Influential Australians are suddenly stirring in support of Julian Assange, who will face extradition to the US and several life sentences unless political intervention heads it off. Is it too late?
For several years it has been hard for Australian supporters of Julian Assange to get much air-time or OpEd space. But recent public meetings in Sydney and Melbourne have been crowded. Dick Smith, Bob Carr, Kevin Rudd, and 60 prominent doctors have spoken out for Assange. Few Federal politicians have defended him until now, but suddenly in late November a cross-party Parliamentary campaign was launched by Tasmanian Independent Andrew Wilkie and LNP’s George Christensen, opposing Assange’s extradition from the UK to the US.
The Parliament has scores of Friendship Groups concerned with everything from rare diseases to outer space and the ABC. Under the rules, a group must have at least ten members from across the political spectrum. The Friendship Group to ‘Bring Assange Home’ surprisingly includes people with far-right reputations, Greens, and others in between. Some of them have for years accepted negative media and pejorative Ministerial statements about Assange and WikiLeaks, yet this week they have joined Wilkie’s campaign.
The reasons for supporting it range widely. They include objections to the sycophancy towards the US which Australia has displayed by not calling for Assange to be released, and arguments for Australian law to be supreme in respect of its citizens. Some are concerned not only about the effect extradition would have on media freedom, but the precedent for other countries including China to demand extradition of Australians in similar circumstances.
The Nationals’ Barnaby Joyce is a member, as are the ALP’s Julia Hill and Steve Georganas. The Greens have four members, including Peter Whish-Wilson and Adam Bandt, and Independents Zali Steggal and Rebekah Sharkie have joined. A petition put together by Change.org, and signed by 200 000 people in support of Australian government intervention, has been sent to the Senate.
No Liberal parliamentarian is a member.
The Prime Minister has other things on his mind, like the exaggeration of Clover Moore’s travel expenditure by his Energy Minister, Angus Taylor, and his own botched response to it. Having lost several votes in Parliament since the May election, the impression of Morrison’s invincibility has not lasted long. He may be wishing for the silly season to come early this year, so the politicians can all go home and pray for rain. If his political instincts are as good as his admirers claim, however, Morrison will know that leaving Assange to the tender mercies of UK and US justice could make 2020 an unhappy new year for his government.
Ministers from both major parties frequently bring pressure to bear on other governments when Australians are in trouble. Their failure to do anything for Assange is unprecedented and abject.
It will not go un-noticed. At least four men in Canberra are facing legal processes on security matters, conducted in secret. The print media are running a ‘Your Right to Know’ campaign, inspired by police raids on the ABC and on a Newscorp journalist’s home. It will look like double standards if they don’t challenge the government to respond to the Parliamentarians’ campaign for Assange.
Australia did nothing to free David Hicks for four years after the UK and Canada demanded their nationals be released from Guantanamo Bay. Howard, facing electoral defeat and a public outcry, eventually agreed to negotiate a plea-bargain to bring him home. But time is short: can it happen this time?
Parliament will rise for the summer break on 7December, and extradition is set for February. Assange is in poor mental and physical health. Morrison must realise that if Assange should die in London or Virginia, many Australians and others will hold him responsible.
The world is watching. US on-line journalist Paul Craig Roberts has circulated a petition on Assange’s behalf to the Queen, the House of Lords and the House of Commons. Professor Jake Lynch of the University of Sydney, currently at Coventry University, has made an on-line appeal for his release, pointing out that it is ‘public opposition that will keep Assange out of a US federal prison, and, with him, [keep] hope alive that we can think our way through to reducing injustice and inequality.’ International lawyer Slavov Zijek, in the Spectator US, argues that Assange’s case raises the fundamental human rights of us all.
In the American Herald Tribune, a professor of international law in Geneva, Alfred de Zayas, writes that ‘as a whistleblower, Julian Assange has done what every democrat should do, namely uncover the cover-ups of our governments.’ British author Tariq Ali has co-edited a collection of articles, In Defense of Julian Assange. And the indefatigable John Pilger, in ‘The Lies about Assange must stop now’, shows how the media, and particularly the Guardian, have for years published smear, lies, and innuendo about Assange.
In recent weeks, the Guardian and others in the UK and US have become worried about the ‘Assange effect’, says Pilger. The Guardian’s editorial board has done an about-face, now declaring that Assange’s extradition is ‘a matter of press freedom and the public’s right to know’. I pitched this article to the Guardian and got no response.
Dr Alison Broinowski was a Senate candidate for the WikiLeaks Party in 2013.