Gillon McLachlan speaks out over Andrew Thorburn dramas at Essendon

Gillon McLachlan and Andrew Thorburn are pictured side by side.
Gillon McLachlan says it is there there was a conflict between the values of Andrew Thorburn's church, and those of the Essendon Bombers. Pictures: Getty Images

AFL boss Gillon McLachlan has backed Andrew Thorburn's decision to resign as Essendon CEO after one day in the job, saying it was clear there was a conflict of values.

Soon after Thorburn, the former NAB chief executive, was announced he was taking on the role at Essendon, it was revealed he is also the chairman of the controversial 'City on a Hill' church, which opposes homosexuality and has likened abortion to the Holocaust.

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The revelation sparked outrage among Essendon members and fans alike, with many considering the church's views incompatible with a football club that aims to welcome people from all walks of life.

Thorburn released a statement on Wednesday in which he said he had received hundreds of messages of support, and declared it a "dangerous idea" that a faith could result in someone being deemed unsuited to a role.

McLachlan, who will soon depart his role as AFL CEO, said it was clear that the church and the club were 'at odds' over certain views.

"The organisation that he led and their position on some issues was seemingly at odds with the position of the Essendon Football Club," McLachlan told reporters on Wednesday.

"I don't think it's the same in every situation. I think in this situation it seemed to be a conflict and Andrew had to make a choice.

"That's my read on it, I understand it and I understand the decision Andrew made."

Thorburn's departure was welcomed by members of the club, but the outgoing CEO said in a statement that he believed he was being excluded on the basis of his faith.

"It is troubling that faith or association with a church, mosque, synagogue or temple could render a person immediately unsuited to holding a particular role," Thorburn said in the statement.

"That is a dangerous idea, one that will only reduce tolerance for others and diversity of thought and participation in our community and workplaces.

"True tolerance, inclusion and diversity also includes people of faith."

Thorburn was originally appointed by Essendon to conduct a search for a suitable candidate for the CEO position, but was eventually invited to apply himself when none emerged.

Prior to his work with Essendon or his involvement with the church, Thorburn was sharply criticised during the royal commission into banking misconduct in 2018, after he attempted to dismiss as 'carelessness' NAB's unlawful charging of customers, including some who were dead, fees for no service.

Andrew Thorburn, pictured here at a media call in Sydney in 2017.
Andrew Thorburn at a media call in Sydney in 2017. (Photo by SAEED KHAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Former Essendon boss' scathing comments over Bombers chaos

Former Essendon chairman Paul Little slammed the club's current leadership for a lack of professionalism around the process that led to Thorburn's appointment.

Little said the club's due diligence should have uncovered Thorburn's links to City on a Hill before he was appointed to the Bombers role.

"That information was out there and was easily accessible, so for it to have been missed as part of their (due diligence) I find that unusual," Little told ABC radio.

"He wasn't new to the club, he was well known to the club.

"He had a number of roles there, that is my understanding, so I don't think it should've come as a surprise."

At a press conference on Tuesday evening, Essendon president Dave Barham said he "reference checked (Thorburn) thoroughly" and "had no reason to think anything other than he was a suitable candidate".

Little cast doubt over those claims.

"I'm assuming (Thorburn's church link) was considered and felt not to be of that great a concern that it should impact his role, but I stress that I don't really know because I wasn't there," he said.

Former Bombers chairman Paul Little has sharply criticised the club over what he considered an ill-thought out process of appointing Andrew Thorburn as CEO. (Photo by Robert Prezioso/Getty Images)
Former Bombers chairman Paul Little has sharply criticised the club over what he considered an ill-thought out process of appointing Andrew Thorburn as CEO. (Photo by Robert Prezioso/Getty Images)

Former Essendon champion Matthew Lloyd also weighed into the debate.

"Wouldn't the club have known earlier that this was going to come back to bite them?" Lloyd said on Trade Radio

"That's the part of it that's gobsmacked me to be honest and we sit here and it's embarrassing.

"Another hit on the club that's had a poor decade."

Little said there was a "conflict" in the way the appointment was handled and described the saga as "one of a number of issues that are negatively affecting the club at the moment".

He cited the "bumpy road" to appointing Brad Scott as coach, which followed Ben Rutten's sacking in August, and "key people" departing the board as further areas of concern.

"I just feel at the present time we are not giving our members, our sponsors, our supporters and of course our playing group a reasonable return for the trust they've put in those individuals," Little said.

with AAP

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