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Wednesday, 6 May 1987
Page: 2745

Mr RONALD EDWARDS(7.28) —I hope that the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman) has cleared that with John Elliott. I do not think he would agree with the honourable member's economics. I want to raise a matter that is of concern to people at the moment that relates to sporting matters. Many people in this chamber and in the community would be aware that, in recent times, in both the codes of rugby league and Australian rules football, incidents have been reported where people have been seriously injured. Sadly, in relation to a young man in New South Wales, substantial compensation was awarded in the area of Wollongong, which is represented by some of my colleagues in the chamber. The concern that I have is that what is happening now in relation both to rugby league and Australian Rules football tackles is that there is a preponderance of what are called brain scans occurring after players have been injured in head-high tackles. The circumstance are as follows: If a player is on the field and, through his actions, he injures another player and it is demonstrated that that action caused long-term brain injury-it is much easier to demonstrate that now because we have the capacity to determine that with brain scans-clearly, it is the responsibility of the football clubs involved to provide a much more comprehensive insurance coverage for their players. When I made inquiries about it I found that football clubs do not have any coverage at all for that sort of action. When one asks the football clubs they say `We are covered for injuries to our players'; that is, they have some kind of insurance arrangement. Incidentally, they are not covered by workers' compensation because they have been specifically excluded from the State workers' compensation Acts.

Mr Martin —What about civil action?

Mr RONALD EDWARDS —Exactly right, as my colleague has mentioned, they are not covered in relation to a civil action in a court. Right at the moment, there is the case of the Fitzroy Football Club and the Hawthorn Football Club. Claims are being made that a player from the Hawthorn Club has tackled high around the head a player called Kappler from the Fitzroy Club and he has experienced some concussion and long term headaches. There is also concern about players who come from my home State of Western Australia-Michael O'Connell and Mark Zanotti who play with the West Coast Eagles. It is alleged that a Hawthorn player, Dermott Brereton, has inflicted head high tackles on Zanotti and O'Connell. It is alleged also that Brereton has inflicted a head high tackle upon a Fitzroy player called Kappler. I ask my colleagues from New South Wales to excuse my indulgence in that discussion of Australian rules, but I believe that the same issues apply in Rugby League. If a player tackles a player of an opposing club and it is demonstrated by a brain scan that injury occurred as a result, it is very possible that an action could be taken for damages against the club player who has offended and against the club itself.

The point I want to make is that if damages action is taken and it is found that substantial injury has been caused to that player, particularly brain injury, there may well be an award of $1m against the player and the club. People would know right away that if that occurs, very clearly neither the club nor the player could easily meet that million dollar award. We have only to look at the motor vehicle area to get an estimate of the degree of compensation likely. So I am saying to the chamber and the wider community that it is a matter of great urgency for football clubs to investigate the need for themselves and their players to be covered for damages actions in the courts. They should forget that they may have gentleman's agreements that they will not blame one another. Now with the increasing incidence of video replays and the introduction of brain scans to check for injury to players, it is very much on the cards that shortly there will be an award against a club and a player that may well result in the club becoming bankrupt and will certainly result in the player being bankrupted. I believe it to be a matter of priority and urgency that the management of clubs investigate appropriate insurance for likely damages actions. If they do not, they may well be faced with very severe penalties if there is an action taken along the lines I have indicated.