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Andrew Wilkie pushes PM to bring Assange home

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Andrew Wilkie is pressuring Parliament into increasing support for Julian Assange (Screenshots via YouTube)

Andrew Wilkie MP speaks with Dr John Jiggens about the House of Representatives' historic vote for the UK and the U.S. to drop the charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

John Jiggens: Congratulations to you and the Parliamentary Friends for leading the fight to save Julian Assange. You are off to London to attend the High Court hearing. Will you be asking the Australian High Commission if they will attend the hearing? Do you know if they are?

Andrew Wilkie: I don't have any visibility of the High Commission’s involvement. What I do know, though, is the Government’s recent change in positions in response to my motion calling for the U.S. and the UK to drop the matter and let Julian come home. The fact that the Government voted strongly in favour of that motion, the final numbers were 86 for, 42 against.

 

The following day, in response to a question from me in Question Time, the Prime Minister personally stood up and gave his clearest and strongest position statement yet about this, having gone on too long. All of that shows that the Government at least has shifted its position.

 

Now, whether or not that's being noticed in London or Washington is unknown, but I think it would be very, very hard for them to ignore such a clear position now by the Australian Government that this has gone on too long.

JJ: While you're in London, will you be seeking a talk with James Cleverly, the Home Secretary of England and Wales, who has a final decision on extradition?

AW: Regrettably, I'll only be on the ground in London for about 14 hours, so there won't be time to meet with the British Government officials or members of the British Parliament. And although I have been invited to meet the Australian High Commissioner, there just won't be time, so my focus will be the courtroom and the Court here.

 

I think it's important nonetheless because it's important an Australian parliamentarian who bears witness to what's going on can bring some comfort, to be able to show support to Stella and the family.

 

And also through the British media, I'll be able to communicate the very important point that now a clear majority of the Australian Parliament, including the Australian Government and the Prime Minister, are of the view that regardless of what you think about Julian Assange, the fact is he's been incarcerated in one way or another for 12 years or so ─ the matter has gone on long enough. The extradition should be dropped and he should be allowed to return to Australia.

JJ: You resigned from the Office of National Assessments over the weapons-of-mass-destruction lie that led to the Iraq War. So you were a very early supporter of Assange. My limited understanding is that you and Senator Peter Whish-Wilson started the Parliamentary Friends of Assange in 2011. Can you give a brief history of that group and how it has developed?

AW: In fact, I first met Julian Assange in 2004, before WikiLeaks. After I resigned from the Office of National Assessments, resigning from a role in civilian intelligence over the invasion of Iraq based on a false, fraudulent reason for war in 2003, I wrote a little book and I spoke to the Melbourne Writers Festival in 2004.

 

After my presentation, a young man, with long, blonde hair came up to me and started picking my brains about how to establish some sort of safe online portal for whistleblowers to ventilate their information, and as it turned out that was a young Julian Assange and some years later, he went on to establish WikiLeaks.

 

So, I met him back then, but fast-forwarding to me getting into Parliament, Peter Whish-Wilson and I were the original founders of the Australian Parliament Group to bring Julian Assange Home, which started out with just a handful of members. But now it includes many dozens of members and, in fact, several months ago when we pulled together an open letter to the U.S. Government, there were more than 60 signatories on that from the Australian Parliament.

 

And of course, two days ago, the Parliament voted 86 to 42 in favour of a motion that this matter had gone on long enough. The Australian Parliament is much bigger than the parliamentary group and it's fallen into line with clear majority of public opinion in this country that whether or not you loathe or love Assange, the feeling is it's just gone on long enough that the matter should be dropped.

JJ: There was dissatisfaction with the Albanese Government that they were just saying enough is enough and there was a feeling that they were just gaslighting Assange supporters, so what's been your impression of them?

AW: Look, I think the criticism of the Federal Government had been warranted until recently. They were saying lots of things, but I've seen no evidence of any of any hard work on their behalf. I think that's why the Parliament's strong support for the motion is so significant, because it is clearly a significant shift in the Government's position and the Parliament's position. There's no obligation on the Government or the Parliament to act on the motion, but I think the importance of it is that it was such a clear, strong statement, finally.

 

And interestingly, the day after the motion, I asked a question to the Prime Minister at Question Time and he stood up personally, alone – you know, not just one of 86 people voting for something – he stood up personally and alone at the Dispatch Box and he made a very clear, strong statement in support of Assange. That's never been done before and I know that will not go unnoticed at the U.S. Embassy and the British High Commission, and through them to London and Washington.

JJ: I noticed that one of the people who abstained from voting was Barnaby Joyce, who seems to have been a very strong voice for Assange. Do you know why that happened?

AW: No, I don't know. And someone's going to have to ask Barnaby. To Barnaby's credit, he has been for a long time, a very strong supporter of Assange. I think he said he didn't particularly like Assange at all, but he has a strong and very clear understanding of justice and the rights of people. For years, he has called for the charges against Assange to be dropped, the extradition to be dropped and for Assange to be released, but he didn't vote one way or the other for the motion was very disappointing.

 

I'm just speculating now, John. Some members of the Opposition have claimed that the motion was too anti-U.S. I could only think they haven’t read the motion because I don't know how they could draw that conclusion.

 

I suppose there's also the issue that Barnaby would have had to cross the floor and given that he's an important figure in the Opposition, he might have felt crossing the floor a step too far. So he decided to step out because of his position in his political party and let's face it, he's been in the news lately for all the wrong reasons.

 

He decided to keep a low profile, although I think his efforts to keep a low profile probably shone a light on the cause, as everyone's asking why did he not vote. Why didn't he vote in support of the motion?

Dr John Jiggens is a writer and journalist currently working in the community newsroom at Bay-FM in Byron Bay.

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