Return to order on questions overdue on legal and consular rights of Julian Assange

speeches-in-parliament

 

Senator LUDLAM (Western Australia) (15:03): Pursuant to standing order 74(5) I ask the minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Minister Conroy, for an explanation as to why answers have not yet been provided to question on notice 1282. It has been just over 30 days since I asked this question.

I recognise that it is only a couple of days overdue, so I am not critical because I realise some of these things sometimes come in a few days late. I want to put very firmly on the record that this question pertains to matters that are urgently relevant and time sensitive and will not wait until 2012.

The consular and legal rights of an Australian citizen, the editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, Mr Julian Assange, are the focus of my questions. It is the responsibility of this government to insist on fair and due process and the rule of law if he is extradited to Sweden to face charges there. But what is of very grave concern to me and what is of grave concern to many people around the world is the potential that he will then be rendered from Sweden to the United States, where he has broken no law.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Ludlam, you are entitled to ask a question, and it is a very detailed question. Would you like the minister to respond?

Senator LUDLAM: I would like to put a few comments on the record and then I will indeed seek a response from the minister.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: You can only ask a question of the minister, and I have given you a fair bit of latitude. I will call the minister.

Senator CONROY (Victoria-Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Digital Productivity) (15:05): I understand Senator Ludlam has been in contact with the office of the Minister for Foreign Affairs and that a response to his question will be forwarded tomorrow.

Senator LUDLAM (Western Australia) (15:05): I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer.

I do not intend to speak at great length, because I recognise that other senators are waiting their turn. Mr Assange was recognised as a journalist by the High Court of the UK. As a journalist and, through WikiLeaks, as a publisher, he has broken no law, just as the people who put his material on the front page of the Age and the New York Times have broken no law. My questions, to which the answers are now just slightly overdue, seek to clarify what our government has done and what our government is prepared to do to ensure that he is not subject to rendition to the United States, where, as we know, his life is under threat. There has been speculation that Mr Assange would be extradited to the United States from Sweden, but extradition requests, as we know, come with safeguards. We are much more concerned that, under a bilateral agreement between Sweden and the US, he could be transferred without any due process at all-a form of soft rendition known as temporary surrender. What happens once he gets there?

US Republicans Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee have called for him to be executed. Palin has said he should be hunted down like al-Qaeda. Vice President Joe Biden has said that he is a high-tech terrorist and that we should treat Mr Assange the same way as other high-value terrorist targets. 'Kill him,' writes conservative columnist Jeffrey T Kuhner in the Washington Times.

William Kristol, former Chief of Staff to Vice President Dan Quayle, has asked:

Why can't we use our various assets to harass, snatch or neutralise Julian Assange and his collaborators, wherever they are?
'Why isn't Julian Assange dead?' writes prominent US pundit Jonah Goldberg.

Last week, when the President addressed this place, he spoke beautifully of 'the rule of law, transparent institutions and the equal administration of justice', and we would like to see these values upheld. Mr Assange's life is in danger in the US but so too are the First Amendment principles upheld in the Pentagon Papers case. Unlike the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General, who are both lawyers, Mr Rudd recognised the principle-

Senator Brandis: You don't seem so interested in Bradley Manning, Senator.

Senator LUDLAM: I am glad to raise that, Senator Brandis-Mr Rudd recognised the principle of 'innocent before proven guilty' when these matters arose. He stated quite clearly that he had a responsibility, as foreign minister, for Mr Assange's legal and consular rights. My questions have requested the foreign minister to make clear exactly what he has done, and I strongly believe it is in the interests of this parliament and the Australian people to know that our foreign minister is not only aware of the matter but taking direct action to prevent Mr Assange's rendition to the US.

My final message is to Australian newspaper editors, television and radio directors and online media editors in the press gallery and around the country, if you are listening. I congratulate you on the open letter from the Walkley Foundation that many of you and your colleagues signed last December. Now we need your voices again. The UK High Court has recognised Mr Assange is a journalist and Wikileaks is a publishing organisation. It is not, therefore, just the Wikileaks organisation that is under attack; it is all of us. At that time you said:

In essence, Wikileaks, an organisation that aims to expose official secrets, is doing what the media have always done: bringing to light material that governments would prefer to keep secret.

You also said:

As editors and news directors of major media organisations, we believe the reaction of the US and Australian governments to date has been deeply troubling.

It is with a sense of great urgency that I call on the foreign minister to make absolutely clear what he is doing to prevent the rendition of this Australian citizen to the United States. I thank the Senate for its time.

Question agreed to.