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The futility of regret

By Kellie Tranter - posted Tuesday, 5 May 2015

There's an old saying, 'Throw me to the wolves and I'll return leading the pack'. Even though Julian Assange - an enigmatic individual who has overturned conformity - now has a long historical presence it is evident that Australia's elected representatives, by and large, are completely indifferent to his fate, irrespective of guilt or innocence.

When bad things happen to our fellow countrymen at the hands of any State, it's natural for citizens to ask whether their government did all it could do to keep them out of harm's way. This question may be asked one day about Assange, and when it is there is little doubt our government's actions will be found wanting.

In 2012 the former Attorney-General, Nicola Roxon, wrote to Assange's lawyers confirming that "Australia would not seek to involve itself in any international exchanges about his future." Assange sought political asylum in the Ecuadorean embassy in London because of well founded fears that extradition to Stockholm would facilitate his ultimate extradition to the United States.


Since then both Assange and his lawyers have consistently argued that under Swedish law and under mutual legal assistance Swedish prosecutors could interview Assange in London in relation to sexual assault allegations.

It is only now, over 4 years since the allegations surfaced and after Assange was recently granted an appeal hearing by Sweden's Supreme Court, that Marianne Ny, Director of Public Prosecution in Sweden, is going through the motions to do exactly that: what they were always permitted but chose not to do.

One would think that Sweden's ongoing treatment of an Australian citizen in this way would prompt diplomatic rumblings, public denouncements, letters to counterparts and calls by Cabinet for immediate detailed legal advice from Australia's current Attorney-General. Yet silence has ensued.

Generally, the Australian Attorney-General has policy, legal services and public interest functions. As far as WikiLeaks and Assange are concerned a Freedom of Information laws request confirms that since the appointment of George Brandis as Attorney-General in 2013, the only government documents relate to the publication by WikiLeaks of the Victorian Supreme Court Order relating to Securancy & Note Printing Australia.

In Opposition, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Julie Bishop, was urging the Australian government to give Assange whatever consular support any other Australian citizen should expect in these circumstances. She was 'deeply concerned by the prejudicial statements that have been made by government ministers in the past' and was accusing former Senator Bob Carr of misleading parliament over what he knew about the United States' plans to extradite Assange.

But three months before the 2013 Federal election she was affirming bipartisan support for the government's handling of Assange's circumstances and had accepted the assurances of US ambassador Jeffrey Bleich that the US government was not interested in extraditing the WikiLeaks publisher.


Clearly the views of the then US ambassador trumped the assessment made by the experienced and respected human rights lawyer, Gareth Peirce, that a sealed indictment is very likely to have been issued for Assange and that a sealed US extradition request is ready to be issued, if it has not been issued already. Just this week it has been reported that 'The [US] Department of Justice is conducting an investigation, and it remains ongoing," says a Department of Justice spokesperson by email.'

In 2013 Ms Bishop did at least confirm that the Coalition considered WikiLeaks' activities "to fall within the realms of journalistic endeavour" but qualified that by adding that the trial of US Army Private Manning might "cast further light on whether WikiLeaks breached any US laws in obtaining that information."

By November 2013 the newly appointed Minister for Foreign Affairs had come around to the view that, "Australia has provided appropriate consular support to Mr. Assange. He chose to seek political asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy, but the Australian Government has provided appropriate level of consular support throughout the challenges that he has faced. There are court proceedings in Sweden, there are court proceedings in Britain, he has had access to those court proceedings, he has had support from lawyers and I am satisfied that we provided an appropriate level of consular support. At any time, there are hundreds of Australians in trouble overseas in one form or another and I have judged that the support that we have given to Mr. Assange is appropriate in the circumstances."

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About the Author

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

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