The Prime Minister argued on Bachar Houli's behalf. That unprecedented advocacy at the tribunal delivered an equally unprecedented result.
The former AFL star and two-time premiership winner says his conduct was "inappropriate and unacceptable". Courtesy 1116 SEN, Garry, Tim & Hamish.
Or perhaps it was Dr Waleed Aly's spirited defence of Houli that turned their heads. For certain Aly's was the only doctor's advice the AFL tribunal was convinced by on Tuesday evening.
Turnbull and Aly offered such strong character references for Houli it prompted the AFL tribunal to abandon normal thinking and cut his sentence.
Houli was found guilty of deliberately hitting Jed Lamb and knocking him out with a blow that struck him in the head. It was intentional, it was high impact and it was to the head.
This is about as serious a charge as the tribunal gets. Amazingly the punishment that serious charge received was about as low as it could get. In fact it was much lower.
Houli's two-match ban was at the very best cut in half because of his outstanding character and at worst he might have been banned for more than three times that. On the identical charge Barry Hall got seven matches.
Offences of this category are off the AFL's chart and punishment is left to the discretion of the tribunal. The counsel assisting the tribunal Andrew Woods reasoned that four matches should have been the starting point for this offence.
Woods reasonably extrapolated from the punishment schedule that if an offence of intentional, to the head and medium impact was three weeks then an offence worse than that must begin at four weeks and slide upwards depending on the circumstances. It was not envisaged it would slide down.
The tribunal then banned Houli for less time for a high impact blow to the head than they would have for another player striking with a medium impact blow. That is absurd. As far as discounts go this was a Boxing Day sale.
To be clear there is no question that Houli is an outstanding character, an admirable man and a leader in troubled times. He has done tremendous good to bridge the widening gap of a divided world, but a discount to two matches on the basis of fine character after deliberately hitting someone and knocking them out is ridiculous.
It is a well established argument in criminal courts that even good people occasionally do the wrong thing. Even really, really good people. Lamb was out before he hit the ground and never came back on the ground in the game.If there was recognition of the damage caused to Lamb and the potential damage that could have been caused to him (one-punch knockout blows have had far graver consequences), or of the message to other players of the consequence of their actions on the field then it was not manifest in this decision.
Indeed it was the same penalty a player would get if they didn't take the MRP's offer of a plea and instead challenged a light brush to the jaw from a deliberately thrown elbow and lost. That's right: someone like Will Schofield going to the tribunal and losing.
You could not disentangle the two cases heard on Tuesday – Houli then Schofield.
Schofield admitted he meant to hit Oliver and clipped him in the jaw with his elbow but argued contact was so slight as to be negligible. The MRP said it was low impact, he said it was barely any at all. If he failed in his case would have gotten two weeks.
A two-match ban, the same as Houli. How could the same tribunal possibly find against Schofield and ban him for the same length of time as Houli when by even no one's reckoning was Oliver's blow a heavy one?
Oliver did get hit, contact was definitely made and he did go to ground. The doctor's report did says he was assessed at half-time and after the game and he had a sore jaw. But he did not miss a minute of game time.
There was one surprising claim in Schofield's defence that Oliver might have hurt his jaw not when he was elbowed in the face but moments later when he remonstrated with the Eagles player and apparently used his face to strike Schofield's back. It was an ambitious line by David Grace QC, but given the defence was ultimately successful perhaps it was accepted.
No one actually said Oliver went down too easily or took a dive but the finding that contact was not sufficient for a charge implies as much.
What is curious about this is not that it felt like a wrong outcome or that Schofield should lose matches for such an incident, but that the AFL had only weeks ago said they did not want to see punches or strikes to the head.
The league said they were making a change mid-season and dialling down the level of force required to constitute an offence so what previously was a fine was now a week, what had been one week would now be two and so on.
The MRP followed their lead with plea offers but now the tribunal has not. The MRP take their cues from the tribunal, so what cues are they to take from these decisions? Check if someone is a really exceptional chap before deciding on a punishment?
Does the MRP now return to regarding low-impact punches as just that whether they are thrown when holding a jumper or not?
As Woods pointed out to the tribunal, the AFL tribunal guidelines state that "intentional strikes with a raised forearm or elbow will usually not be classified as low impact even though the extent of the actual physical impact may be low. Such strikes will usually be classified at a higher level commensurate with the nature and extent of the risk of serious injury involved."
That might usually be the case but this was an unusual case. It was an unusual night.