Leading article Australia

Free speech dies in quarantine

24 July 2021

9:00 AM

24 July 2021

9:00 AM

Last week the British provocateuse Katie Hopkins was deported from Australia to Britain, an ironical inversion of our colonial history if nothing else. It’s fair to say that Ms Hopkins may not be to everybody’s taste, having been de-platformed from multiple media and social media networks over the years for this or that outrageous comment or stunt and her strident views on immigration. But clearly Channel Seven, who arranged for her visa and her flight out here, believed she would be a drawcard for their upcoming Big Brother VIP special. If it was publicity and controversy the producers craved, well, they certainly got what they wished for. Shame it all happened before the cameras had started rolling.

Ubiquitous in almost every report on the Hopkins affair were the lazy words ‘far-right’ or even ‘racist, far-right’ as a simplistic moniker with which to label the witch, sorry, the firebrand Instagram star (she has around 250,000 followers). ‘Racist far-right commentator Katie Hopkins has been deported after flouting Australia’s quarantine laws’ was typical of the reporting. Indeed, it would appear the Australian public delighted in her departure. An online opinion poll on news.com.au found 87 per cent of readers supported her deportation.

‘Some views deserve to be silenced, such as Katie Hopkins’ online rants,’ chimed in the West Australian, pretty much echoing the views across mainstream Australian media and talkback radio. Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews eagerly played the Torquemada role, decreeing ‘It is despicable that anyone would behave in such a way that puts our health officials and community at risk.’ Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, who you would have thought might be slightly more attuned to just how ruthless and unfair the modern lynch-mob can be, screeched at Ms Hopkins to ‘pack your bongos and get out of the country’, adding, ‘People can’t just come in and flout our laws. If you do flout them, then pack up your bags and get out, go, we don’t want you here.’

And therein lies the rub. What law or laws, precisely, did Ms Hopkins ‘flout’?

The answer would appear to be none, other than being fined $1,000 at some point for not wearing a mask.

This magazine believes in the fundamental principles of free speech in a democracy. Those principles are not faddish clothes that can be put on like a smart coat when you need to show off then discarded when it gets too hot. Free speech means free speech for all, even if their views are offensive. The only exception to that rule is if those views are designed to incite violence, as is so frequently the case on the Left (see below), or within certain Islamist preachings.

It is clear that Ms Hopkins was joking when she announced on Instagram, from quarantine, her intention to leap out naked to answer the door when her food was delivered. It is also clear she never actually did anything of the sort. Most if not all of the reporting was simply inaccurate or deliberately misleading.

Equally, Ms Hopkins did not say that ‘Covid is the world’s greatest hoax’ as was widely reported (not that there is anything wrong with holding that view). What she said was that ‘lockdown is the greatest hoax…’. There is a fundamental difference, one being a disease and the other a political strategy. And many would agree with her about lockdowns.

So again, what crime did Katie commit? Other than being outrageous and distasteful (which is what she was hired to be), the only reasonable criticism could be a version of the classic ‘falsely shouting “Fire!” in a crowded cinema’ argument, which is a legitimate scenario in which free speech is not justified. Arguably, by joking or foolishly threatening to disobey quarantine regulations Ms Hopkins might somehow cause a panic or encourage others to do the same. But that’s drawing a long bow. (Besides which, the solution to her threat/joke about opening her hotel door naked and maskless is simple: tell the security guards not to knock when they deliver her food. Problem solved.)

The Home Affairs Minister can cancel an individual’s visa on character grounds, so Ms Andrews had the right to do as she chose. What she didn’t have the right to do was to pander to the cancel culture feeding frenzy by misrepresenting the basic facts.

It is worth noting that when Mona Eltahawy, a radical Egyptian feminist, was on the ABC in 2019 and appeared to suggest that young women needed to start murdering men in order to stop potential rapists, she was neither decried as ‘far-left’ nor deported. Her views were accepted as ‘free speech’ and ‘provocative ideas’. When on the same show an indigenous woman urged activists to burn Australia to the ground, again, her comments were ‘misconstrued’. And when an ABC celebrity expressed a desire to rape and sodomise conservative Andrew Hastie in order to change his views about homosexuality, this was just ‘a joke’.

Free speech should be for all, not just for those of a politically correct ‘woke’ persuasion.

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