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Assange: has Gillard got the guts?

By Kellie Tranter and Bruce Haigh - posted Monday, 20 December 2010

The basic assumption underlying statements Prime Minister Julia Gillard chose to make about Julian Assange should have been that he has done nothing wrong. Gillard should have demonstrated her commitment to the rights of Australian citizens and to the independence of Australia from other jurisdictions. Instead she delivered an ill considered and prejudiced response, devoid of independent thinking or moral compass. Both her desire to shirk responsibility and her demonstrably bad judgment have come home to roost.

The Swedish Embassy, in response to well argued letters of protest, has issued a prepared and unconvincing reply. Gillard should have sent, and still needs to send, a message to Sweden first querying the way charges were laid, investigated and dropped, only to be picked up again by a different prosecutor; second, expressing Australia's concern that contentious Swedish action has had one of our citizens in solitary confinement in an English prison, and third, expressing Australia's concern that as an Australian citizen Mr Assange has his case dealt with expeditiously and with due legal process.

Despite the recent decision of the High Court to release Assange on bail, Britain needs a nudge. Gillard has to ensure Britain resists US pressure.

Strangely a spokeswoman for the Swedish prosecutor's office, Karin Rosander, told the media the decision to oppose bail was "a decision of the British prosecutor and that is what the British prosecutor's office has confirmed to me." What? Assange voluntarily surrendered, prominent people stumped up bail, and he won’t be fleeing home to Australia … Why shouldn’t he have been granted bail from the outset? Gillard should be made to keep a close eye on extradition proceedings.

Australia's message to the United States should also be equally clear:

Australia will not be drawn into the Wikileaks debate, which essentially is a matter internal to the US; that objective international bystanders can't see that Assange has broken any law, and that any action undertaken by police, prosecutors and judges is free, and seen to be free, from pressure, influence, advice or instruction from any government. It is fortunate that information has been leaked as it offsets some of the influence and power enjoyed by the US through improperly held and protected information. If only WikiLeaks could extend to Russia, China, Japan and India.

For the sake of the Alliance Gillard should be telling the US to get its house in order and fast. How many other leakers of US over-classified information are out there ready to dump. Maybe next time not to WikiLeaks, but to some other, far better organised, body or even government.


But what does our government do?

Our Attorney-General runs for cover behind a lengthy Australian Federal Police investigation, when in fact it should be officers from his own department advising on the applicability and relevance of Australian law to any action believed to have been illegally performed by Assange. Let's hope our Attorney-General isn't trying to delegate to the AFP his responsibility of advising the government on the legality of Assange's or Wikileaks' actions. This is dangerous territory. If he is launching a factual investigation we can assume he hasn't provided any legal advice to the Government about the matter, so does that mean Gillard's comment was entirely her own work?

Instead, our government - reeking of sycophantic cronyism redolent of the Howard years - goes all out to appease the United States, "our powerful friend". The relationship's not dissimilar to Australia's fawning relations with Indonesia.

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About the Authors

Kellie Tranter is a lawyer and human rights activist. You can follow her on Twitter @KellieTranter

Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and retired diplomat who served in Pakistan and Afghanistan in 1972-73 and 1986-88, and in South Africa from 1976-1979

Other articles by these Authors

All articles by Kellie Tranter
All articles by Bruce Haigh

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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