Anthony Albanese reveals Australia is lobbying for an end to US pursuit of Assange

Australian prime minister Anthony Albanese clarified that his government is working in a “diplomatic way” and has advocated for an end to US prosecution against Assange

December 01, 2022 by Peoples Dispatch
A sticker outside Anthony Albanese’s electoral office in Marrickville. Photo: Stephen Langford/GreenLeft

Amid growing calls for Julian Assange’s release, the Australian government has finally stated that it is diplomatically lobbying the US government in favor of the Wikileaks founder.

Addressing the Australian House of Representatives on Wednesday, November 30, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said that his government “will continue to act in a diplomatic way” and also sought to assure that he has personally raised the case of Assange, who is an Australian citizen, with “representatives of the United States government.”

The statement was made by Albanese in the House on Wednesday, in response to a question raised by independent crossbencher Monique Ryan from Melbourne.

Ryan stated that journalists publishing sensitive information in public-interest are essential to democracy and pointed out that Assange is languishing in Belmarsh prison after being “charged by a foreign government with acts of journalism.”

Insisting that only political intervention can secure Assange’s freedom, Ryan asked “Will the government intervene to bring Mr. Assange home?”

Assange is currently facing extradition to the US to stand trial before a federal grand jury on a total of 18 charges, 17 of which are under the notorious Espionage Act, carrying a total maximum prison sentence of 175 years.

He is being held under judicial remand at the high-security Belmarsh prison in the United Kingdom, as he awaits an appeal against the British Home Office’s decision to facilitate his extradition to the United States.

Acknowledging that Assange’s case is “an issue of great interest to many Australians and of interest to people across this chamber,” Albanese mentioned his position as the leader of the opposition in the Parliament.

“I some time ago made my point that enough is enough,” Albanese said in his answer to the crossbench MP. “It is time for this matter to be brought to a conclusion.” He was also quick to clarify he does not “express any personal sympathy for the actions of Mr. Assange,” as a disclaimer to where he stands politically.

Nevertheless, Albanese later highlighted Assange’s Australian citizenship and added that his position on the prosecution against Assange “is clear and has been made clear to the US administration—that it is time that this matter be brought to a close.”

“I will continue to advocate, as I did recently in meetings that I have held,” he added. Drawing parallels with whistleblower Chelsea Manning, who has been pardoned despite her conviction, Albanese further asked “what is the point of continuing this legal action, which could be caught up now for many years into the future?”

The statement is a significant revelation coming from Albanese, who has remained tight-lipped about his diplomatic efforts in the Assange case. Even in his response, the prime minister did not clarify which US official he had spoken to on the matter or how significant his government’s intervention has been so far.

Last month, Albanese reportedly met with US president Joe Biden, on the sidelines of the G-20 Summit in Bali, Indonesia. It is not clear whether Assange’s case was part of the brief discussion he had with Biden.

Shortly after taking office, Albanese defended his silence by stating that “not all foreign affairs is best done with the loudhailer” in response to questions about his intention to intervene. Progressive groups and anti-war advocates have been repeatedly calling on Albanese to take a clear stand, while he has instead insisted that he is engaged in “quiet diplomacy.”

The news of the government’s intervention was welcomed by Assange’s family and supporters in Australia, but with a note of caution. “Drop the charges. Return Julian home. We now get to see Australia’s standing in Washington, valued ally or not,” said John Shipton, Assange’s father, in a statement released on Thursday.

“Action from the United States will determine if our Prime Minister has any influence in our relationship with the United States,” said Stephen Kenny, a solicitor for the Assange Campaign in Australia. “For Julian’s sake, I sincerely hope he does.”

In the past, several supporters of Assange have strongly criticized the Australian government’s silence on his persecution, especially as Assange is an Australian citizen.

“The US wants to get even and for so long the UK and Australia have been happy to go along for the ride because they’ve put bilateral relationships with Washington ahead of the rights of a decent man,” said Andrew Wilkie, an independent MP who co-founded a parliamentary group for Assange’s release.