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Australia won’t conduct ‘megaphone diplomacy’ on Julian Assange amid calls to intervene

Sunday 19 June 2022, by siawi3


Julian Assange
Australia won’t conduct ‘megaphone diplomacy’ on Julian Assange amid calls to intervene

Labor government urged to do more to stop Australian WikiLeaks co-founder’s extradition to US from UK

Photo: A supporter of Julian Assange holds up a sign outside the Home Office in London. Canberra has been urged to intervene in the Australian WikiLeaks co-founder’s extradition to the US. Photograph: Xinhua/REX/Shutterstock

Sarah Martin

Sun 19 Jun 2022 06.01 BST
Last modified on Sun 19 Jun 2022 06.32 BST

The Albanese government insists it will not conduct “diplomacy by megaphone” as it faces calls to do more to prevent the extradition of WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange to the US.

On Saturday, the British home secretary, Priti Patel, approved the extradition of Assange to the US, where he is charged with breaching the US Espionage Act and faces up to 175 years in jail if convicted. He has 14 days to appeal the decision.

Supporters of the Australian citizen, including on Labor’s backbench, have urged the new prime minister, Anthony Albanese, to do more to pressure the United States to drop the case, which has been running since 2010, when WikiLeaks published a trove of leaked documents about the Afghanistan and Iraq wars along with diplomatic cables.

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The minister for employment and workplace relations, Tony Burke, said the government’s view was that the case had gone on too long and that conversations were happening.

“We’re not going to conduct diplomacy by megaphone. This case has gone on for far too long. We said that in opposition, we’ve repeated that in government,” Burke told Sky News on Sunday.

“The issue needs to be brought to a close. Australia is not a party to the prosecution that’s happening here [and] each country has its own legal system.

“The days of diplomacy being conducted and conversations with government being conducted by megaphone, text messages being exposed – that was the way the previous government behaved. We’ve been building constructive relationships again with our allies and they’re conversations that happen government to government.”

Julian Assange extradition battle

Labor MP Julian Hill, who has been a vocal advocate for Assange, described Patel’s decision to approve the extradition as “appalling”, and compared his plight with army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, who was the source of the leak.

“Manning, who leaked classified material exposing US war crimes, has been pardoned, yet Assange who published it (a journalistic activity), is facing an effective death sentence,” he said on Twitter on Saturday.

“There can never be a legal solution to this case. It is inherently political. Political cases should never be the subject of extradition. We should speak up for our fellow Australian and request these charges be dropped and he not be extradited.”

Manning was released in 2017 after Barack Obama commuted her 35-year military prison sentence in one of his final acts as president.

Independent MP Andrew Wilkie called on Albanese to make an immediate and direct appeal to the US president, Joe Biden, and the UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, on behalf of Assange.

“I have no doubt that Anthony Albanese has enough influence over the British prime minister to bring this to an end if he picks up the phone and says, ‘end this madness’,” Wilkie said on Saturday.

“I have no doubt that Anthony Albanese has a good enough relationship with Joe Biden to pick up the phone to the US president and say, ‘end this madness’.”

Karen Percy, the federal president of the media division of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, said the potential extradition of Assange to the US was “a dangerous assault on international journalism”.

“We urge the new Australian government to act on Julian Assange’s behalf and lobby for his release,” Percy said.

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Former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce, who was also a vocal supporter of Assange, said the new government needed to pressure the US to drop the case, saying he did not believe a soft diplomatic approach would be sufficient to secure his release.

“The new government has to make a clear statement, because if you speak in riddles, you are saying nothing at all,” Joyce told Guardian Australia.

He said that while he had attempted to rally support for Assange, “I had a different position to the previous government”.

In a joint statement on Friday, the foreign minister, Penny Wong, and the attorney general, Mark Dreyfus, issued a response to the extradition ruling.

“We will continue to convey our 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 statement said.

“The Australian government has been clear in our view that Mr Assange’s case has dragged on for too long and that it should be brought to a close.

“We will continue to express this view to the governments of the United Kingdom and United States.”