ACT News

Canberra Croatian club ordered to pay $62,000 after man barred over political views

A Croatian club has been ordered to pay more than $62,000 in damages to a Canberra man who was banned after a board member tried to claim old photographs linked him to the Nazi flag.

The Australian Croatian Club at Turner has been forced to reinstate Danijel Kovac's full membership after a tribunal found he was discriminated against for his stance on Croatian politics.

A man and woman are on trial over an alleged kidnapping.
A man and woman are on trial over an alleged kidnapping. Photo: Louie Douvis

The ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal last year found the club acted unlawfully after Mr Kovac complained his membership application was blocked in 2011 because he had different political views to other board members.

Board members argued a series of Facebook posts in which Mr Kovac attacked the club, as well as photos it claimed linked him to the Nazi flag, showed he was of "unsuitable character".

In late 2008, an interim board president found and kept several photographs left at the club that were taken while Mr Kovac was on holidays in 2007.

Two of the photos showed people Mr Kovac knew holding the Republic of Croatia flag in one hand and the Nazi flag in the other.

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Mr Kovac was not in the photographs and they were not taken on his camera.

The board rejected his full membership application in late 2011 and Mr Kovac was told he could only be a social member if he abided by "truly Croatian values".

Mr Kovac took the matter to the ACT Human Rights Commission, which referred the matter to the tribunal on grounds it may have raised issues of discrimination based on political conviction.

The club's board members argued there was no proof their decision was due to Mr Kovac's political views, and said they denied the application because of a series of "antisocial behaviours" they feared could damage the club's reputation.

Mr Kovac had defended his political views as moderate, as opposed to right-wing. The tribunal acknowledged the board had not necessarily held a right-wing view but noted members' political beliefs appeared to be different to Mr Kovac's.

It upheld Mr Kovac's complaint in July last year and found the club's board members had refused his application in part because of his political views.

Tribunal president Peta Spender this week ordered the club to pay Mr Kovac $62, 817.71 in damages.

The tribunal found the club's behaviour had been "calculated and cruel" and said the rejection letter sent to Mr Kovac had also attacked his character and values.

It knocked back Mr Kovac's claim for aggravated damages which he made on several grounds, including that the club tried to hurt his reputation by bringing the flag photos into evidence even though he wasn't depicted in them.

Court documents said the tribunal had previously found the photographs were raised in an attempt to discredit Mr Kovac.

"Unfortunately, the evidence regarding the Nazi flag photos is incomplete and inconsistent and the tribunal is concerned about the inflammatory role that they played in the proceedings," Professor Spender said.

Mr Kovac claimed he had suffered physical and psychological injuries and felt ostracised because of the treatment he received from the club.

"The tribunal considers that the evidence establishes that the applicant suffered humiliation and distress and this loss was caused by the respondent's unlawful conduct," Professor Spender said.

The club was ordered to reinstate Mr Kovac's membership for the years between 2011 and 2015 and record in the minutes of its next board of directors meeting that the decision had been reversed.

It also agreed to a written promise it wouldn't continue to treat Mr Kovac unfavourably on the grounds of his political views or as a result of his complaint.

The tribunal rejected Mr Kovac's bid for a written apology published on the club's website and in the Croatian Herald, saying it wasn't an appropriate way to repair any damages.