mr McLachlan said Executive General Manager Inclusion and Social Policy Tanya Hosch will continue to lead the execution of the AFL’s Enhanced Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander Strategy and the AFL would also boost the team led by Ms Hosch to assist with driving the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander agenda and the ongoing fight against racism in our sport.  The AFL’s newly-appointed AFL Diversity Talent Manager, Paul Vandenbergh, has also been added, bringing further experience in developing stronger pathways and opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players at AFL and AFLW level. 
 
“Continued prioritisation of the development of the playing pathways into our game for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander boys and girls, and the development of the career and leadership pathways for our men and women post their careers is critical in the recommendations, and this will be a key focus of Paul Vandenbergh in his new role,” Mr McLachlan said/
 
The Office of the CEO’s Patrick Keane would also provide added Secretariat support to the Council and the Co-Chairs, freeing Katriina Heikkanen to continue with her ongoing work supporting the implementation of key priorities.  The AFL Commission will receive quarterly reports from the Council, and they will meet directly with the Commission annually. 
  
Mr McLachlan said the AFL acknowledged the AFL’s work in driving greater inclusion and opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people was an ongoing journey and, while much had been achieved, the AFL remained committed to doing more to ensure it provided more opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples at both the elite and community level.
 
He thanked Mr Jackson for his review which had the following key recommendations to improve the effectiveness of the Council and its engagement with the AFL and the AFL Commission:

  • Continue with the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Council and the current Terms of Reference; 
  • Ensure greater engagement with the AFL Commission and a clearer governance structure to drive the relationship with the AFL and the wider AFL community. 
  • Appoint a person who can provide additional support with the secretarial and administration assistance to the Council and build a strong effective governance relationship with the chair/s, allowing current staff to focus on implementation of key priorities.
  • Review, and where appropriate refresh/add to, the current membership of the Council to ensure it is:
    • more proportionally representative of all regions and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander stakeholders who participate in AFL football;
    • has some contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community and football leaders; and
    • has some direct knowledge & experience of the AFL Aboriginal &Torres Strait Islander football programs, in particular talent pathways from remote communities & transitioning to AFL Clubs.
  • Review and upgrade where necessary, and implement the Meeting & Member rules; for example, review the frequency of meetings, the number of terms a Member can serve, and the process for roll-over of Members; 
  • Review, upgrade and formally document the governance processes regarding frequency of meetings, preparation of agenda and papers, action plans and accountability; 
  • Document the nature of the relationship between the AFL and the Council to ensure greater accountability, including reporting, the frequency and nature of meetings with the AFL CEO, AFL Executives and the engagement with the AFL Commission; 
  • Develop a new framework that provides greater support for the implementation of the AFL’s Enhanced Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander strategy, including identifying the immediate priorities, specifically focusing on the development needed for promotion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders to high profile roles and strengthen community programs and experiences to encourage growth in AFL & AFLW talent development programs.
  • Appoint a senior Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander, preferably with industry experience, to be responsible under the new framework for developing stronger pathways and opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players at AFL and AFLW level.
  • Promote much greater alignment throughout the AFL Industry of people currently working in Indigenous programs and with Indigenous player representatives including appointing the Chair of the AFLPA Indigenous Player Advisory Board to the Council and the person appointed to the role of the Diversity Talent Manager as well as also seeking people with experience at AFL clubs and/or state bodies.
  • Communicate to the A&TS Stakeholders the role and authority of the Council. Develop an ongoing engagement plan with key stakeholders. 
  • Update the AFL’s Reconciliation Action Plan. 
  • New leadership structure of the Council to deliver the above recommendations.

“We want more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and players at every level of our game and we want more indigenous voices leading our game and guiding our game. We can’t do that unless we are prepared to take the necessary steps to create an environment that provides not only greater opportunities but greater protection against all forms of racism and discrimination on and off the field,” Mr McLachlan said.
 
“We have to do more to understand the experiences and to take action and we know that in order to make change we need the AFL community, from the Commission to regional clubs, all aligned on the strategy to bring people to our game and to look after them.
 
“We know there is no finish line in the fight against racism and we know that we must continue to take actions at all levels of the football community.”
 
Mr McLachlan said he would ask the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Council in the coming weeks to consider the review of the Collingwood report being prepared by Ms Hosch and General Counsel Andrew Dillon. 
 
He said the AFL would also be soon releasing the recommendations of the review into Rule 35 undertaken by Ms Hosch and her team and expected to have the AFL’s updated Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) in place in the coming weeks.