Independent Australia's contributing editor-at-large, Tess Lawrence


Independent Australia's Tess Lawrence says BRING IT ON!

JULIAN ASSANGE asks why the Australian people shouldn’t consider charging Prime Minister Julia Gillard with treason. What's wrong with this picture? Nothing. Granted, one person's Benedict Arnold is another's Paul Revere. But, if betrayal and illegally passing on intelligence to the United States and other foreign governments are sine quibus non in matters treasonable, then hasn't Assange got a point worthy of non-hysterical debate? After all, he knows where the bodies are.

The other night on the ABC's weekly current affairs forum Q and A, the normal panel format was ditched in favour of a single guest. Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard was resplendent, glowing in both lip and political gloss, fresh as a par avion daisy from her triumphant US trip where, we are led to believe, she wowed the Yanks and delivered a speech so moving that it reduced Congress to racking sobs and got a standing ovation longer than Beyonce's performance for Gaddafi the Younger.

[Watch the full episode of Q and A by clicking here.]

During the show, the Prime Minister took a not unexpected question from a member of the studio audience about WikiLeaks and responded in a not unexpected way by not answering it but suffocating it with waffle.

This is how it went sequentially and here I quote from the ABC transcript:



First, handsome Adam Marsters asked the PM: "..following WikiLeaks' publishing of classified documents last year, you labelled the organisation's actions 'illegal' despite being unable to identify any law which had been broken. Given the increasingly vocal support for WikiLeaks, do you now regret such comments?”

PM: “....We are supporting Julian Assange the same way we would support any Australian citizen who got into a legal difficulty overseas.

“We support people who are accused of drug trafficking. We support people who are accused of murder....I'm sure everyone here would say, "Well, drug trafficking is wrong. Murder is wrong..."

"So my view about the conduct is neither here nor there in that sense. He's getting the same support someone called John Smith would get in the same situation. But I do have a view about the merit and morals of the act and I simply don't see the moral force in it.

"...I know enough about American history to know the history of Watergate and Deep Throat did the right thing getting that information into the public domain...At the centre of  WikiLeaks, I don't see that moral purpose."

Then host Tony Jones took a question coming in on video online. It was Julian Assange calling.

Persona-non-grata in person. Face to internet face with the PM.

Now, Upabove in America, bringing antagonist and protagonist together on the telly is quite normal but Downunder, we get our knickers in a barrier reef knot when we do grown up newsy things.

Naturally, it was an expectant moment when Assange asked quietly and calmly, “Prime Minister, you just got back from Washington but what Australian citizens want to know is: which country do you represent?”

“Do you represent Australians and will you fight for Australian interests?

“Because it's not the first time that you or a member of your cabinet has been into a US government building and exchanged information.”

"In fact we have intelligence that your government has been exchanging information with foreign powers about Australian citizens working for WikiLeaks.”

“So, Prime Minister, my question to you is this: When will you come clean about precisely what information you have supplied to foreign powers about Australian citizens working or affiliated with WikiLeaks?

"And if you cannot give a full and frank answer to that question, should perhaps the Australian people consider charging you with treason?” Unfair point?

Given that in their collective desperation to relieve Assange of his formidable capabilities, the Australian, US and other Governments are feverishly rifling through everything from the Magna Carta, the Constitution, the colour logbook for the black Model T Ford and Sweden's Ikea dissembling manual to nail this dude—I don't think so.

The Prime Minister's response to Mr Assange was one of consummate obfuscation. She first gave her trademark nervous chuckle. Her response certainly gave me a laugh. It will you.

Here's why:  “I honestly don't know what he is talking about so I'm afraid I can't help him with full and frank disclosures. I don't know anything about exchanging information about people who work for WikiLeaks." How's that for an unknown unknown? Fabio wouldn't melt in her mouth, let alone butter.

Host Tony Jones pressed the point: "So, it hasn't happened to your knowledge?”

“To my knowledge it hasn't happened," said the PM. "But on the more broad allegations he makes about do we exchange information about Australian citizens with foreign governments, yes, we do sometimes."

As examples, the PM cited drug trafficking and terrorism. As if we don't watch Judge Judy, NYPD, CSI, Blue Bloods and Two and a Half-Humen here in Oz!

But Tony wasn't having any of it and spoke up on behalf of the USA.

“What about espionage, which of course, is the charge the United States would like to lay at the feet of Julian Assange," he queried.

So now I'm thinking Mary Magdalene.  But Julia ain't. She's thinking pincer movements:

“Mr Assange hasn't been charged with anything relating to WikiLeaks........He's got some legal issues relating to personal conduct questions – alleged personal conduct questions in Sweden – and no-one in the United States raised with me, Mr Assange. No-one." I'm thinking Lazarus and Jesus, bejeezus.

But hang on Big Julie. One minute you say you don't know nuttin' and the next thing—you profess to know everything.

And thus it went. Except the next morning the sun arose to a wall of outrage from some sections of the media and politicians asserting Tony Jones and Q and A had 'ambushed' the Prime Minister by 'setting her up' and having Assange call in. Bollocks.

The fact that any Prime Minister or President for that matter would be rendered insensible by appearing on a television show whose very ID is based on taking audience and online questions is laughable. Is the Prime Minister really incapable of taking a question without notice from one of her citizens, albeit one who wears a tracking device and is under house arrest in a foreign country?

For a start, why weren't Julia's minders on the ball? After all, when former Prime Minister John Howard, Dubya's old best friend in the Coalition of the Killing, was on the same show last year spruiking his autobiography (don't they all?) not only did an audience member chuck his shoe at Howard (remind you of something?) but Gitmo survivor David Hicks called in via videolink to ask Howard a question.

I don't recall Howard instigating supporters to bleat public outrage on his behalf. Nor do I recall a particularly virulent level of media criticism directed at Q and A. To mix metaphors, even though the shoe didn't fit, Howard wore it. If Gillard can't stand the heat, then I suggest she get back into the kitchen cabinet.


(Tess Lawrence's story on Julian Assange, which originally appeared on Independent Australia last week, was today republished in a slightly updated form in the leading American news journal Truth Out. If you would like to see that story, click here. If you would like to see other Tess Lawrence stories on Independent Australia, click here.)

 

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