Labor backbenchers urge Albanese to ‘stay true to his values’ on Julian Assange trial | Australian politics

Australian government backbenchers hope the new prime minister, Anthony Albanese, will stay “true to his values” and press the US to drop the case against Julian Assange.

Albanese has previously expressed concern about the US government’s efforts to try the WikiLeaks cofounder in connection with the publication of hundreds of thousands of leaked documents about the Afghanistan and Iraq wars and diplomatic cables.

Albanese said in December 2021 that he did “not see what purpose is served by the ongoing pursuit of Mr. Assange” and that “enough is enough”.

But Albanese has kept his cards close to his chest since being sworn in as prime minister.

When asked this week whether he would encourage the US to drop the charges against the Australian citizen, the Labor leader said: “My position is that not all foreign affairs are best done with the loudhailer.”

Labor MP Julian Hill, an active cross-party Australian parliamentary group member pushing for Assange’s release, said he was hopeful Albanese would pursue the matter.

“Albo is a man of integrity and values, and I’m confident, of course, that he will be true to his values,” Hill told Guardian Australia.

“Some members of the Labor caucus have had an active involvement in the Assange group based on these critical principles – press freedom and fighting against the chilling effect on the media that this persecution would have – and would hope that our government could achieve an outcome.”

In April, a court in the UK formally approved the extradition of Assange to the US on espionage charges, but it is up to the home secretary, Priti Patel, to sign off.

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Julian Assange

Hill said he believed “that the Australian government needs to advocate our now-Aukus partners and bring this matter to an end” but acknowledged achieving a breakthrough for Assange may be “difficult”.

Hill, a Victorian MP, said he had held a “very consistent” and principled position for years about the damaging effect of the case on press freedom.

He said it was “unacceptable” that while the person who leaked the material had commuted her sentence and was now free, “the person who published it is being handed over for deportation to an effective death sentence”.

Assange allegedly conspired with army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to crack a password hash to a classified US Department of Defence computer, a US Department of Justice statement said.

Manning was released in 2017 when he commuted her 35-year military prison sentence in one of his final acts as president.

Before the election, Australia’s new minister for foreign affairs, Penny Wong, said that regardless of anyone’s views about Assange, the case had “dragged on a long time”.

“Certainly, we would encourage, were we elected, the US government to bring this matter to a close,” she said during an election foreign policy debate at the National Press Club on 13 May.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade was contacted for comment on Wednesday.

Press freedom advocates and human rights groups have raised fears the prosecution of Assange under the US Espionage Act sets “a dangerous precedent”.

Daniel Ellsberg – the whistleblower prosecuted 50 years ago for releasing the Pentagon Papers about the Vietnam war – said last month: “This extradition would mean that journalists, anywhere in the world, could be extradited to the US for exposing information classified in the US.”

In April, Assange’s father, John Shipton, said the election of a Labor government would be a “great opportunity” to free the WikiLeaks cofounder.

Shipton said he had had several lunches with Albanese and had been assured the then-opposition leader would do “whatever he can” to free his son.

The White House has previously declined to comment on the Assange matter, telling reporters it was an “ongoing criminal case” and the president, Joe Biden, was “committed to an independent Department of Justice”.

The US offered several assurancescial to a successful appeal against an earlier British court ruling blocking his extradition.

These assurances included that Assange would not be subject to “special administrative measures” or held at a maximum security “ADX” facility and could apply, if convicted, to be transferred to a prison in Australia.

In mid-December, Albanese responded to that British court ruling by saying: “I’ve said for some time that enough is enough … He has paid a high price for the publication of that information already, and I do not see what purpose is served by the ongoing pursuit of Mr. Assange.”

The previous Australian government repeatedly stared down calls to intervene, saying it monitored the Australian citizen’s case closely but would “continue to respect” the legal process as Australia was “not a party to the case”.

Bella E. McMahon
I am a freelance writer who started blogging in college. I am fascinated by human nature, politics, culture, technology, and pop culture. In addition to my writing, I enjoy exploring new places, trying out new things, and engaging in conversations with new people. Some of my favorite hobbies are reading, playing music, making crafts, writing, traveling, and spending time with my family.