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Motion: Assange, Mr J.

Adjourned debate on motion of Hon. F. Pangallo:

That this council—

1. Recognises Julian Assange is an Australian citizen and a journalist with WikiLeaks who aided in exposing possible war crimes and civilian casualties in the release of documents which included Afghanistan War logs in 2010 and Guantanamo Bay files in 2011, supplied to WikiLeaks by Chelsea Manning, a former U.S. Army intelligence analyst.

2. Acknowledges Mr Assange genuinely believed his actions were for the purpose of:

(a) government accountability, transparency and integrity; and

(b) the broader public interest and for the interest of justice.

3. Notes that since the publication of those documents, Mr Assange has been forced into isolation or imprisoned over the course of 10 years, resulting in the serious deterioration of his health and mental wellbeing.

4. Recognises Mr Assange’s impending prosecution by the United States of America constitutes a serious attack on the fundamental democratic freedoms of the press.

5. Questions the legitimacy of prosecuting Mr Assange in the United States through that country’s Espionage Act of 1917, carrying a penalty of up to 175 years imprisonment; and whether the act should be applied to non-US citizens either living and/or working in other countries, at the time of any alleged offending.

6. Calls on the President of the Legislative Council to write to:

(a) the President of the United States, Joe Biden, expressing the Legislative Council’s desire that he show clemency by intervening in the extradition and prosecution of Mr Assange; and instruct the US Attorney-General and US Department of Justice to withdraw all charges on medical and humanitarian grounds;

(b) the Prime Minister of Australia, the Rt Hon. Anthony Albanese, and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Hon. Senator Penny Wong, requesting they write to the President of the United States and the US Ambassador to Australia, Ms Caroline Kennedy, to express the concerns of the Legislative Council regarding Mr Assange’s prosecution.

7. Notes a poll conducted by the Sydney Morning Herald in January 2022 which showed 71 per cent support for Mr Assange being returned to Australia.

 

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (17:31): I rise to speak briefly in support of this motion. I note, for those here in the council and those who may pay attention to either Hansard or the broadcast of these proceedings, that this motion does several things.

Firstly, it recognises that Julian Assange is an Australian citizen and a journalist with WikiLeaks who aided in exposing possible war crimes and civilian casualties in the release of documents, which of course included Afghanistan War logs in 2010 and Guantanamo Bay files in 2011 that were supplied to WikiLeaks by Chelsea Manning, a former US Army intelligence analyst.

It also acknowledges that Mr Assange genuinely believed his actions were for the purpose of government accountability, transparency and integrity and for the broader public interest and the interest of justice. It also notes that, since the publication of these documents, he has been forced into isolation or imprisonment over the course of 10 years, which has resulted in the serious deterioration of his health and his mental wellbeing.

The motion recognises that Mr Assange's impending prosecution by the United States of America does actually constitute a serious attack on the fundamental democratic freedoms of the press. It questions the legitimacy of prosecuting Mr Assange in the United States through that country's Espionage Act of 1917, carrying a penalty of up to 175 years of imprisonment. It also questions the legitimacy of whether that act should be applied to non-US citizens living and working in other countries at the time of any alleged offending—indeed, the legitimacy of an American espionage act applying to every other citizen of the globe. It is extraordinary.

The motion also calls on the President of the Legislative Council, this place, to write—write a letter or an email—to the President of the United States, currently Joe Biden, expressing the Legislative Council's (that is us, elected members of the South Australian parliament) desire that he, as President, show clemency by intervening in the extradition and prosecution of Mr Assange and instruct the US Attorney-General and the US Department of Justice to withdraw all charges, on medical and humanitarian grounds.

It also instructs the President of the Legislative Council to write to the Prime Minister of Australia, the Rt Hon. Anthony Albanese, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Hon. Senator Penny Wong, requesting that they write to the President of the United States, as well as also communicating with the US Ambassador, Ms Caroline Kennedy, to express the concerns of this Legislative Council, should this motion pass, regarding Mr Assange's prosecution. Further, it notes that a poll conducted by the Sydney Morning Herald in January this year showed 71 per cent of people supported Mr Assange being returned to Australia.

I start by noting that just last year the then opposition leader, Anthony Albanese, now Prime Minister, at the time called for Julian Assange's urgent release from jail. He said he cannot see what is served by keeping him incarcerated. The Greens could not agree more, yet sadly he cannot agree with his own words, with deeds to follow them up once he is in a position to do so.

As the director of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange received information from sources, and he published that information online. By doing so, he exposed the war crimes of the United States to the world. The crimes here are the war crimes of the United States that were exposed to the world. That is the criminal behaviour. What is not the criminal behaviour is the journalism. If the United States is allowed to pursue charges against Julian Assange, it will have devastating consequences on the freedom of speech and the freedom of the press not just here in Australia, not just in America, but across the globe. We have a responsibility to do all we can to ensure that that does not happen.

It is clear that there is widespread public support for Julian Assange to be returned to Australia. Across the nation, thousands of people continue to organise and rally to bring him home. My Greens colleagues, such as Senator Janet Rice, Senator Peter Whish-Wilson, Senator Jordon Steele-John and Senator David Shoebridge, have all been tireless in their advocacy for Julian Assange in the federal parliament, and I note that previous Senator Scott Ludlam certainly was similarly staunch in his work on this issue and continues to be.

Unfortunately, though, now that Mr Albanese is Prime Minister he seems to have fallen silent. He has claimed that he does not wish to exercise megaphone politics and, while I am not averse to holding a megaphone, if that is his imperative that is fair enough. If that is his style, that is fair enough. What is not fair enough is for him not even to pick up the phone or put out a press release once he is Prime Minister to reaffirm the views that the people of Australia voted for, thinking he believed and would take them from opposition to his role as Prime Minister.

He must get on the phone and tell President Joe Biden in no uncertain terms that the US must end this abuse of power and drop the charges against Julian Assange, but so far we have seen no action. Perhaps there has been some, but we have certainly seen none. I have to say that silence has been the great weapon in this now over 10-year debate. In fact, the government's official response now is that they have 'noted' the extradition order and that they would like to see his case 'brought to a close'. Well, so would we all. However, with silence that close does not draw closer; it gets further away.

The deeply troubling conclusion is that their intention to bring it to a close by doing nothing or being silent does nothing to prevent the charging, prosecution and potential conviction in a US court of Julian Assange and, as I say, it does nothing to prevent him potentially being sentenced for up to 175 years in jail, for the crime of telling the truth, of reporting the truth, for the supposed crime of espionage for reporting on a war crime. I can see who the real criminals here are and they certainly are not Julian Assange.

Julian has spent the last three years in maximum security in Belmarsh prison in the United Kingdom, and if he is convicted he will potentially spend the rest of his life in solitary confinement. All the evidence indicates that his health has deteriorated from the years of arbitrary detention that he has been forced to endure.

No less than the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment has concluded that 'in addition to physical ailments, Mr Assange showed all symptoms typical for prolonged exposure to psychological torture, including extreme stress, chronic anxiety and intense psychological trauma'. That was obviously also picked up most recently by the UK magistrate in the High Court, who accepted the expert testimony that if his extradition to the US were to become imminent, he would have the urge to take his own life.

Julian Assange cannot be left to die because our leaders think it is politically expedient to allow our so-called allies to exact revenge on a journalist who exposed their war crimes. It is as simple as that. We must intervene immediately and decisively to end this injustice. Writing a few letters or emails seems the least we can do as the elected representatives of the people of this state.

As WikiLeaks wrote in their statement responding to the extradition news, Julian Assange's freedom is coupled to all our freedoms. The Greens will always support a journalist's right to speak truth to power, and we will always continue the fight to bring Julian home. Indeed, I wish a few more people in power were willing to not just speak the truth but protect the truth.

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