Senate debates

Thursday, 4 August 2022

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Assange, Mr Julian Paul

3:35 pm

Photo of David ShoebridgeDavid Shoebridge (NSW, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Trade and Tourism (Senator Farrell) to a question without notice he asked today relating to Mr Julian Assange.

The Australian Greens will continue to call on Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to just pick up the phone, call the UK and US governments and work to obtain Julian Assange's freedom. The answers given today by Senator Farrell on behalf of the Prime Minister lead to some very disturbing conclusions. The most disturbing conclusion is that it appears quiet diplomacy, at least so far as Senator Farrell has been briefed, amounts to very little, if any, diplomacy. And the very troubling conclusion we have from the government's answers in the Senate today is that their intention is to, so-called, bring this matter to a close but to bring it to a close by doing nothing to prevent the extradition of an Australian citizen, Julian Assange; by doing nothing to prevent his charging, his prosecution and his conviction in a US court; and by doing nothing to prevent him being sentenced for up to 175 years in jail, for the crime of telling the truth.

For the Australian government to do nothing when that's the fate of an Australian citizen today—and whether or not you like Julian Assange, let's be clear to every Australian citizen that today the Australian government abandons Julian Assange, but tomorrow it might be your son or your brother or your father, or your daughter or your cousin or your friend. Once the Australian government sets the standard so low that they are willing to do nothing, nothing, when two of our closest allies between them are extraditing, persecuting, charging and potentially jailing for life an Australian citizen who did nothing other than expose the war crimes of the United States government, what will they do next? Who will they betray next?

What is equally troubling is that we had a change of government here in Australia. We have gone from heavily conservative to notionally Labor. In the United States it's gone from Trumpian to the Biden administration. The 18 charges that Julian Assange is facing were all laid under the former Trump presidency by the US Department of Justice—18 charges brought by Donald Trump's administration against an Australian citizen, trying to put him in jail for 175 years for an alleged crime that never happened on US soil, that the US government has admitted never harmed a US citizen. All it did—but it was a powerful thing—was tell the truth about US war crimes and expose the evidence and the disclosures from former US intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning that detailed appalling war crimes and human rights abuses committed by the US government. Julian's crime, if you can call it that, is telling the rest of the world the ugly truth about the war.

The US seeks Julian's extradition from the UK, and, in that process itself, Julian's rights have been abused. He's now been held for three years in maximum security in Belmarsh Prison and, if convicted, faces effectively a death sentence. Yet the speaking notes given to Senator Farrell are that the Australian government is satisfied about Julian Assange's health and is satisfied that his health and welfare are being looked after in the system. How could you be satisfied? Three years in maximum security, potentially another lifetime in maximum security, when all of the evidence shows that Julian has seriously deteriorating health—evidence that was accepted by the UK courts, clearly accepted by the UK courts.

The evidence is that his rapidly deteriorating health is actually due to the prolonged arbitrary detention. It amounts simply to torture. Indeed, the former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Nils Melzer, has stated that Julian is a victim of ongoing psychological torture. That's not the Greens; it's not Julian's lawyers; it's the UN special rapporteur on torture who said that. UK magistrates and the high court have accepted expert testimony—it's not challenged—that, if extradition were to become imminent, Julian would have an irresistible urge to take his own life.

I say to Julian if you're listening: the movement is growing to free you. You have more friends than ever in this parliament to free you. It's about time that your government and your Prime Minister understood their obligation to Australian citizens.

Question agreed to.