Topics: Julian Assange;

04:20PM ACST
28 June 2024


Tom Connell: Welcome back. Julian Assange is in Australia. We think somewhere here he came to Canberra. He hasn’t been spotted since. Was there meant to be something with the Prime Minister? We’re not sure. Let us know if you know. Joining the panel now is someone else who doesn’t know the Shadow Foreign Minister, Simon Birmingham. It’s Thursday afternoon. I’m losing it here. Thank you for your time.


Simon Birmingham: Hey, Tom.


Tom Connell: You did have a crack at Anthony Albanese. So, you said he was undeserving. Julian Assange is undeserving of the treatment that the Labor government is affording him. And you said for 12 years, Assange avoided justice in countries with fair judicial systems. Should Australia not have lobbied for his return by avoiding those judicial systems?


Simon Birmingham: No. Look, my criticism is really particularly of the Prime Minister giving him a homecoming hero’s welcome phone call and the inappropriateness of that. For two reasons. It sends the wrong signal to the US and frankly, every other country that somehow the Australian Government thinks the leaking illegally of sensitive and classified information is acceptable, and also the way in which the Prime Minister drew some sort of parallel between Julian Assange and people like Kylie Moore-Gilbert and Sean Turnell. I mean, these are people who are genuine political prisoners arbitrarily detained in countries like Iran and Myanmar. Julian Assange was in the United Kingdom the whole time. And the Swedish justice system, the UK justice system, the US justice system we respect. They are fellow like-minded liberal democracies with the rule of law. Iran and Myanmar are a long way off that.


Tom Connell: So, a big part of his charges, though, stemmed from part of the leaks around the Iraq war, including the exposure of these killings by the US military. 12 unarmed people, including two journalists that wouldn’t have been exposed without Wikileaks. Was that something the public deserved to know?


Simon Birmingham: So, I heard Andrew Wilkie or parts of that interview running just before where I heard him talk about, you know, there’s surely a line in the sand. And there is. And that line in the sand is good public interest journalism, good public interest journalism is where any one of you or others take information, understand what it is and why it’s in the public interest and therefore release it. Julian Assange did a data dump of half a million documents. That’s not considered public interest journalism. That was just a random data dump.


Tom Connell: But that aspect of it, civilian deaths as well, like the number of deaths the US government had put out there, estimated from the war, was actually much higher. Torture in Guantanamo that went against the Geneva Convention. I understand you’re saying it wasn’t judicious enough, if you like, but did he also get things out there that were in the public interest?


Simon Birmingham: Well, and there could have been ways for him to get those things out there without also putting out there a whole range of elements of US operations and locations and things that cause State Department and Defence Department to have to move people and protect people’s safety and those types of steps that were taken. So, if he’d been a journalist or a responsible publisher, then you’d distil the wheat from the chaff, the risky from the public interest. But he didn’t do those things. Now, ultimately, that’s for Julian Assange. I’m responding to your questions, Tom. In our case, there’s how Australia handles an Australian citizen abroad, and he’s always been entitled to the same consular assistance as anybody else. There’s how long this dragged on for which did create momentum for other discussions to occur. But there’s also how he’s actually treated when he gets back. And he pleaded guilty to a crime in a US court yesterday morning yet was somehow verbally embraced by our Prime Minister last night. Well, that’s wrong.


Andrew Clennell: What are your objections? Are they that the PM phoned him? Are they that Anthony Albanese deigned to hold a press conference on it? Are they that the ambassadors, Rudd and Smith, accompanied him? Are they that a jet was provided, even though it’s been reported he has to pay that back. Do you object to that? Are they that the deal included being on that tropical island to have the court? Do you object to all those things?


Simon Birmingham: No, Andrew, because some of those are not matters for Australia. Where the court hearing took place that’s up to the US in terms of their negotiations with him. I object to the phone call very clearly, and to the way in which the phone call appeared to be conducted, and to the way the Prime Minister characterised Mr. Assange after the phone call and in his press conference. As I said, I think they send the wrong signals to the US and others about the tolerance of misinformation and the release of classified or sensitive information. I think the equating of any type of sense of equivalence to somebody like Kylie Moore-Gilbert is appalling and an insult to them. So, the Prime Minister has got it wrong on those levels. As for the involvement of Australian Embassy and High Commission officials in proceedings, well, we’ll probably ask some questions and want to understand where costs sit for that, how that compares to the treatment of others. I think there’s reasonable questions to be asked there, and Australian taxpayers shouldn’t be left out of pocket for private jets and other things around the world, when, of course, the US would have quite happily accepted an agreement to extradite him and flown him at their cost to the United States. If he had agreed to that earlier or at any time.


Trudy McIntosh: Do you? What’s your message quickly to the Prime Minister if he’s planning on meeting Julian Assange in the future, is that a red line for you? Should he not meet him at all?


Tom Connell: No, he should not be meeting Julian Assange unless it’s to deliver a pretty clear message, which is that the Australian government has no tolerance for misinformation, has no tolerance for the release of classified and sensitive information against the law, and that Julian Assange should not be engaging in that type of conduct in the future. If the Prime Minister didn’t give those messages last night when he spoke to him, why? Why did it have to just be a happy, you know, welcome home phone call, when in fact there are some serious issues that should have been raised. And certainly, if there’s any contemplation of a future meeting, there are serious issues to be said.


Tom Connell: Simon Birmingham, appreciate your time at the end of another long sitting week.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks guys.