Tuesday, 9 May 2023
Questions without Notice
Assange, Mr Julian Paul
My question is to Minister Wong in her capacity as Minister for Foreign Affairs. With the helpful ending of the quiet diplomacy strategy from both the Prime Minister and the opposition leader last week, in relation to the ongoing cruel detention of Australian journalist and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, and the increasingly united cross-party call for his detention to end, can you please now state clearly on the record what you are doing to ensure Julian Assange is brought home?
It was interesting to me that my repeating what I'd said, at quite a number of press conferences, was somehow seen as a new thing. I have made it clear, and the Prime Minister has made it clear, that enough is enough. We see no further purpose—we don't believe anything is to be served—in Mr Julian Assange's ongoing incarceration. I know it might suit the Greens to not hear the fact that we've been saying that since we were elected, and before, but we have.
I'm also pleased that my high commissioner had the opportunity to visit Mr Assange in Belmarsh prison on 4 April. It was of course the first consular visit to Mr Assange since November 2019, and it was undertaken with his consent. Obviously it was an opportunity to check on his health and welfare, which is consistent with the assistance we provide to Australians who are detained. We will certainly continue at all levels of government to convey our expectations about his treatment, and we will continue to express our view, privately and publicly, that this case has dragged on for long enough and should be brought to a close.
Now, Senator Shoebridge, as you would know, these are not legal proceedings to which we are a party. I know there have been some discussions with the parliamentary group today. I hope those were fruitful. We are seeking to do what we can to resolve this, bearing in mind that we are not a party to the legal proceedings that are currently on foot.
Minister, the question is not what you can't do; the question is what you are doing. Julian Assange has now been held in brutal conditions in Belmarsh prison for over four years while potential extradition to the US is considered. You've spoken about our close relationship with the UK and the USA before. What are you as minister doing to ensure that our good friends let Julian come home?
Again, what I would say, as minister and for the Prime Minister, is that we have put our views clearly to the United Kingdom and to the United States. But there was a non sequitur in your question, and that was 'what are you doing to ensure?' We cannot ensure.
You might like to yell about that. But, just as I cannot ensure and Senator Payne could not ensure that people who are dealing with the legal system of another country—
Well, it's a fact. I know you want to play politics with this. I want to say this to you. I think it has gone on too long. I don't support what he did, but I think this has gone on too long. I do not believe, and neither does the Australian government believe, that there is anything to be served by his ongoing incarceration, and that view informs our engagement with the two countries concerned. But we are not a party to the proceedings.
The Albanese Government believes a strong and independent media is vital to democracy and holding governments to account.
Journalists should never face the prospect of being charged or even jailed just for doing their jobs.
Do you accept, Minister, that Julian Assange is a journalist and should not be facing persecution for telling the truth and doing his job?
I think Australia supports freedom of the press as an important principle in our democracy—full stop. In relation to Mr Assange, I would again say that we do not believe there is anything to be served by his ongoing incarceration, and we have put that view.