Govt lawyers ask to remove 'Nazi' wording

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Lawyers for Victoria's education department asked an expert to remove the word Nazi from a report on whether a school principal's alleged anti-Semitic speech caused offence to Jewish students, a court has heard.

Michael Whine, a government racism and human rights expert who lives in London, this week appeared as a witness in a trial brought by five ex-Brighton Secondary College students against the Melbourne school, its principal, teachers and the state.

Former students Joel and Matt Kaplan, Liam Arnold-Levy, Guy Cohen and Zack Snelling allege they experienced anti-Semitic bullying, discrimination and negligence at the school between 2013 and 2020. 

The students' claims have been denied by all respondents.

Brighton principal Richard Minack gave a number of speeches to the school to combat anti-Semitism and racism in 2018 and 2019, after parents approached him and urged him to do something, the court heard previously.

Several speeches allegedly included references to Jewish people being "sub-human", Mr Minack spoke about his father, who was a Nazi, being a good man associated with him serving in the German army during World War II, and he used the word n***** when discussing racism.

Students and other witnesses to the months-long trial have alleged anti-Semitic behaviour and graffiti at the school increased after these speeches.

Department of Education solicitors wrote to Mr Whine in April this year, asking him to listen to a recording and read a transcript of a speech given by Mr Minack to students in March 2019, the Federal Court heard on Wednesday.

He told the court he was asked to give his professional opinion on "would an ordinary, reasonable Jewish student have been offended" by the speech.

In his draft report, Mr Whine said: "Despite Mr Minack's statement that his father was a Nazi, he describes him as a good person."

Mr Whine said the lawyers contacted him and asked him to remove the Nazi reference "because I had gone beyond what they had asked me to comment on". 

He deleted the first sentence and replaced it with: "Mr Minack states that his father was a good person."

Mr Whine's report concluded that if students were offended they may not have been properly listening to the speech.

"There can be no plausible alternative conclusion or interpretation that Mr Minack's opening remarks about his father may have led those who were not listening carefully to a wrong conclusion," he wrote in the report.

"There is evidence on the recording of some listeners muttering and laughter thereafter which may have led them to misunderstand the thrust of his remarks."

He told the court he believed Mr Minack was being anti-racist in the speech and was using the example of his father being a Nazi to condemn Nazis.

"The whole weight of what he was saying was anti-Nazi, rather than pro-Nazi," he said.

Two Brighton Secondary wellbeing staff gave evidence on Thursday. Both denied that anti-Semitism was an issue or that they ever saw any swastika graffiti.

Dozens of the students' supporters and members of the Jewish community, who filled the large courtroom, interrupted the hearing with loud outbursts, leading to a security guard being posted inside the room.

"I've asked for a security guard to come into court. I have not had to do that in 10 years on the bench. This court expects respect," Justice Debra Mortimer said.

The trial will continue on Friday.


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