A high-ranking federal government figure told a senior anti-doping official that the AFL wanted the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority to appear as "the bad guys" over penalties in the Essendon supplements scandal, a court has heard.
In another key development in the Federal Court on Wednesday, the trial between James Hird and Essendon and ASADA heard that a senior ASADA investigator told a Bombers player at the end of an interview last year that the anti-doping body was running a "joint investigation" with the AFL.
The senior investigator, John Nolan, also sent emails to colleagues confirming the probe between the two bodies was a "joint investigation", the court heard.
Later, the court heard that Richard Eccles, a then deputy secretary of one of the former Labor government's departments, told an ASADA official in June last year that the AFL planned to suspend Hird for a minimum six months and that other non-playing staff "will still go down".
The court heard ASADA national operations manager Trevor Burgess had written in his notes that the "AFL (was) keeping pressure on ASADA to be bad guys".
The notes also said the AFL had "all its ducks lined up", the court heard.
Mr Burgess told the court he had been given this information by Mr Eccles, who was then the deputy secretary of the Department of Regional Australia, Local Government, Arts and Sports. Mr Burgess said he thought Mr Eccles was getting his information from someone at the AFL, and that he had no reason to doubt it. The court heard Mr Burgess briefed ASADA's then chief executive, Aurora Andruska, with the information.
Mr Burgess said Mr Eccles was following ASADA's investigation into Essendon and spoke about providing the anti-doping body with additional resources to help speed up its probe. "He was telling us the AFL were looking to expedite these matters and he was telling us how ASADA could expedite these matters," Mr Burgess said.
Mr Burgess' revelations emerged on the third and final day of the trial in which Hird and Essendon argue ASADA, as an independent body, unlawfully ran a joint investigation with the AFL. ASADA maintains it was permitted to investigate with the AFL.
The court heard AFL integrity chief Brett Clothier spoke to an ASADA official in July last year requesting the interim report. "If you don't give us something, we're just going to have to sit down one weekend and do it ourselves," he said, according to a document read to the court.
The court has heard ASADA provided the AFL with an interim report before the start of August last year, on which the football league charged Essendon and its staff with bringing the game into disrepute. Hird was suspended for one year, Essendon was fined $2 million, expelled from last year's finals series and stripped of draft picks, then assistant coach Mark Thompson was fined $30,000 and the club's then football chief, Danny Corcoran, copped a six-month ban, suspended for three months.
Andruska told the court on Tuesday she never used the language "joint investigation" in describing the probe into Essendon. But ASADA investigator Aaron Walker told the court on Wednesday that Mr Nolan had used the term in the report that was prepared for the AFL, in emails and at the end of an interview with one of the Bombers players.
Mr Walker said he never used the term but never sought to correct his colleague. He said he maintained the AFL had also conducted its own investigation, separate to ASADA's.
The court heard ASADA investigators would regularly have AFL integrity unit investigator Abraham Haddad organise interview appearances for Essendon staff, and some players. Mr Walker described Mr Haddad as the "conduit" between the two bodies. He said the AFL Players Association also organised interview times. The court heard that on April 16 last year, when Hird was about to be interviewed, one of his lawyers told the interviewers of concerns that the probe was a joint one.
Mr Walker was asked if Mr Haddad had to be present in interviews so the AFL could compel players to attend. When directed to interview plans, Mr Walker said he thought there was a reference to "another club". He did not say whether the club was in the AFL or another sport. At one point Justice John Middleton told Neil Young, QC, representing Essendon, he could talk about a "joint investigation" until he was "red in the face", but that it was the judge's task to "work out what it means".
The court heard corporate auditor Deloittes was also involved in the investigation into Essendon, as it searched the club's email network for key phrases.
Closing submissions have begun and will continue on Wednesday afternoon.