Thursday, 10 December 2020
Questions without Notice
Assange, Mr Julian Paul
My question is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Payne. On 8 December the UN special rapporteur on torture, Nils Melzer, appealed to British authorities to immediately release Julian Assange from prison or place him under guarded house arrest during US extradition proceedings. Minister, today is international Human Rights Day. Will the minister join this call from the UN special rapporteur on torture in calling for Mr Assange's human rights to be protected?
I thank Senator Rice for her question. I haven't specifically heard about Professor Melzer's call today, but I have previously said that the government rejects any suggestion by the UN special rapporteur that the government is complicit in alleged psychological torture or has shown a lack of consular support for Mr Assange. As far as I understand and am advised, the special rapporteur has not been in contact with the Australian government to raise these concerns directly. I have specifically raised the situation of Mr Assange and his conditions previously with senior British officials, and I am assured that his circumstances are appropriate and humane.
Minister, I acknowledge your diplomatic and political work to secure the release of Kylie Moore-Gilbert and note that these efforts went well beyond consular assistance. Will the minister recognise that Mr Assange's situation is not simply a consular case and offer the same diplomatic and political support to secure his release?
I don't believe it is possible to directly equate cases such as these in the consular context or, in fact, in the legal context. Currently, Mr Assange's extradition case is adjourned until 4 January next year, when Her Honour will hand down her decision. I'm not going to provide a running commentary on those legal proceedings, but the Australian government continues to monitor Mr Assange's case closely, as we do for Australians in detention overseas. As I've previously advised the senator, in the context of estimates, consular officers have attended his extradition and other court—
Again I say to senators: you can't simply get up and repeat part of a question without making a point as to how the answer is not relevant to all of the question. Senator Payne was being directly relevant to the question at that point, talking about the assistance being provided, Senator Rice.
I was going to add to my answer that consular staff have had discussions with Her Majesty's Prison Belmarsh authorities. They are assured that Mr Assange has access to the care that he needs. Due to privacy considerations that we extend to all consular clients, I am not able to able to disclose any further information relating to Mr Assange.
Minister, 65 of approximately 160 inmates in Belmarsh prison have tested positive for COVID, putting Mr Assange at serious risk. Will you make representations—you personally—for his transfer to house arrest for the duration of the extradition proceedings to protect his health and his human rights? Today is international Human Rights Day.
Unfortunately, Mr Assange has withdrawn consent for the Australian government to consult about his personal circumstances, his health and his welfare in prison. Mr Assange withdrew that consent on 13 June last year. We have raised on a number of occasions, with the United Kingdom government and with prison officials, our expectations of how he would be treated. The high commissioner in the United Kingdom has received direct assurances that Mr Assange is held in appropriate conditions with access to a full prison regime of medical support and access to legal advice, noting prison COVID-19 social distancing—
Let me conclude by saying that the high commission has written to Mr Assange 18 times offering consular support since his agreement was withdrawn on 13 June last year. The most recent time was on 8 December. We have not received a response from Mr Assange or his legal team to any one of those 18— (Time expired)