Labor's 'quiet diplomacy' approach to freeing Julian Assange is being met with criticism by those who feel too little is being done, writes Dr John Jiggens.
WHEN LABOR WON the Federal Election in May 2022, the hopes of supporters of WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange soared. In 2021, Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus had issued a statement saying that Labor wanted the Assange matter ‘brought to an end’, while Labor’s leader Anthony Albanese had declared that he couldn’t see any purpose to keeping Assange in gaol. “Enough is enough,” he affirmed.
That hope was fuelled further when, in the Government’s first week, the ABC reported on 26 May that Albanese was a signature to an online petition, the Bring Julian Assange Home Campaign. Signing the petition seemed odd because it went to Albanese as Prime Minister.
However, Albanese did not deny the story, which was confirmed by a reliable source who disclosed Albanese had signed up on his first day in office, even before he flew off to Tokyo for the Quad meeting with the Japanese PM, the Indian PM and U.S. President Joe Biden. Despite Albanese’s alleged championing of Assange, there was no indication that he discussed his U.S. extradition.
At a press conference on 31 May, a Guardian journalist asked Albanese whether it was his position that the U.S. should be encouraged to drop the charges against Assange and whether he had made any such representations to the U.S. Government. Albanese sidestepped the question, replying it was his position “that not all foreign affairs should be done by loud hailer”. Labor claimed it was practising ‘quiet diplomacy’.
Following the UK Home Office signing off on the extradition of Assange on 17 June, former Labor Foreign Minister Bob Carr said Labor should demand Assange’s release.
‘In the context of Australia’s role as an ally – the heft we deliver for the U.S. empire – a decision to let Assange walk free rates about five minutes of President Biden’s Oval Office attention.’
Labor’s response was criticised as inadequate by retiring cross-bench Senator Rex Patrick and looking “too similar to the contemptibly weak line taken by their predecessors”. Albanese met Biden again at the NATO summit in Madrid on 30 June without a whisper about Assange.
Mounting concerns about Labor’s undetectable diplomacy surfaced in the new Parliament on 4 August, when Greens Senator David Shoebridge questioned the Government about what was being done for Assange, asking whether “quiet diplomacy” had become “no diplomacy”.
On behalf of the Prime Minister, Labor’s Senate leader, Senator Don Farrell, repeated the previous Government’s position that Australia cannot interfere in another country's legal process, declaring “the extradition case is between the United States and the United Kingdom, a legal system that we respect”.
Has U.S. pressure turned Albanese’s promise of “quiet diplomacy” into a policy of “no diplomacy” with the transformation hidden behind a shroud of secrecy? Assange’s supporters and his family have a sinking feeling that this is so.
Julian’s father, John Shipton, contrasted the treatment of the Assange family with the treatment of Kylie Moore-Gilbert, who was interned in Iran for two years while the Government negotiated her release.
In the case of Kylie Moore-Gilbert, the family were kept informed and so we expect the same from the Prime Minister and Cabinet. If there is such a thing as quiet diplomacy going on, we would like to be kept informed. If we are not informed, we have to assume naturally that there is no such thing happening. If we are not informed, we have to assume it is a hollow promise. I make that very clear because we cannot simply rely on assertions.
We have lawyers all over the world who have accumulated considerable expertise in the case of all the aspects of Julian’s case. The lawyers have not had any contact from the Department of Foreign Affairs or Prime Minister and Cabinet. From those two things – that we are not informed, and the lawyers have not been contacted – we have to assume that quiet diplomacy is yet to start.
Don Farrell, in taking that position that they can’t involve themselves in the legal processes of another country, is repeating a mantra that is hollow and makes the Australian Government complicit by acquiescence to due process anomalies, procedure irregularities and the disproportionate punishment of Julian.
Disproportionate punishment is that Julian is not under house arrest for remand, but he is being detained in a maximum-security prison with murderers and terrorists.
The spying on Julian’s discussion with his lawyers, the confiscation of his legal papers, procedural irregularities, all demonstrate the collapse of due process. All of these are opportunities for genuine assertion of Australia’s position regarding Australian citizen Julian Assange.
Holding Julian in a maximum-security prison when he is on remand is disproportionate punishment. I remind you that ‘on remand’ means innocent.
Dr John Jiggens is a writer and journalist currently working in the community newsroom at Bay-FM in Byron Bay.
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