Australian Labor Party & Assange: Burying the Politics

The government in Canberra is straining credibility in insisting the Assange case is not a political prosecution, writes Kellie Tranter.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, left, with U.S. President Joe Biden in May at the Quad meeting in Tokyo. (CC BY 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

By Kellie Tranter
Declassified Australia

The difficulty for the Australian Labor government in deciding how to respond to the Julian Assange case is that once a prosecution is characterised as a political prosecution then, by its nature, there can be no expectation of due process.

The U.S.-U.K. Extradition Treaty forbids extradition in the case of “political offences.” Former Australian High Commissioner to the U.K. George Brandis — who was commissioner for almost the entirety of Assange’s Belmarsh imprisonment since 2019 — doesn’t agree that Assange is a political prisoner.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and its new Minister Penny Wong have consistently stated a view that the case is not political but purely a legal matter:

“Australia is not a party to Julian Assange’s case, nor can the Australian government intervene in the legal matters of another country.”

However, the most vocally outspoken Labor MP on the Assange case has now thrown that position on its head. 

“This is a political case, Labor MP Julian Hill told Consortium News in a video interview [see 12:08] on July 28. 

“It is a political decision to extradite. And we’ve conveyed our view to the U.K. government regarding that. And it’s also a political decision in the U.S.” 

“This is a political case.” Labor MP Julian Hill was interviewed by Consortium News on July 28.

The government suggesting its hands are tied as Australia is “not a party” to the Assange case and they can’t intervene in “legal matters,” ignores the evident truths that the Assange case is indeed political, that its result will have global political consequences and that a pathway exists for a political intervention towards a political resolution.

Silent on CIA & Torture Findings

Labor also strains to maintain credibility in its stated expectations of Assange receiving fair and humane treatment, on the one hand, and on the other remaining silent on the findings of Nils Melzer, the then-U.N. special rapporteur on torture, who had found Assange had suffered both psychological torture and political persecution.

There has also been a silence on the extraordinary acts of the U.S. intelligence agencies, in particular the fact that Assange’s legally privileged conversations and papers were recorded and handed to U.S. intelligence agencies, and also on the C.I.A.’s plans to kidnap or assassinate Assange.

Pro-Assange protester outside the High Court in London, Jan. 24. (Alisdare Hickson, Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Inconsistencies like these have made the new Labor government’s position in relation to the Assange case look increasingly incoherent to the Australian public.

Following up on from the 16 July Declassified Australia article, The Guardian reported,

“Assange supporters have raised concern about a government brief to Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus, saying ‘if surrendered, convicted and sentenced in the U.S., Assange could apply under the ITP [transfer of prisoners] to serve his sentence in Australia.’” 

But The Guardian’s special sources “stressed that this document did not indicate a prisoner transfer was the government’s preferred strategy, saying it merely outlined the conditions of such a process.”  The public, and it seems his family, are kept in the dark about what any preferred strategy might be.

Assange’s brother and father, Gabriel Shipton and John Shipton, have just returned from a trip last week to Canberra in an effort to press the new Labor government to save Assange. Gabriel told Declassified Australia that the government has offered them no new information about the government’s actions.

John and Gabriel Shipton in Berlin in June. (Joe Lauria)

The two met with Greens and independent MPs, but had no meetings with senior ministers of the government. In a meeting with a senior adviser to Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, they were told that there was “nothing [Dreyfus] could do.” Gabriel and John are now pressing for a meeting with Foreign Minister Penny Wong.

Information from the new Freedom of Information, or FOIs, published today in Declassified Australia suggest the main running of this case is being coordinated within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, with input from the departments of Foreign Affairs, the Attorney-Generals, Defence and no doubt the intelligence agencies.

The majority of the Australian public, according to recent polling, want Assange released and back home in Australia. Until the government is prepared to reveal what representations have been or are being made, the Australian public, and Assange’s family, cannot be satisfied those proper representations have been made. 

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong in May. (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, CC BY 3.0, Wikimedia Commons)

New Freedom of Information requests by Declassified Australia have revealed the existence of a Departmental Brief concerning Assange of unknown date to the Prime Minister’s Office, but access to it was refused by the decision maker Pippa Hendon, assistant secretary defence and intelligence, Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet on July 22.

The document contains Assange’s personal information but the decision maker took the view that there are real and substantial grounds for expecting damage to Australia’s multilateral [Defence and Intelligence] relationships to occur as a result of the release of the document. 

Similarly, another FOI request for any advice provided to the foreign minister, Penny Wong, in relation to the case were claimed to be “exempt in full” by Justin Whyatt, first assistant secretary, U.S. and Indo-Pacific Strategy Division, for many reasons including on the basis of the potential for the documents identified to cause damage to international [U.S.] relations.

An FOI request for documents from the Australian High Commission in the U.K. and the Australian embassy in Washington to Foreign Minister Penny Wong resulted in the supply of documents so heavily redacted as to be virtually meaningless. The documents do confirm that yet another letter was sent by DFAT to Assange on June 9 offering consular assistance.

Left with ‘Talking Points’

So, what we’re left with is Labor’s “talking points” which suggest they will defend their opaque action by relying on legal limits given that Australia and the Australian government are not parties to Assange’s case. 

There is no evident push for diplomatic efforts despite Australia’s importance to the U.S. achieving its strategic goals in the Asia-Pacific region. The ministerial “talking points” say there are barriers in the U.S. system given U.S. President Joe Biden’s stated priority of leaving the U.S. Department of Justice independent, but no acknowledgment that the Department of Justice is part of the executive government and the government has, and not infrequently exercises, the ultimate say in who is or isn’t prosecuted or incarcerated.

Stretching the intent of Australia’s Freedom of Information laws, some of the latest batch of FOI documents obtained from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade by Declassified Australia.

They also say the coming November mid-term elections in the U.S. play a role in any decision relating to Assange, and yet polls suggest the American public are more interested in abortion, gun laws, the economy and inflation than in Assange. 

The talking points also advise a view that resolving the matter is not fully within the Australian government’s control. 

As Greg Barns SC, adviser to the Australian Assange Campaign, told Declassified Australia,

“While it is not in the Australian government’s power to resolve this case legally because it has no standing in that sense, there is nothing preventing it working assiduously through diplomatic and strategic channels and discourse to ensure Assange is not sent to the U.S.’”

The official undercurrent is that Australians should not underestimate how sensitive the Assange issue is with both Democrats and Republicans, and the intelligence community in the U.S.

This sensitivity only reinforces in the minds of Australians the fact that this case has very little to do with justice or due process, or fair and humane treatment, but everything to do with politics and vengeance.

Kellie Tranter is a lawyer, researcher, and human rights advocate. She tweets from @KellieTranter View all posts by Kellie Tranter.

This article is from Declassified Australia.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.




13 comments for “Australian Labor Party & Assange: Burying the Politics

  1. Daryl Rush
    August 11, 2022 at 11:01

    Political crap or pure bullshit.
    Julian is a Journalist, the best in the world. That is the unreasoned reason for his incarceration. No other reason. The only way for him to remain alive even this long was to do as he has done. We CIA et al would have killed him had he escaped to any country other than Russia, where he would have been marginalized totally.
    We have so little hope, hope to know. hope to survive ourselves. Power corrupts totally.
    That is what is Julian and the world suffers. He should be released immediately.

  2. August 11, 2022 at 10:04

    If, instead of ‘quiet diplomacy’ that Julian Hill also seems to be advocating in his 23 minute interview by Cathy Vogan which is embedded above, the Australian Government were to adopt the language and style of Mexican President Lopez Obrador, I think Julian Assange would be free much sooner. In June this year, President Obrador said that Asange is the “best journalist of our time, in the world. He added , “Mexico opens its doors to Assange.” On 4 July he said, “If they take him to the United States and he is sentenced to the maximum penalty and to die in prison, we must start a campaign to tear down the Statue of Liberty.”

    In that interview, Julian Hill seems, unfortunately, to have forgotten his own foreshadowed motion of 10 June 2021 in support of Julian Assange. That foreshadowed motion was disallowed by the shadowy Parliamentary Selection Committee. Here it is:

    that this House (1) notes that:

    (a) the trial and extradition of Mr Julian Assange are inconsistent with international law, and Australian legal standards, and contravene the legal rights and protections for which those laws and standards provide;

    (b) the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment has found that Mr Assange ‘showed all symptoms typical for prolonged exposure to psychological torture, including extreme stress, chronic anxiety and intense psychological trauma’;

    (c) several medical reports find that Mr Assange is in ill-health due to prolonged arbitrary confinement, and indeed the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention ruled that the 50-week sentence of Mr Assange for bail violation, which formally ended on 21 September 2019, was punitive and disproportionate given the nature of the offence and the usual sentence;

    (d) Mr Assange is facing extradition for an alleged political offence, which is expressly prohibited by Article 4(1) of the Anglo-US Extradition Treaty and an abuse of power; and

    (e) Mr Assange is an Australian citizen and, if convicted in the US, faces 175 years in prison, which would be in effect a death sentence;

    (2) acknowledges that Mr Assange is a publisher and journalist, as recognised by his 2011 Walkley award and 17 other awards for excellence in journalism and promoting human rights, and that his charges:

    (a) are a direct assault on press freedom; and

    (b) threaten the protection of others who publish classified information in the public interest; and

    (3) calls for Mr Assange to be allowed to return to Australia.
    (foreshadowed motion ends)

    The above foreshadowed motion is included within my article “Julian Hill MP to put crucial Motion for Julian Assange to the Australian Parliament this coming Monday 21 June – how you can help” (16/6/2021) at hxxps://

    I would have thought if the then Liberal/National Government were confident that they could justify, before Parliament, their seeming failure to end the UK’s illegal imprisonment and torture of Julian Assange, then they would not have been at all hesitant to allow Julian Hill’s motion to be put.

    The fact that this Parliamentary Selection Committee, which is controlled by both the Government and Opposition parties, disallowed Julian Hill’s motion indicates to me that the government understood that, even if they succeeded in using their numbers to vote it down , their arguments would not be seen by the broader public to have withstood challenges from members of the Julian Assange Parliamentary Support Group. For its part, the then Opposition, which is now the Labor Government of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, was just as fearful of a debate on Julian Hill’s foreshadowed motion. I expect that they are no less fearful today.

    The open-and-shut case for Julian Assange would have been put before the Australian public. The course of the debate would most likely also have shown that the Australian government could have, at any time since June 2012, to used its power as a sovereign national government to make the UK government end its illegal imprisonment and torture of Julian Assange would finally have been put on the record.

    Those members who would have decided to vote against Julian Hill’s motion or abstain from Julian Hill’s motion could then be held to account for this by their electors at the next election if not sooner.

    August 9, 2022 at 18:59

    I hereby urge my Commonwealth Government of Australia, to stand up and demand the release of Julian. What he exposed were crimes and he, and those like him should be adulated, while those who are punishing him should be plowed back into the dirt from whence they came.

  4. August 9, 2022 at 11:54

    Excuse me for mentioning it, but that isn’t just any “pro-Assange protester” in the photo. It’s the late Eric Levy, who at age 92 was still very active in fighting for Julian’s release as he fully understood the signal importance of the case in terms of setting dangerous precedents. Eric was an inspiration to all of us who are also struggling in various different ways to free the never convicted, completely innocent, and thoroughly government railroaded, Assange, perhaps the greatest HERO of our age, a man who has nearly single-handedly changed the course of journalism for the better by founding Wikileaks, through which he has published thousands of documents revealing US governmental perfidy in many areas, especially in committing numerous blatant war-crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan. We must never let up in our fight to liberate this courageous and truly exemplary man who is, even now, taking on the very worst of the regnant, totally unprincipled, vengeance-motivated, neocon-saturated powers in the UK and US, even while he remains criminally incarcerated in solitary confinement in Belmarsh Prison! FREE JULIAN ASSANGE!!

  5. Tony
    August 9, 2022 at 07:29

    The mystery of what happened to an earlier Australian prime minister, Harold Holt, has never really been resolved.

    He disappeared after going swimming off Cheviot Beach, Australia in December 1967.

    Drowning remains a possibility but he was a strong swimmer and knew those waters very well. And the body was never found despite a very extensive search.

    One possibility is that someone standing on the shore shot him and that divers then removed the body. That does seem quite plausible.

    Holt had been a strong supporter of the Vietnam War and had supported the participation of Australian troops. However, there were some reports that he had decided, due to the unpopularity of the war, to reverse that commitment.

    If that is the case, then it could well be a powerful motive for assassination.

    “LBJ likened the loss to JFK’s assassination. . . ” according to Mark Tooley, a former CIA employee, in his article “LBJ’s Australian Bromance” 8 February 2017 (available on the internet).

    That is indeed a very interesting comparison!

    Perhaps someone will investigate this matter further and we can determine for sure what happened.

  6. Mikael Andersson
    August 8, 2022 at 21:53

    Julian made a life-changing blunder by remaining in the UK in 2011 when he might have left for Iceland. Tragically, it will cost him his life. The ALP abandoned him when he exposed the preparations by Julia Gillard to stab Kevin Rudd in the back. It is bi-partisan policy in Australia that Julian Assange will be left to die. Given that it is physically impossible to free him from Belmarsh he will die there or in a torture chamber in the USA – our “great and powerful friend” that murders Australians for publishing the uncontested truth about its crimes. And we are eternally loyal.

    • ray Peterson
      August 9, 2022 at 09:18

      Thanks for precis and where did we hear this before:
      ” ‘They hated me without a cause’ ” (Jn.15.25) ?

    • August 9, 2022 at 12:11

      “Julian Assange will be left to die. Given that it is physically impossible to free him from Belmarsh he will die there or in a torture chamber in the USA.” — Mikael Andersson

      Any other happy thoughts to brighten our days? In any case, I think that your assessment of the future is as mistaken as it is unconstructive, since it never aids any cause to be predicting defeat from within its ranks. My contrary guess or hunch, — since obviously no one can be sure of such things — is that Julian will be out of prison and free to return to his family by the end of 2024. At any rate, I believe the chances are definitely better than 50-50 that he will then be free. I would thus be willing to bet you $100 [to be determined on 1-1-2025] that freedom shall yet prevail over murder.

  7. Daniel Fry
    August 8, 2022 at 21:19

    Ahhh ALP. The ‘great’ auzzzie colonial grubberment by default, only because the LNP were THAT bad. I am proud to have voted them last. I don’t need sugar coating on excrement. Poor JA. I knew they would all bend over and sell out. Another ‘collective west’ ruling institution with ZERO credibility.

  8. ray Peterson
    August 8, 2022 at 20:01

    Silencing authentic journalism makes perfect sense
    to the brainwashed propagandized public. Julian
    revealed truth about war and the U.S. and its
    obsequious allies (Australia and Europe), will use
    their courts and law enforcement to keep truth silenced.
    The Australian public being “increasingly incoherent” and
    Julian’s plea when dragged from the Ecuadorian Embassy:
    “U.K., don’t let them do this!” has fallen on the ears of the dead.

  9. Andrew Nichols
    August 8, 2022 at 18:51

    Australia is a US colony. Tgere are consequences for stepping out of line. Assange has been tgriwn under a bus by the ALP govt. Now if it was Russia, China (name latest designated pariah state), they and their pet media would be shouting outrage from the rooftops.

    • Tim N
      August 9, 2022 at 09:44

      That’s right. Australia is nothing more to the US than a large air and naval base. The people assigned to run that base don’t dare question their overlords in the US. Hence the constant waffling and posturing, when the outcome is inevitable. Australia will not interfere in Assange’s death sentence on political grounds.

    • WillD
      August 10, 2022 at 00:12

      Yes, I’m not surprised that Albanese has bowed to US pressure. He’s not a strong or courageous person, and has got his job by keeping his head down and not rocking the boat. Sad, and rather pathetic. Even Penny Wong could do more, but it seems she also is being contained.

Comments are closed.