In this update, we shed light on Birchgrove Legal’s collaboration with the Australian Muslim Advocacy Network on an important public interest issue. We recently pursued the Australian Human Rights Commission to investigate why British far-right commentator Katie Hopkins was granted a visa.
Katie Hopkins is a controversial public figure. Well known in Western countries for stoking far-right sentiments, Islamophobia and racism, she was recently granted a visa to appear on a reality TV show in Sydney.
However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she arrived in a Sydney marred by lockdown and a reality where thousands of Australians were unable to return home from overseas due to tight border restrictions.
After bragging to her Instagram followers that she opened her hotel room to guards while “maskless and naked” to protest Australia’s COVID-19 restrictions and quarantine systems, she had her visa canceled.
She was also fined $1000 by NSW Police for her failure to comply with the Mask Mandate.
AMAN, led by Birchgrove Legal’s Rita Jabri Markwell, raised serious questions as to why Hopkins was granted a visa in the first place.
Given Hopkins’ established record of harmful rhetoric and racial vilification, AMAN challenged the validity of the visa grant by complaining to the Australian Human Rights Commission after a disappointing response from the Ministry of Home Affairs.
A spokesperson from Home Affairs — in response to Birchrgrove’s inquiry — affirmed that the risk of vilification and other harms must be balanced “against Australia’s well-established tradition of freedom of expression”.
We immediately challenged this rationale in our complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission. We suggested, “it can be reasonably inferred from this statement that Ms Hopkins’ freedom of expression, and those who would agree with her in Australia, was given more weight than the human rights of Australians who would be adversely affected by vilification”.
Moreover, we shed light on the unfortunate by reasonable “inference that the Minister does not believe that hate speech is best countered by prohibition but by more free speech.”
Birchgrove Legal also shed light on how the decision to cancel Hopkins’ visa over anti-lockdown sentiments, as opposed to her history of racial vilification, was an indication of the Federal Government’s lack of initiative when combatting racism. Rita Jabri Markwell also stated it was in the public interest to disclose why the visa was granted in light of Hopkins’ history of racial vilification.
By way of example, Hopkins has called for a “final solution”, drawing on Nazi anti-Semitic rhetoric, in response to the 2017 bombing of an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester. She described Syrian refugees as cockroaches” and “a plague of feral humans” in a newspaper column.
Furthermore, in 2018, she was detained in South Africa for spreading racial hatred and two years later, in 2020, she was permanently banned from Twitter for violating their hateful conduct policy.
By drawing attention to how the visa forewent these concerns pertaining to racial hatred, Birchgrove Legal managed to also influence the Shadow Minister of Home Affairs, Kristina Keneally, to demand an explanation as to why the visa was granted.
We would like to note the importance of Birchgrove Legal’s work in challenging how legal systems platform and accommodate racism, as was the case in the Hopkins Visa controversy, and look forward to the Australian Human Rights Commission’s response.