The government is hosting a media freedom roundtable yet Freedom of Information inquiries show no evidence of entreaties to the Biden administration to free Australia’s number one victim of political and media persecution, Julian Assange. Actions speak louder than words, writes Rex Patrick.
When Independent MP Monique Ryan stood up in the Parliament in late November and asked Prime Minister Anthony Albanese if his Government would intervene to bring Australian journalist Julian Assange home, those in the community that care about freedom of the press were provided with a glimmer of hope.
The PM answered: “I, some time ago, made my point that enough is enough. It is time for this matter to be brought to a conclusion. In that, I don’t express any personal sympathy with some of the actions of Mr Assange. I do say though that this issue has gone on for many years now, and when you look at the issue of Mr Assange and compare that with the person responsible for leaking the information, Bradley Manning, now Chelsea Manning, she is now able to participate freely in US society.”
He went on to say:
The government will continue to act in a diplomatic way, but can I assure the member for Kooyong that I have raised this personally with representatives of the United States government. My position is clear and has been made clear to the US administration that it is time that this matter be brought to a close.
Press protections or press protection?
When the Attorney General, Mark Dreyfus MP, KC announced on the 19th of this month that he was calling together media organisations to discuss improved protections for press freedom, Assange supporters could also reasonably crack a smile. Dreyfus pronounced:
The Albanese Government believes a strong and independent media is vital to democracy and holding governments to account. Journalists should never face the prospect of being charged or even jailed just for doing their jobs.
But it’s now clear there’s a big difference between saying, and doing. A set of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests has bought the Government’s Assange façade crumbling to the ground.
In response to a Freedom of Information request to the Prime Minister for all correspondence or other records of communication sent after 23 May 2022 by or on behalf of the Prime Minister, the Hon Anthony Albanese MP, to United States President Joe Biden that related to Julian Paul Assange, his office has come up with nothing.
In response to a Freedom of Information request to the Attorney General for correspondence or records of communication between him and his US counterpart Merrick Garland that relates to Assange his office also came up bare.
It’s a response that’s left independent MP Monique Ryan disturbed.
“The US Government’s prosecution of Australian journalist and publisher Julian Assange poses a major threat to press freedom around the world. Unfortunately, the evidence now available shows that, contrary to their statements, Prime Minister Albanese and his Ministers have done little to secure Mr Assange’s freedom. None of them has written to their US counterparts to press for the espionage prosecution to be dropped”, said Ms Ryan.
She’s now rightly called on the government to disclose exactly what they have done, and will do, to secure Assange’s release.
In media statements she referred also to a further request made to Foreign Minister Penny Wong’s office for Assange related correspondence between her and United States Secretary of State Antony J Blinken. It also drew a blank.
Ms Ryan observed:
If the Albanese Government was serious about working to secure an end to the US prosecution and Mr Assange’s release, then he and his Ministers would have raised the matter formally, in writing, with their counterparts at the top levels of the US Government”, It is now confirmed that they have not done so via any formal means.
Ms Ryan went on to highlight the Attorney’s duplicitous stand. “Last week, in announcing a forthcoming national media roundtable, Attorney-General Dreyfus declared that ‘Journalists should never face the prospect of being charged or even jailed just for doing their jobs‘.” Julian Assange is an Australian journalist who faces lifelong imprisonment for doing his job.”
The Independent MP for Kooyong has signalled her intent to take the matter further. “When the Federal Parliament reconvenes in February, the Government will need to explain – in much more detail – when we can expect to see Mr Assange return to Australia”
The Albanese Government has been caught out saying something but not meaning it. They just want to appear that they’re doing something, when behind the scenes they’re doing very little, if anything much at all.
Nothing is to be gained by the continuing prosecution of Julian Assange. The US espionage prosecution sends precisely the wrong message at a time when freedom of the press is under threat in many countries worldwide.
The Albanese Government serve the United States better, and promotes a solid position itself, in pressing for the attack on Assange and media freedom to stop.