Assange, Mr J. (Motions)
Adjourned debate on motion of Hon. F. Pangallo:
That this council—
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Recognises Mr Assange’s impending prosecution by the United States of America constitutes a serious attack on the fundamental democratic freedoms of the press.
- 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.
- Acknowledges that in May 2022, on World Press Freedom Day, President of the United States of America, Joe Biden, announced a series of initiatives committing the US to greater protections for at-risk reporters to provide greater expansion for fact-based reporting to hold to account those that seek to silence voices essential to transparent, trustworthy, and responsive governance.
- Recognises that on 29 November 2022 The New York Times, The Guardian, Le Monde, Der Spiegel, and El País dispatched an open letter to US Attorney General Merrick Garland denouncing the prosecution of Julian Assange.
- Recognises that on 30 November 2022 Prime Minister Anthony Albanese confirmed in a public address that the Australian government is conducting diplomatic negotiations with the US government on Assange’s behalf.
- Recognises that on 30 November 2022 during the House of Representative’s question time the Prime Minister Anthony Albanese acknowledged that Mr Assange’s case was of great interest to many Australians and as a result had recently lobbied for Mr Assange’s release stating that he raised this personally with representatives of the United States government stating, ‘enough is enough’ and it is time the matter be brought to a conclusion;
- 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; and
(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.
- Notes that on 15 December 2022 the European Parliament authored and co-signed with Mr Assange’s wife Stella Assange, the International Federation of Journalists, European Federation of Journalists, and other independent NGOs a letter to the President of the United States of America calling on him to pardon Julian Assange.
(Continued from 8 February 2023.)
The Hon. R.B. MARTIN (17:48): In debate on the previous motion from the honourable member on the matter of Mr Assange, I acknowledged that the South Australian government noted that the Australian government has been clear in their view that Mr Assange’s case has dragged on for too long and that it should be brought to a close.
However, the government will not be supporting this motion. The government notes comments last year from the Prime Minister that he has raised this matter personally with representatives of the United States government and that the Prime Minister has stated ‘enough is enough’. The state government also notes the comments of the foreign affairs minister in relation to this matter, and I quote:
We believe that this matter has dragged on too long, and we continue to raise it at the appropriate levels with both the US and the UK governments.
You would be familiar with the very many legal processes with which Mr Assange is involved, and you would also know that in all three countries being discussed the rule of law applies.
The South Australian government reiterates that it understands the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade will continue to offer consular assistance to Mr Assange, noting that Australia is not a party to Mr Assange’s case, nor can the Australian government intervene in the legal matters of another country. I am advised it remains the case that the federal government will continue to convey expectations that Mr Assange is entitled to due process, humane and fair treatment, access to proper medical care, and access to his legal team.
The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (17:49): I rise to indicate that the position of the Liberal Party has not changed since the matter was raised last year. At the risk of being repetitive, although these are not lengthy words, I refer again to the comments of the Hon. Simon Birmingham, shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, whose comments are as follows:
The Australian government—
I am assuming this was prior to the change of government—
will continue to monitor Mr Assange’s case closely, as it would for any Australian citizen in detention overseas. However, beyond providing consular assistance, it is important to note that Australia has no standing in Mr Assange’s legal proceedings and is unable to intervene.
Whilst there is a crucial role for whistle-blowers and free speech, there are also instances of importance where sensitive information is kept secure, including to protect the lives of others.
I appreciate that some members of the public feel very strongly about Mr Assange’s situation, nevertheless I believe that Australia should respect the rule of law in countries like the US and the UK.
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (17:50): I rise to speak in support of this motion. In doing so, I note this is the first time I have spoken on the matter in the chamber, so I did want to put on the public record my support for Julian Assange’s freedom and indeed this motion. I also want to recognise the leadership of my colleague in this place the Hon. Frank Pangallo and the work that he has done on this issue. Of course, I note that Mr Pangallo is a former journalist who understands the importance of a free press and freedom of speech in our democracy. I also acknowledge the work of my colleague the Hon. Tammy Franks, who has spoken out on this issue many, many times.
The motion does several things. 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 classified US materials, which of course included the Afghanistan war logs in 2010 and the Guantanamo Bay files in 2011 that were supplied to WikiLeaks by Chelsea Manning, a former US Army intelligence analyst. The material in those files that has been published in the media was truly shocking.
The motion also acknowledges that Mr Assange genuinely believed his actions were for the purposes of government accountability, transparency and integrity and for the broader public interest and in the interests of justice. It notes that since the publication of these documents Mr Assange has been forced into isolation or imprisonment over the course of 10 years, which has resulted in a serious deterioration of his health and his mental wellbeing.
The motion recognises that Mr Assange’s impending prosecution by the United States of America constitutes 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 who were living and working in other countries at the time of any alleged offending.
I must say it is appalling to me that we have those who are exposing war crimes being punished in this way, yet the world leaders who have overseen these appalling atrocities are let off the hook. That is an appalling turn of events. The Greens have long advocated to release Julian Assange. His prosecution has always been political, and over the last 13 years the Greens have continually called on the federal government to secure his freedom.
In 2019, my colleague in the federal parliament Senator Whish-Wilson tabled a petition with over 200,000 signatures calling on the government to intervene and ensure Julian Assange’s safe passage home. Similarly, my colleagues Senator Janet Rice and Senator Steele-John have continually asked questions in the federal parliament and pushed the federal government to do the right thing and release him from jail.
In 2021, the then opposition leader, the Hon. Anthony Albanese MP, called for Julian Assange’s release, saying, ‘I can’t see what is being served by keeping him incarcerated.’ Now, the Hon. Mr Anthony Albanese is our Prime Minister and he is in a position to act, and so the Greens call on the federal government to act quickly and decisively to end Julian Assange’s long-term imprisonment.
The Australian Greens believe that freedom of the press is integral to the functioning of our successful democratic society. Journalism should never be a crime. Indeed, as observed by my colleague Senator Jordon Steele-John, ‘The Greens will always support journalists’ right to speak truth to power, and we will continue to fight to bring Julian home.’ I commend the motion.
The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (17:55): 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.
The Hon. C. BONAROS (18:02): I have three words for my Labor and Liberal bedfellow colleagues today and three words only. To those opposite on the opposition benches, shame on you, but especially—especially—to those on this side of the chamber in government, shame on all of you.
The Hon. F. PANGALLO (18:03): I would like to thank members on the crossbench, the Hon. Robert Simms and the Hon. Tammy Franks, for their words about Julian Assange and their encouragement in the battle to have Julian Assange freed from the nightmare that he is enduring in Belmarsh. I would also like to thank the Greens nationally for their support and also the efforts that are being made by Mr Assange’s supporters around the country.
I will echo the words of my colleague the Hon. Connie Bonaros about the attitude of both Labor and the Liberals in this place. It is disgraceful, quite frankly, to hear two members get up and mouth off the words that have been given to them by their federal counterparts. These were hollow words and it showed that nobody bothered to even look deeply into the situation that is confronting Mr Assange and what had led to all this. Clearly, no research has been done for them to form any opinion that is balanced.
An honourable member: Educated.
The Hon. F. PANGALLO: And educated; thank you very much. Just to go through what the Hon. Reggie Martin was saying in relation to claims that the Prime Minister and the foreign minister had intervened and said something to the Americans: they had not. It has just been pointed out by the Hon. Robert Simms and the Hon. Tammy Franks.
The Prime Minister has raised nothing formally. He has been bluffing and so has the foreign minister, Penny Wong. She has raised nothing officially in relation to that. It has been proved by freedom of information documents that were released by former Senator Rex Patrick. Interestingly enough, he also has not been visited by Australian consular officials since 2012, so I do not know where they are going that he is continuing to get consular support.
I just want to point out to the Hon. Michelle Lensink that nobody has died as a result of the information that Mr Assange published—nobody has died. The only one who has been targeted is Mr Assange, even though some of the world’s leading newspapers and journalists have used that information and published it in their journals. None of those journalists, none of those publications, have been targeted by the United States, particularly under this bizarre Espionage Act that they are trying to enforce on the world. That is their own act. Mr Assange is an Australian citizen and he did not commit a crime.
That is the other thing: he has not committed a crime. They just want their pound of flesh, and that is all it is about for the Americans. The other thing I find interesting from the Liberals is that they come knocking on my door and that of the Hon. Connie Bonaros seeking our support for a bill that they want to make government accountable and transparent. This is just so hypocritical of them. If you want openness and transparency, why would you not support a whistleblower who exposed horrendous war crimes?
On top of that, we have the Attorney-General in Canberra, the Hon. Mark Dreyfus, who, again using hollow words, says that he supports press freedoms in this country. These are weasel words, just like those of Mr Albanese and Ms Wong. How can journalists believe that? When we have a journalist who is isolated in Belmarsh prison, suffering from his years of isolation with serious mental illnesses, how can journalists in this country believe it?
I am quite disappointed in my profession in this country. Unlike journalists in other parts of the world who have come out strongly in support of Mr Assange, here they are almost like sheep and are afraid to speak out for one of their own for what he had done. I can assure you that, as a journalist myself, if that information came to me, I would have absolutely no hesitation in publishing it because it would be publishing something that is in the public interest. You are publishing about criminal activity by a government.
Before I finish up, we saw at last week’s AUKUS love-in in San Diego Prime Minister Albanese having what may have been a water—I do not think it was a beer on this occasion—with the British Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, then we saw him trying on Joe Biden’s Ray-Bans. You would have thought that, during those little conversations, he may have raised the fact that Julian Assange is a matter that needs to be addressed and put in a word to Sleepy Joe: ‘What are you going to be doing about it?’ But clearly nothing was said about Mr Assange in that regard.
I want to finish off by recommending a book to my colleagues in this chamber and in other places. It is called The Trial of Julian Assange by Nils Melzer, who is the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture—quite a distinguished person. I want to read a couple of paragraphs from the introduction to this book:
…when investigating the case of Julian Assange, I came across compelling evidence of political persecution and gross judicial arbitrariness, as well as of deliberate torture and ill-treatment…
The reason for my strong engagement in this case is that its importance extends far beyond Julian Assange as an individual and, indeed, far beyond the states directly involved. It reveals a generalised systemic failure gravely undermining the integrity of our democratic institutions, our fundamental rights, and the rule of law more generally…
The Assange case is the story of a man who is being persecuted and abused for exposing the dirty secrets of the powerful, including war crimes, torture and corruption. It is a story of deliberate judicial arbitrariness in Western democracies that are otherwise keen to present themselves as exemplary in the area of human rights. It is a story of wilful collusion by intelligence services behind the backs of national parliaments and the general public. It is a story of manipulated and manipulative reporting in the mainstream media for the purpose of deliberately isolating, demonizing, and destroying a particular individual. It is the story of a man who has been scapegoated by all of us for our own societal failure to address government corruption and state-sanctioned crimes. It is thus also a story about each and every one of us, our lethargy, our self-deception and our co-responsibility for the political, economic and human tragedies of our time.
All I can ask of my colleagues in journalism is to wake up. Wake up and stand up for one of your colleagues because one day it could happen to you and, most surely, it will. With that, I commend the motion to the chamber.
The council divided on the motion:
Motion thus negatived.
There being a disturbance in the gallery:
The PRESIDENT: Order!