Senate debates

Tuesday, 9 May 2023

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Assange, Mr Julian Paul

4:34 pm

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

I move:

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

Nearly five years ago the only two members of parliament who would meet with Julian Assange's father, John Shipton, were myself and the member for Clark, Andrew Wilkie, in the other place. John came to see us to see what we could do in here to help his son Julian Assange, who was at that time in the Ecuadorian embassy and desperately seeking to get out, seeking his freedom. Not long after that, he was incarcerated in a maximum-security prison, Belmarsh prison.

It's been a very long road to try to get any senior politician in this parliament to make any statement in support of Julian Assange, so I welcome Senator Wong again today reiterating what the Prime Minister said just last week—that they see the ongoing incarceration of Julian Assange as serving no purpose and that enough is enough, diplomatically saying Julian Assange should be freed. It has been a long road to get to this point, and I welcome the fact of Stephen Smith, our high commissioner in the UK, visiting Mr Assange; Mr Rudd, in the US, raising this with his counterpart; or Senator Wong telling us today that they're raising the freedom of Julian Assange at every level of government with the US administration. I welcome that, and I know millions of Australians will as well.

The next questions that we want answered are: what more can this government do? At what point will the gross abuse of power, the injustice, the political persecution of Julian Assange, a Walkley Award winning journalist, an Australian citizen, affect our relationship with our close friends and allies the United States? That's what we would like an answer to. Perhaps an easy place for Senator Wong to start, to show us that she has her heart in this and that she believes in what she is saying, is to put out a simple tweet saying what she said in the Senate today, because I note she has rightly—and I say rightly—pointed out on Twitter, in recent months, the political persecution of two other journalists. One is from the Wall Street Journal, an American, Evan Gershkovich, who is being held by the Russians on espionage charges, the same charges that Julian Assange is being persecuted for by the US administration. She has also raised the plight of political prisoner Cheng Lei, the Australian news anchor for China Global Television Network, who has also been incarcerated, in China. I thank the foreign minister for doing that, but could we have a tweet at least—just one tweet—for the freeing of Julian Assange, a small step to show that this government is serious? She is the foreign minister. She is happy to tweet about other political prisoners but not about Julian Assange.

The reason I raise the timing of this is that the US President will be here in just a few weeks time, on 24 October, for the Quad meetings, which Australia is sponsoring in the Sydney Opera House. I know a lot of Australians and, in fact, people all around the world agree with me as I urge the US administration to bring this political persecution to a resolution by the time that President Biden comes to Australia. If we don't get that good news from the Prime Minister when he is standing next to President Biden or delivered in some other way, I call on Australians who care about press freedoms, who care about ending the ongoing political persecution of Julian Assange, to come out and protest when President Biden is here in Australia. Make your voices heard. Make them heard to your members of parliament.

Lastly, I would actually like to thank Senator Shoebridge, my colleague, and all the MPs—all 48 of them—who recently signed a joint statement to see the freeing of Julian Assange. We did a press conference on that, here in Australia today. I thank them, because we have come a long way from two people, five years ago, seeking the freedom of Julian Assange. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.