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Inglorious Inertia: The Albanese Government and Julian Assange

The sham that is the Assange affair, a scandal of monumental proportions connived in by the AUKUS powers, shows no signs of abating. Prior to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese assuming office in Australia, he insisted that the matter dealing with the WikiLeaks publisher would be finally resolved. It had, he asserted, been going on for too long.

Since then, it is very clear, as with all matters regarding US policy, that Australia will, if not agree outright with Washington, adopt a constipated, non-committal position. “Quiet diplomacy” is the official line taken by Albanese and Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong, a mealy-mouthed formulation deserving of contempt. As Greens Senator David Shoebridge remarks, “‘quiet diplomacy’ to bring Julian Assange home by the Albanese Government is a policy of nothing. Not one meeting, phone call or letter sent.”

Kellie Tranter, a tireless advocate for Assange, has done sterling work uncovering the nature of that position through Freedom of Information requests over the years. “They tell the story – not the whole story – of institutionalised prejudgment, ‘perceived’ rather than ‘actual’ risks, and complicity through silence.”

The story is a resoundingly ugly one. It features, for instance, stubbornness on the part of US authorities to even disclose the existence of a process seeking Assange’s extradition from the UK, to the lack of interest on the part of the Australian government to pursue direct diplomatic and political interventions.

Former Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop exemplified that position in signing off on a Ministerial Submission in February 2016 recommending that the Assange case not be resolved; those in Canberra were “unable to intervene in the due process of another’s country’s court proceedings or legal matters, and we have full confidence in UK and Swedish judicial systems.” Given the nakedly political nature of the blatant persecution of the WikiLeaks founder, this was a confidence both misplaced and disingenuous.

The same position was adopted by the Australian government to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD), which found that same month that Assange had been subject to “different forms of deprivation of liberty: initial detention in Wandsworth prison which was followed by house arrest and his confinement at the Ecuadorean embassy.” The Working Group further argued that Assange’s “safety and physical integrity” be guaranteed, that “his right to freedom of movement” be respected, and that he enjoy the full slew of “rights guaranteed by the international norms on detention.”

At the time, such press outlets as The Guardian covered themselves in gangrenous glory in insisting that Assange was not being detained arbitrarily and was merely ducking the authorities in favour of a “publicity stunt”. The conduct from Bishop and her colleagues did little to challenge such assertions, though the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade did confirm in communications with Tranter in June 2018 that the government was “committed to engaging in good faith with the United Nations Human Rights Council and its mechanisms, including the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.” Splendid inertia beckoned.

The new Australian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Stephen Smith, has kept up that undistinguished, even disgraceful tradition: he has offered unconvincing, lukewarm support for one of Belmarsh Prison’s most notable detainees. As the ABC reports, he expressed pleasure “that in the due course of next week or so he’s agreed that I can visit him in Belmarsh Prison.” (This comes with the usual qualification: that up to 40 offers of “consular” support had been previously made and declined by the ungrateful publisher.)

The new High Commissioner is promising little. “My primary responsibility will be to ensure his health and wellbeing and to inquire as to his state and whether there is anything that we can do, either with respect to prison authorities or to himself to make sure that his health and safety and wellbeing is of the highest order.”

Assange’s health and wellbeing, which has and continues to deteriorate, is a matter of court and common record. No consular visit is needed to confirm that fact. As with his predecessors, Smith is making his own sordid contribution to assuring that the WikiLeaks founder perishes in prison, a victim of ghastly process.

As for what he would be doing to impress the UK to reverse the decision of former Home Secretary Priti Patel to extradite the publisher to the US, Smith was painfully predictable. “It’s not a matter of us lobbying for a particular outcome. It’s a matter of me as the High Commissioner representing to the UK government as I do, that the view of the Australian government is twofold. It is: these matters have transpired for too long and need to be brought to a conclusion, and secondly, we want to, and there is no difficulty so far as UK authorities are concerned, we want to discharge our consular obligations.”

Former Australian Senator Rex Patrick summed up the position rather well by declaring that Smith would be far better off, on instructions from Prime Minister Albanese, pressing the current Home Secretary Suella Braverman to drop the whole matter. Even better, Albanese might just do the good thing and push US President Joe Biden and his Attorney-General Merrick Garland to end the prosecution.

 

 

Little can be expected from the latest announcement. Smith is a man who has made various effusive comments about AUKUS, an absurd, extortionately costly security pact appropriately described as a war-making arrangement. The Albanese government, having placed Australia ever deeper into the US military orbit, is hardly likely to do much for a publisher who exposed the war crimes and predations of the Imperium.

 

Once upon a time…

 

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10 comments

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  1. Baby Jewels

    This case continues to bring shame on the Australian government for its inaction. Now continuing under Labor. Just another issue destroying faith in government.

  2. New England Cocky

    FREE JULIAN ASSANGE NOW!!!

    When you have the USA (United States of Apartheid) as an ally why do you need any enemies?

  3. Douglas Pritchard

    The contempt that is shown to us by our “Aukus” partners should be the basis for a double think on this thing.
    And to add to the indignity of our position we will celebrate the coronation of the King of Australia soon.
    Isnt it the “Lambada” dance that challenges the participant to see how low they can go?

  4. Terence Mills

    In the Kabuki theatre world of international diplomacy, the visit by Stephen Smith as Australian High Commissioner to Julian Assange in jail is extremely, symbolically, important and sends a powerful message to the British government that is reinforced by quiet pressure coming from Albanese and Wong.

    You would never have seen this action or the slightest interest by Smith’s predecessors Al Downer or George Brandis.

    Don’t be too hard on Albanese, these things take time to achieve.

  5. Caz

    I had hoped that Labor had the will, the backbone and the authority to bring Assange home but Albanese is as big a lackey of the US as Morrison was. Truly a great disappointment. Wonder what Tom Uren would now think of his protege?

  6. Anthony Judge

    Beyond the inadequacy of years of protest? Maximum suffering is sought to frighten emulators. Imagine far worse to damn the complicit? Crowdsourcing “just punishment” for #Assange — in faithful Christian retribution for daring to speak truth to power (https://bit.ly/3K5FytA)

  7. Andrew Smith

    Agree with Terence, it’s naive to expect Assange to be ‘brought home’ as though we just need to make a request?

    Unfortunately he is not under Australian jurisdiction, UK is foreign not local and any diplomat can only liaise with their nationals incarcerated under diplomatic protocols vs. e.g. PRC ‘wolf warriors’ who push the line on interactions outside of their diplomatic territory or compounds with the public.

    Assange could have done things much differently on Wikileaks (one was not impressed when he allegedly became reckless on document dumps), but yes this does not preclude govt. action in the background to try ameliorate the situation; but many years were wasted under the LNP govt. who did nothing.

  8. Terence Mills

    The original judge, based on expert medical evidence of Assange’s mental health, ruled that he should be discharged under section 91 (2) and (3) of the UK-USA Extradition Act 2003.

    His circumstances have not changed, if anything they have got worse : there has been a massive failure in the system of justice in Britain.

    This is the section of the British legislation that has been flouted for purely political reasons :

    Section 91 Physical or mental condition :

    (1)This section applies if at any time in the extradition hearing it appears to the judge that the condition in subsection (2) is satisfied.

    (2)The condition is that the physical or mental condition of the person is such that it would be unjust or oppressive to extradite him.

    (3)The judge must—

    (a)order the person’s discharge, or

    (b)adjourn the extradition hearing until it appears to him that the condition in subsection (2) is no longer satisfied.

    You will note that the act requires that the judge must act, this is not discretionary, it does not say may. Accordingly the judge ordered his discharge in July 2021 yet he is still held in Belmarsh Jail. How can that be ?

    https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2003/41/contents

  9. B Sullivan

    Douglas Pritchard, “Isnt it the “Lambada” dance that challenges the participant to see how low they can go?”

    No, it was limbo dancing, in which participants bend over backwards to shuffle under a pole or stick held horizontally by two people who keep lowering it until it is no longer possible for anyone to successfully pass under.

    Terence Mills, “Don’t be too hard on Albanese, these things take time to achieve.”

    Nelson Mandela might agree. Albanese however has already expressed his impatience but has not actually stood up to the US and condemned it for its treatment of a journalist who has exposed a US war crime. Just challenging the behaviour of the US in this matter would be an achievement. Perhaps, like previous Australian PMs he thinks those who expose war crimes rather than those who commit them are more deserving of punishment.

  10. Pingback: The week in nuclear news | Nuclear Australia

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