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Motion: Assange

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: I move:

That this council—

1. Notes that—

(a) on 20 and 21 February 2024, the High Court of Justice in the United Kingdom will hold a hearing into whether Walkley Award winning journalist, Mr Julian Assange, can appeal against his extradition to the United States of America;

(b) Mr Assange remains incarcerated in HMP Belmarsh in the UK, awaiting a decision on whether he can be extradited to the USA to face charges for material published in 2010, which revealed shocking evidence of misconduct by the USA; and

(c) both the Australian government and opposition have publicly stated that this matter has gone on for too long.

2. Acknowledges the importance of the UK and USA bringing the matter to a close so that Mr Assange can return home to his family in Australia.

3. Requests the President urgently write to the US Ambassador reflecting the resolution of this council.

This motion before us notes that today, on 20 and 21 February 2024, the High Court of Justice in the United Kingdom is holding a hearing into whether Walkley Award winning journalist, Mr Julian Assange, can appeal against his extradition to the United States of America. It notes that Mr Assange remains incarcerated in Belmarsh prison in the UK awaiting that decision of whether he will be extradited to face charges for material published by WikiLeaks in 2010, which, of course, revealed shocking war crimes by the US.

It notes that both the Australian government and the opposition at a federal level have publicly stated that this matter has now gone on for far too long, and it acknowledges the importance of the UK and the USA in bringing this matter to a close so that Mr Julian Assange, an Australian citizen, can return here, safely, home to his family. It also, should it pass, Mr President, requests that you, as the President of this Legislative Council and our representative, write to the US Ambassador, Caroline Kennedy, reflecting the resolution of this council. Put simply, it is time to bring Julian Assange home.

In 2010, Chelsea Manning, an intelligence analyst in the US military, bravely broke US law to blow the whistle to WikiLeaks about US war crimes. Chelsea was bound by military and criminal law. She lived in the United States, and she was a United States citizen.

In 2013, Chelsea was convicted of 17 serious criminal charges and sentenced to 35 years' maximum-security imprisonment. Four years later, Manning's government acknowledged the wrong in imprisoning her and her sentence was commuted by the then US President, Barack Obama, and she was released from prison in 2017.

In 2010, Julian Assange, an Australian journalist living outside the United States, with no legal or contractual obligations to the United States, published Manning's material on WikiLeaks. This included thousands of documents that exposed the brutal reality of US-led wars. One of those was the deeply distressing video of a cold-blooded murder by a US Apache helicopter of Iraqi citizens, which included two Reuters journalists.

Since then, the US has been openly targeting Julian Assange in order to prosecute him under the United States Espionage Act. In late 2010, the US National Security Agency added Assange to its 'man-hunting time line', an annual account of efforts to capture or kill alleged terrorists. For the decade that has followed, the US named Assange as effectively an enemy of the state, and in 2019 he was charged with multiple breaches of the US Espionage Act, with a maximum sentence of 175 years in prison.

For the past four years, Julian Assange has been held in solitary detention in a UK maximumsecurity prison awaiting extradition to the US. Unfortunately, it is not the first time this council has had to move to push to ensure that Julian Assange is brought home, but it is, perhaps, more critical now than ever that we speak—hopefully with one voice today—to make it clear that it is time to bring Julian Assange home.

The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment visited Julian in May 2019 and even at that stage reported serious concerns about his detention and his health. Years later, we have a situation where the very next thing that might happen to Julian Assange is his transportation to the United States. Let us be clear: given Mr Assange's health, any sentence of imprisonment under the notorious US Espionage Act and extradition to the US would almost certainly be a death sentence. It cannot be allowed to come to that.

That is a very large part of the reasons you will see so many people from right across the political spectrum saying that this has gone on far too long. He is now facing a grave risk to his life because it has gone on for so long. That is why this critical next step must be to ensure that Julian Assange is brought home.

An open letter from the federal Bring Julian Assange Home Parliamentary Group, which was published in The Washington Post and signed by 63 federal parliamentarians, emphasised the wrongdoing by the US to deny him his liberties. That letter concluded by saying:

We note with gratitude the considerable support in the United States for an end to the legal pursuit of Mr Assange from members of Congress, human rights advocates, academics, and civil society, and from within the US media in defence of free speech and independent journalism.

Today, Mr Assange's legal team is making the final plea to the UK's High Court to block his extradition to the US. If he is convicted, the US will set a legal precedent that means any publication of US government information by anyone, anywhere, could result in espionage charges under those US laws.

Just to stress this again, it should be quite clear to most people now that the US Espionage Act is here being applied to somebody who is not a US citizen, who was not in the US at the time. It is being used in a political way to silence freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Should it succeed, should Mr Assange be extradited, this will be damaging—beyond damaging—for journalists in the future, damaging for the ability of the media to hold governments to account, to say uncomfortable things about governments, things that might be uncomfortable for their own government, and to know that you can tell the truth without facing imprisonment and without facing a risk to your own life for laws that are established in another country that should not apply to you.

That is why there is global support for Julian Assange to be returned home. It is particularly strong in Australia, as it should be; he is an Australian citizen. He has become symbolic of journalists right across the world, who face attacks on press freedom, often shrinking government accountability and, in some jurisdictions, persecution ranging from political prosecutions through to murder.

A motion very similar to the one that I put before the council today last week passed the federal House of Representatives with the support of Labor and the Greens. I acknowledge there the work of my federal Greens colleagues the Hon. David Shoebridge, Senator, and the Hon. Peter Whish-Wilson, Senator, for pushing for this at that federal level as well as, of course, my Greens and other colleagues in the House of Representatives. I also want to acknowledge the work of Jodie Saad and Adelaide for Assange for their advocacy and all others who have pushed for justice for Julian.

As WikiLeaks wrote in their statement responding to the extradition news, Julian Assange's freedom is coupled to all our freedoms. To quote the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights: The safety of journalists is not just a question of personal security, it is a question of the safety and health of entire societies. It is a moral imperative—for the future of all of us—that we do everything possible to protect it. 

This man has suffered enough. This matter must be brought to an end. I hope that we join together today and say clearly from this Legislative Council in the Parliament of South Australia that we want to see Julian Assange brought home. With that, I commend the motion.

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