Senate debates

Thursday, 10 December 2020

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Assange, Mr Julian Paul

3:33 pm

Photo of Janet RiceJanet Rice (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Senator Payne) to a question without notice asked by Senator Rice today relating to Mr Julian Assange.

Sadly, the answers she gave me were tragic. Minister Payne and this government refuse to recognise the desperate situation of Julian Assange and refuse to recognise that it's much more than a consular case; it requires diplomatic and political engagement. I was also struck and shocked by her callous disregard to the threats to Mr Assange's health due to the risks from COVID—and this on international Human Rights Day. It is tragic on international Human Rights Day to see the minister refusing to recognise or to defend the human rights of Julian Assange, an Australian citizen, and to provide him with the support that he deserves.

As I was reflecting in preparing my question today, in responding to the minister I want particularly to acknowledge an important book that has been published on Julian Assange. It is A Secret Australia: Revealed by the WikiLeaks Exposes, in which 18 different Australians reflect on what Australia has learnt about itself from the work of WikiLeaks and Julian Assange. It's very relevant to the minister's response to my question today. It includes contributions from many people, including from Julian Assange's lawyer, Jennifer Robinson. She notes in her contribution that the only reason Assange remains in prison is the US's extradition request and their indictment, which the Freedom of the Press Foundation has described as a terrifying threat to press freedom. His indictment has been unanimously denounced by journalists, unions, and free speech and human rights organisations, and still Australia takes no action. She says the Australian government claims it is offering consular assistance, but this unprecedented case requires more; it requires diplomatic and political action. That was exactly the point of the question that I put to Minister Payne today.

Something I also think is very relevant is the contribution in this book from my former colleague former senator Scott Ludlam. In his chapter, entitled 'Free Julian Assange', Scott writes:

… the WikiLeaks publications have taught us two things about how power works in the increasingly uncomfortable West. There is the raw material itself: a meticulously indexed and utterly damning archive of great power, malevolence and manipulation. And then there is the reaction: how our own government has dealt with an inconvenient publisher. It looks different to how they do it in Israel, North Korea and Russia, but the outcome is the same. They have sought to destroy the messenger; not just as punishment, but as a warning to all other messengers.

Every authoritarian since the beginning of time has known that repression has a habit of provoking anger and defiance instead. The choice is entirely on us. Fear is a natural reaction when we realise our governments will destroy us without hesitation if it serves their interests. Feeling that, understanding it in the same way that incarcerated refugees understand it, that First Nations people understand it, is what can bring us to that moment of defiance and anger. Know then that none of us are alone in this, that the anger is shared, and widespread, and growing.

This is a rallying cry that rings true to me. On reflecting on Human Rights Day today and Minister Payne's appalling response to the question of the human rights of Julian Assange, we recognise that there is so much more to be done for human rights here in Australia and internationally. Domestically, on top of our inaction on truth and justice for and treaties with our First Nations peoples is, of course, our incarceration of refugees and asylum seekers, both onshore and offshore. So we must fight to ensure that all Australians have fundamental human rights and are entitled to the equal protection of the law. We must passionately, consistently and ceaselessly highlight attacks on human rights wherever they occur and affirm our solidarity with people who are working to uphold human rights in the face of authoritarianism and dictatorships.

I conclude by mentioning the case of Idris Khattak, who is a prominent human rights defender in Pakistan. It's been more than a year since he was abducted and it took six months for the Pakistani Ministry of Defence even to acknowledge they had him in custody. I call on the government of Pakistan to ensure that his rights are protected, his safety is guaranteed and he'll be returned to his family as soon as possible.

International Human Rights Day is a time to look at the human rights of everyone, from people like Julian Assange to people being oppressed right across the world. It's something we need to continue ceaselessly. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.