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Should Australian politicians claim credit for the release of Julian Assange?

by Rex Patrick | Jun 26, 2024 | Government, Latest Posts

Anthony Albanese has not been prominent on Julian Assange, rather he’s been defensive. But the PM and senior Labor figures were quick to claim credit on the news of Assange’s release. Rex Patrick cautions on success attribution.

In July 2022 Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus discontinued the prosecution of Bernard Collaery, the lawyer for Timor whistleblower Witness K.

It was not, however, an act of conscience. In his announcement Dreyfus stated that he, in making his decision, had “careful regard to our national security, our national interest and the proper administration of justice.”

The truth of the matter was that the charges were dropped dominantly on national security and national interest grounds, after pressure from the Timorese Government and Australian fears of China’s expansion plans in relation to Timor.

Foreign Minister Senator Wong confirmed this in an answer she provided a Senate Question on notice.

I discussed the prosecution of Bernard Collaery with the President of Timor-Leste, Jose Ramos-Horta and foreign Minister Adaljiza Magno but telephoned shortly before the Attorney-General, the Hon Mark Dreyfus QC MP, announced the discontinuation of the prosecution of Mr Bernard Collaery on 7 July 2022. Both President Ramos-Horta and Foreign Minister Mango have issue public statements referring to our conversations”.

Spies Like Us: how Timor’s oil and gas delivered justice to Bernard Collaery

 

On Assange the Albanese Government has been equally weak. Albanese’s first mention of Julian Assange in the 47th Parliament was on 7 November 2022 in response to a question time inquiry from independent MP, Monique Ryan, asking if it was the intention of the Government to intervene to bring him home.

Albanese responds 

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.

In February 2023 Albanese was caught out with FOI revealing that there was no correspondence (a key tool in diplomacy) on Assange between him and the US President, Dreyfus and the US Attorney-General, nor Wong and the US Secretary of State. 

Documents show no sign Albanese government lobbied the US to bring Julian Assange home

In March 2023 Senator Shoebridge took Wong to task asking what was discussed in relation to Assange at the AUKUS announcement in San Diego. Wong rolled out the excuse (that doesn’t tie in with their current success claims) “As you would know, this matter is before the UK courts. I appreciate that Senator Shoebridge has previously made comments, with which we don’t agree, about our capacity to intervene in legal proceedings of another country—another jurisdiction.”

Pressure was put on the US Government by a parliamentary (not Government) delegation in September last year by Barnaby Joyce, Tony Zappia, Monique Ryan and senators Alex Antic David Shoebridge and Peter Whish-Wilson.

Meanwhile Government briefs being circulated internally were discussing options to bring Assange home only by way of prisoner transfer if and after he was found guilty by the US.

Jail, then jail, and more jail. Labor’s Assange strategy revealed.

Finally, in February this year, a motion was moved in the House of Representatives calling for an end to the saga. The motion was not moved by Albanese, credit for that must go instead to Andrew Wilkie.

“An Awkward Problem”: Julian Assange and the Australian dog that didn’t bark

The political push in relation to Assange came predominantly from the Greens and independents. It undoubtedly played a part, coupled in with worldwide public pressure.

But the reality is the plea deal is a deal orchestrated by lawyers in the US after the UK’s highest court granted leave for Assange to appeal against his extradition on the ground he was not protected by the press freedom provisions of the US Constitution.

The lawyer’s presentation to the US Department of Justice would have leveraged off the difficult UK pathway moving forward, the complexity of a prosecution in the US, the likelihood that it would go all the way to the Supreme Court, worldwide pressure and time already served by Assange.

So, forgive me if I looked at Albanese and Wong fronting the news as ‘success parasites’. Forgive me for feeling a little queasy seeing US Ambassador Kevin Rudd accompanying Assange in Saipan.

The news about Assange is great. But the great news that goes with seeing him land in Australia must be accompanied by the appropriate attribution for the win. It’s those who have engaged in the long hard slog that deserve credit, not those who turn up for the cameras at the end.

How can I be so confident that this is not the result of a key play by the Australian Government. Easy, they don’t really care. This is evidence in the prosecution of whistleblowers David McBride and Richard Boyle.

Bob Carr tweeted this morning – “Whatever you think about Assange, the fact is he was imprisoned for one reason: he exposed a bloody war crime committed by US troops against unarmed Iraqi civilians.”

My tweet in reply was “Whatever you think about David McBride, the fact is he was imprisoned for one reason: he exposed bloody war crimes committed by Australian troops against unarmed Afghans.”

Assange’s return also occurs in the week following the Albanese Government leaving ATO whistleblower Richard Boyle hanging out to dry. The SA Appeal Court effectively declared that Federal Whistleblower protection laws are all but broken, and yet the Attorney General still won’t intervene.

The good news for the Government is that the festering electoral sore of inaction on Assange has been cauterised. But the whistleblower persecutions continue.

The return of Assange is not a signal to the electorate that the Albanese Government has found its way.

And who paid for the flight home?

Wikileaks, Julian Assange

Rex Patrick is a former Senator for South Australia and earlier a submariner in the armed forces. Best known as an anti-corruption and transparency crusader - www.transparencywarrior.com.au.

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