Israel Folau and Rugby Australia could face a February trial if they fail to resolve a multimillion dollar unfair dismissal case brought by the former Wallabies player and staunch Christian.
The committed Christian and former Wallabies player was dismissed on religious grounds over an April Instagram post paraphrasing Bible passages saying “drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolators” were destined for hell, but that “Jesus saves”.
If mediation fails, Folau will fight Rugby Australia and the NSW Waratahs at a three-to-five-day trial from February 4 next year.
Folau wants an apology, $10 million in damages and his contracted reinstated by his former employers.
He was not present at Tuesday’s hearing, which was also live-streamed to Sydney.
He says he had “no choice but to commence court action” when the parties failed to reach agreement at a Fair Work Commission mediation in June.
Speaking outside court on Tuesday, Folau’s solicitor, George Haros, said an apology would “come a long way to resolving the dispute”.
“It’s been publicly acknowledged by Israel and his team that he still seeks that apology and that’s still very important to him,” Mr Haros told reporters.
“Israel’s very forthright in his views and he’s an extremely strong at this stage of the proceeding.”
Folau’s lawyer Stuart Wood QC faced the Federal Circuit Court in Melbourne on Tuesday for a directions hearing, during which Chief Judge Will Alstergren encouraged the parties to settle their dispute through mediation on December 13.
Lawyers for Rugby Australia indicated they may apply for the case to be heard by the Federal Court of Australia rather than the Federal Circuit Court, and may also apply to have the case transferred to Sydney.
But Mr Wood criticised the move, saying it was an attempt to delay proceedings and that he wanted Judge Alstergren to be aware of “what’s going on in the background”.
The allegation was denied by Rugby Australia lawyer Adam Hochroth.
If mediation is unsuccessful, the parties will return to court on December 17 for a directions hearing ahead of trial.
More than 20,000 people have donated about $2.2 million to an Australian Christian Lobby fund set up to contribute to Folau’s legal fight, replacing a GoFundMe fundraiser that was shut down because the platform said the campaign breached their service guidelines.
Folau has also re-activated his Twitter and Instagram accounts after shutting them down.