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Motion: Assange, Mr J. 2

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: I rise today to speak briefly in support of this motion, noting that I have similarly spoken before upon it. I thank the Hon. Frank Pangallo for his commitment to this issue and echo the words of my colleague the Hon. Rob Simms in terms of his leadership on this matter as a member of parliament and as a journalist. As a democratic society we guard ourselves against the misuse of power through fundamental freedoms, including freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Julian Assange's case is an example of the importance of protecting those freedoms.

As the director of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange received information from various sources which he then published online. By doing so he exposed the war crimes of the United States to the world, that is, proof of criminal behaviour by the United States. What is not criminal behaviour, of course, is journalism. If the United States is left unchallenged in their pursuit of 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 this 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. Indeed, I attended a rally on the Parliament House steps just this afternoon. I have actually lost count of the number of such rallies that I have attended over this last decade.

The voices, of course, were loud and the call to action obvious. I note also that my Greens colleagues, such as Senator Janet Rice, Senator Peter Whish-Wilson, Senator Jordon Steele-John and Senator David Shoebridge, have all advocated and continue to advocate diligently for Julian Assange in the federal parliament, and I also commend the work of previous Senator Scott Ludlam.

Julian has spent over three years in maximum security in Belmarsh prison in the UK—three years in maximum security. If he is convicted, he could 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 already been forced to endure.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment concluded in 2019 that in addition to physical ailments, Mr Assange showed all the symptoms typical for prolonged exposure to psychological torture, including extreme stress, chronic anxiety and intense psychological trauma. That was obviously picked up on most recently by the UK magistrate in the High Court there that accepted the testimony that if Julian's extradition to the US were to become imminent he would have the desire to end his own life.

In 2021, the then opposition leader, and now our Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, called for Julian Assange's urgent release from jail. He said he cannot see what justice is served by keeping him incarcerated—indeed, I agree. On 30 November 2022, during question time in the House of Representatives, the Prime Minister acknowledged that Mr Assange's case was of great interest to the Australian community and that he had raised this personally with the United States government.

However, it has now come to light that, since that date, in response to freedom of information requests by former federal senator, Rex Patrick, multiple departments of the Australian Labor government have confirmed that they have made no representation to the US administration of President Joe Biden regarding Julian Assange. This now paints an even grimmer picture in Australia's role in his continued persecution.

We cannot leave Julian Assange 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 not a complicated issue. We must have immediate intervention and act decisively to end this injustice. Mr President, I think that a letter from the Legislative Council to the President of the United States is probably the least that members of parliament could do right now for a man who has been isolated for over 10 years and incarcerated in a maximum security prison for over three whose life may well be in the balance.

Straying slightly off script, I note that I read a range of stories in the last few days about people who had gone on TikTok or had posted on Twitter who had been incarcerated in Saudi Arabia and do you know what happened there? They have been freed because President Joe Biden intervened on behalf of the freedom of press, the freedom of speech and the rights of US citizens not to be incarcerated for violating oppressive regimes.

On 20 January 2022, the Belmarsh Tribunal, named after the maximum security where Julian is residing—captive, not residing—convened in Washington DC to demand that US President Joe Biden drop these charges. In his remarks to the tribunal, whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, who most recently released documents exposing just how close the US came to using nuclear weapons against China during the Taiwan crisis in 1958, spoke about the intentionally ambiguous wording of the Espionage Act, which allows prosecution not just of those who leak sensitive information but also individuals who merely possess it, overriding the fundamentals of free speech.

As WikiLeaks wrote in their statement responding to the extradition news, Julian Assange's freedom is coupled in all our freedoms. The Greens will always support a journalist's right to speak truth to power. We will continue the fight to bring Julian home. These freedoms cannot be left to others. Indeed, I wish a few more people in power were willing not just to speak the truth to power when they were in opposition but to protect the truth and their own citizens when they are in government.

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