Tuesday, 28 November 2023
Assange, Mr Julian Paul
Since April 2019, Julian Assange has been held in the maximum security Belmarsh prison in England as he fights extradition to the USA, where he faces multiple espionage related charges. For the seven years prior, he was confined to the Ecuadorian embassy in London. His alleged wrongdoing was publishing classified US military documents through his WikiLeaks website. Other media outlets that published the same material, including the Guardian, the New York Times and the online US Cryptome blogger, John Young, are not being pursued and never have been by the US government.
Julian Assange is an Australian citizen. His health is failing. In September, an Australian cross-party delegation, which consisted of senators David Shoebridge, Peter Whish-Wilson and Alex Antic, as well as the member for New England, Barnaby Joyce; the member for Kooyong, Dr Monique Ryan; and me, travelled to Washington to lobby for the release of Assange. In the two-day privately funded visit, the Australian delegation met with key US government officials and cross-party members of the US Congress. Subsequent to the Australian delegation's visit, 16 cross-party members of the US Congress signed a joint letter to the US President calling for the withdrawal of the Julian Assange extradition request and a halt to the US prosecution. Countless other international human rights advocates, eminent legal persons and world leaders have also called for his release. Three-quarters of a million people have signed a petition in support of Julian Assange.
The widely held view is that Julian Assange is being punished for having embarrassed the US and US individuals. Regardless of whatever view one holds about Julian Assange, including believing he did wrong, almost five years in the high-security Belmarsh prison has been a very heavy penalty, particularly in light of Chelsea Manning, the US intelligence officer who provided the classified material to him, having had her sentence commuted in 2017. It serves no useful purpose to continue the detention and pursuit of Julian Assange. Exposing the truth should not be a crime, and the persecution of Julian Assange contradicts the very principles of freedom of speech and freedom of journalism and wider human rights that the modern world stands for. It diminishes our credibility in speaking up for the human rights of others.
In New York Harbour, since 1886, the Statue of Liberty, with its motto of 'Liberty Enlightening the World', has stood as a beacon of justice, freedom and hope. If the US is to remain true to those values, the case against Julian Assange must be discontinued and he should be set free. As the Prime Minister has said, enough is enough. Can I take just a moment to acknowledge the presence of Gabriel Shipton in the House with us today. He has been a tireless campaigner for the Julian Assange release.
I would like to follow on from the member for Makin and also acknowledge Gabriel Shipton, who's here today. There are very few things that draw together people from both sides of the political fence, whether it's the Greens; Alex Antic; Tony Zappia—we've known each other for a long time and worked together—the Nationals; the Labor Party; the Liberal Party; the Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese; or Peter Dutton, but this issue has done that. It's time that this issue is resolved and brought to a conclusion. I acknowledge that Gabriel Shipton is Julian Assange's brother, but I'm not here to give warrant to Mr Assange did—not for one second. But I am saying that extraterritoriality is an incredibly dangerous precedent. I'll say, for the Australian people, that—and not to go through the details, which the member for Makin has done—Julian Assange was not a US citizen.
Julian Assange did not commit a crime in Australia. In fact, he got a Walkley Award for it. Julian Assange was never in the US when any offence that the US has nominated was committed.
So we are sending a person to a third country on the behest of a third country because of their domestic laws. Once you start agreeing to do that, it's only a matter of time before the Chinese government says, 'We've got a few people in Australia we want you to send to China.' If someone offends a religion in another part of the world, they'll say, 'You should send those people to us as well.' How are you going to argue against that when you have given credibility to what is happening here? For the US, how are they going to justify their position when they are part and parcel of this? I've said before that Australia has been a good neighbour to the US, and, with Mr Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, who most definitely committed offences in Australia—most definitely—we haven't called for their extradition back to Australia. If we did, they would go to jail for quite a while.
So I ask something of those in the United States. I know the Prime Minister of Australia has now been to the US. I'm not going to delve into what discussions the Prime Minister may or may not have had, but I want to reinforce to the people of the United States and the government of the United States our great respect for their nation but our displeasure that this issue continues on. It needs to be resolved. This carbuncle in the relationship needs to be removed. We have bigger fish to fry. There are bigger issues out there for us to deal with. This issue needs to be put aside.
I want to also acknowledge the great work done by the delegation with Tony Zappia, Alex Antic, Peter Whish-Wilson, Monique Ryan and David Shoebridge—I'm forgetting some more. I thank them for their work. The support will continue on.