Senate debates

Tuesday, 25 February 2020

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Assange, Mr Julian

3:39 pm

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Senator Payne) to questions without notice asked today.

The standard response this government has had to any question asked about Australian citizen Julian Assange—award-winning journalist who's being extradited to the US for uncovering their war crimes—has been that, 'This government doesn't intervene in any foreign legal process involving other countries.' I asked the question of Senator Payne today that clearly shows that is not the case. Last year Senator Payne flew to Thailand to lobby the Thai government against the extradition of Hakeem al-Araibi, an Australian soccer player who was being extradited to Bahrain. The minister claimed today—I will go back and have a look at the Hansardthat the cases are very different. Once again I beg to differ.

It was very clear, when I saw the 'Australian story' that featured the work around a number of high-profile Australians to help secure the release of Hakeem, that he was a political prisoner in Thailand. He was going to be sent back to Bahrain to face potential torture, harm or even a death sentence. Let me tell you what the UN rapporteur on torture, Nils Melzer, said last night and you can tell me that there are no similarities between these two cases. He said, 'The extradition of Julian Assange is a modern show trial.' He said:

The case of Julian Assange is nothing else than a modern show trial featuring politically motivated prosecutors, denial of justice, manipulated evidence, biased judges, unlawful surveillance, denial of defence rights, and abusive prison conditions. What sounds like a textbook example of dictatorial arbitrariness is in fact an actual precedent happening in the middle of Europe, the birthplace of human rights.

It is our ally and friend, the United States, who he is talking about here. It's not Bahrain. It's not a country in the Middle East with a record of human rights abuses. This is the United States of America that the UN is talking about. I recommend senators read this report that was out last night. The language is extraordinary. It is extraordinary that this has come from the UN about the case of Julian Assange.

The minister said, as I just mentioned, that the two cases are quite different. I would agree that in a sense, yes, they are quite different because the UN is clearly saying—as, by the way, is just about every journalist and major outlet around the world—that is, the ones who are speaking out in defence of journalistic freedom and trying to oppose the criminalisation of journalism—that this case is unique because it is not about an individual anymore. This case is about freedom of speech. It is about journalistic integrity. It is about the rights of an Australian citizen. That's what's at stake here. In fact, the UN rapporteur said last night, 'This is ultimately about democracy and whether we want a totalitarian regime that we all sit under.' And I would ask the minister to reflect on her answers and to explain to this chamber and to Australians who care deeply about the torture and the extradition of Julian Assange why these cases are different. I know why they're different. It's because the US is a close ally and a friend of ours. We have an ANZUS Treaty with this country. I understand there's a lot at stake with our close friend and ally, but, because they're a close friend and ally, that's exactly why we have a relationship where we should be adults with our ally and where we should say: 'This is simply unacceptable. You cannot extradite an Australian citizen who has rights on the basis of a breach of a US law.' If this precedent occurs, it is extremely dangerous. Today it's Julian Assange. Tomorrow, it could be your son or your daughter or your brother. This is an egregious abuse of power. It is an appalling abuse of power by our friend and ally the US. This parliament has been silent for too long. I ask senators to speak out on this case and bring Julian Assange home. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.