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When 'free speech' become hate speech, it helps no-one to stay silent.

There is no compliment in this woman’s admiration for Australia.

Steady yourself, people with hearts. Because these might be some of the most depressing words you’ve ever read:

“Australians are like British people but with balls of steel, can-do brains, tiny hearts and whacking great gunships.

“Their approach to migrant boats is the sort of approach we need in the Mediterranean.”

‘Tiny hearts’. Now there’s a national characteristic to be proud of.

Those words were written by Katie Hopkins, a UK media commentator so objectionable that she has built an entire brand around poking bears. Want someone to say something offensive about “fat” people? Call Katie. Single mothers? Call Katie. Familes on benefits? Call Katie.

The column in The Sun.

She goes on:

“[The Australians] threaten [asylum seekers] with violence until they bugger off, throwing cans of Castlemaine in an Aussie version of sharia stoning.

“And their approach is working. Migrant boats have halved in number since Prime Minister Tony Abbott got tough.”

From Jam: “Just because the boats stop, doesn’t mean the suffering does.”

You get the picture. Katie Hopkins talks tough. She is a professional troll. And she is very good at her job. When most media professionals are at pains not to offend, she actively careers the other way, with gusto.

Katie Hopkins.

Generally, we know not to “feed” the trolls. If you are not looking at them, if you switch over, tune out, unfollow, then they lose their power.

More from Hopkins: Katie Hopkins purposefully gained 20kg, to show how ‘easy’ it is to lose weight.

But Katie Hopkins is a troll with a column in a mainstream national newspaper. One with more than two million daily readers.

And this week, as well as reading what a marvellous, effective and cruel refugee-settlement program Australia has, readers of Hopkins’ column can also enjoy this:

Rescue boats? I’d use gunships to stop migrants.

NO, I don’t care. Show me pictures of coffins, show me bodies floating in water, play violins and show me skinny people looking sad. I still don’t care.

In the same column, she also called immigrants “vermin’ and “cockroaches.”

Unsurprisingly, the reaction to a mainstream national newspaper running such a hate-filled column has been fast, and furious.

Fuelled by the horrific loss of 700 desperate refugees’ lives at sea in the Mediterranean this week, readers sick of seeing hatred dressed up as ‘opinion’ have called for Hopkins to be fired from the The Sun, and an official complaint has been lodged with the police over Hopkins, and The Sun’s editor’s “incitement to racial hatred.”

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There is little doubt that Hopkins set out to offend, and she succeeded. There is little doubt that The Sun would not have published that story without the Hopkins’ “halo” – without her TV presence as an outspoken “straight-shooter”, she would just be another racist ranter.

But her profile also makes her column harder to dismiss. Because words written and passed along and shared have an enormous amount of power, and at a time when Great Britain is in the middle of a general election campaign – one where immigration is a looming, central issue – a newspaper column has the ability to legitimise the unspoken prejudices of many.

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Men rescued from a refugee boat sailing to Italy. Image: Getty.
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Australia knows this too well. As we wallow in the dubious honour of being the poster-country for anti-refugee hardliners the world over, we can remember the moment when our race issues became international media fodder, the 2005 Cronulla riots.

At the time, another controversial broadcaster came under fire for inciting racial violence: Alan Jones.

It is 10 years ago this month that Jones described Lebanese Muslims as “vermin” who “rape and pillage a nation that’s taken them in”.

In 2009, his comments were ruled, by the New South Wales Administrative Decisions Tribunal, to have been  “reckless hyperbole calculated to agitate and excite his audience”.

Words that could very squarely be levelled at Hopkins and her publisher today in Britain.

People who think that the calls to fire Hopkins and the complaints against her are over-reactions like to suggest that censuring Hopkins, Jones, Andrew Bolt and others, is a disregard for “free speech”.

Alan Jones with ‘One Nation’ founder Pauline Hanson. At her book launch.

Perhaps in America, where free speech is upheld above almost all, that would be an argument worth having. In Britain, a little less so, and in Australia, it holds no water.

Opinions are welcome. Violent words of hatred are not.

Something less awful: Vegemite responds to anti-halal activists by spreading the love. 

Mamamia spoke to Dr Tim Soutphommasane, Australia’s Race Discrimination Commissioner who warned that our Federal law “prohibits racial hatred under the Racial Discrimination Act.”

“It is unlawful to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people because of their race,” Dr Soutphommasane said. 

The Commonwealth Criminal Code makes it “an offence to urge violence against others,” he contined. “Numerous state anti-discrimination laws also make it a criminal offence to incite racial hatred.

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Dr Soutphommasane reminded that “when it comes to drawing a line between free speech and hate speech, we should remember that no freedom is absolute.”

He said the law “rightly places limits on speech that can damage another person’s freedom and dignity.”

Dr Soutphommasane explained the RDA protects against fair comment & reporting on public interests on the grounds that it is “done reasonably and in good faith”.

katie comic
Media commentators need to understand their words do not exist in a vacuum. Image via Getty.

Reasonably. In good faith. It hard to imagine that should Ms Hopkins’ words have been published in Australia, she could possibly argue that she called asylum seekers and refugees “vermin” and “cockroaches” from a place of reason and good faith.

Keep Reading: Sorry George Brandis, but here’s why we don’t have a “right to be bigots”.

They are words that come from one place – A dark one of hatred and ignorance.

Such dangerous and divisive words from someone who thinks we are a nation to be admired should be of no comfort or compliment to Australia.

We don’t want your admiration, Katie Hopkins.

There is no room in our “tiny” hearts for you.

Do you believe in giving a platform to any opinion, no matter how divisive?

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