Muslim groups are demanding a “proper explanation” from the federal government after it granted far-right British commentator Katie Hopkins a visa last year.
Ms Hopkins’ visa was later cancelled after she breached COVID-19 restrictions, but Rita Jabri-Markwell - a lawyer advising the Australian Muslim Advocacy Network (AMAN) - said she shouldn't have been allowed into the country in the first place.
“When we saw that this person was pretty much given the red carpet to enter Australia … we were just puzzled and shocked,” Ms Jabri-Markwell said.
“It brings up all the pains from Christchurch again.”
Ms Hopkins has previously called migrants "cockroaches" and described Islam as "repugnant".
Katie Hopkins has been banned from Twitter Source: Getty
Following the 2017 Manchester bombing, she called for a “final solution” on Twitter - a Nazi reference to the Holocaust. Ms Hopkins later altered it to "true solution", describing the earlier version as a "mistype".
She was also detained in South Africa in 2018 for spreading racial hate after visiting the country to report on "anti-white racism".
Adel Salman, president of the Islamic Council of Victoria and board member of AMAN, said Ms Hopkins was “unabashed” and “unapologetic” in her views.
“To have someone like that who is so divisive and is likely to incite more hatred and division in Australia is really concerning,” he told SBS News.
Adel Saman. Source: Supplied
Mr Salman said he was disheartened by the fact that Ms Hopkins’ visa was revoked “not because of her Islamophobic views” but because she was breaking quarantine regulations.
“If we're allowing someone like that to come to Australia, what is that saying about the standard?
“It’s normalising this sort of speech thing is basically acceptable and that is hugely concerning for us as Muslims because we're the subject of so much hate speech.”
Why did Katie Hopkins travel to Australia?
The Australian Human Rights Commission will investigate a complaint by AMAN over the decision to grant Ms Hopkins a visa.
Ms Hopkins had been granted a visa to appear on Channel 7’s Big Brother, but her visa was later cancelled while she was in hotel quarantine after she boasted to her followers about flouting COVID-19 restrictions.
She’d told her followers she opened her door to guards while maskless and naked to “call out” Australia’s quarantine system.
NSW Police later issued her with a $1,000 fine for her failure to comply with the mask mandate.
In response to a letter from AMAN, a spokesperson from the Department of Home Affairs referred to Australia’s well-established freedom of speech.
“In cases where a person is assessed as representing a risk that they may vilify, incite discord in, or otherwise represent a danger to, the Australian community (or a segment of the community), the department must assess the level of risk and balance this against Australia's well-established tradition of freedom of expression,” they said.
Opponents accused the national government of "allowing a far-right troll into Australia" at a time when many Australians found it difficult to travel home due to border closures brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
"The decision … is particularly painful for the 35,000 Australians who remain stranded overseas," said Labor MP Andrew Giles.
A spokesperson from the Department of Home Affairs said in a statement that support for Ms Hopkins to enter the country “was provided by the relevant state government on the basis of potential benefit to the economy.”
“This individual’s visa was subsequently cancelled following her breach of NSW public health orders,” they said.
“The Australian Government will not tolerate non-citizens who engage in criminal activity or behaviour of concern, and will continue to act decisively to protect the community from the risk of harm posed by these individuals, including visa cancellation or refusal where appropriate.”
Ms Jabri-Markwell said the government should consider how approving the visas of people like Ms Hopkins affects the broader Australian community.
"If you think about what it's like for a survivor from a war-torn country, who's experienced so much trauma, to come to a country and try to fit in and make a life for themselves, only to see online that people are calling them cockroaches or festering sores," she said.
"That stuff is just, it's more than words. And Australia's so much better than that.
“We feel that we are part of this community. This is our home and we should be treated with the same respect.”
SBS News has contacted Katie Hopkins and NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard for comment.