The breakfast was held in the Australian capital Canberra just two weeks before President Joe Biden visits Australia and after Prime Minister Anthony Albanese ended his “quiet diplomacy” on Julian Assange.
By Joe Lauria
Special to Consortium News
A cross party delegation of Australian legislators met on Tuesday morning in Canberra with Caroline Kennedy, the U.S. ambassador, to discuss the continued U.S. prosecution of imprisoned WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange.
U.S. President Joe Biden is due in Australia in two weeks as the pressure continues to mount on him from presidents, parliaments, the public and human rights and press freedom groups to free Assange.
The Sydney Morning Herald quoted Senator Andrew Wilkie, who took part in the meeting with Kennedy, as saying:
“This is an intensely important time with the US President about to visit. It would be very unhelpful if he comes to Australia and this issue is still unresolved, it will hang over us all in an uncomfortable way.”
“The US and Australia have a very important and close relationship, and it’s time to demonstrate that,” Wilkie said.
Senator David Shoebridge, who also met with Kennedy, was quoted as saying: “The fact that the ambassador allocated precious time to this issue ahead of President Biden’s visit is a useful indication of the visibility of the campaign to free Assange.”
Shoebridge said: “The end of Australia’s ‘quiet diplomacy’ on Assange last week is an important step forward and brings us closer to a just conclusion of the ongoing persecution of Julian Assange.”
Until last week Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese had practiced what he called “quiet diplomacy” refusing to even confirm if he had raised Assange with any U.S. official. In London last week Albanese told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that he had had direct contact with the U.S. Justice Department.
“It needs to be worked through,” Albanese told the ABC. “We’re working through diplomatic channels, we’re making very clear what our position is on Mr Assange’s case.”
But so far the Justice Department has not yielded in its pursuit of Assange on espionage charges that could land him in a U.S. prison for up to 175 years if he is extradited from Britain and convicted in the U.S.
“I know it’s frustrating. I share the frustration. I can’t do more than make very clear what my position is,” Albanese said. “And the U.S. administration is certainly very aware of what the Australian government’s position is.”
Asked whether he would raise Assange directly with Biden when the U.S. president visits Australia, Albanese said: “The way that diplomacy works is probably not to forecast the discussions that you will have or have had with leaders of other nations.”
Pres Biden will be in Australia IN 2 weeks and this is the FIRST acknowledgment from the US state department of the MASSIVE public pressure on the Biden Admin to drop the charges against Julian Assange.
Actions speak louder than words FREE ASSANGE. https://t.co/42rwENNDXe
— Gabriel Shipton (@GabrielShipton) May 9, 2023
Assange’s brother Gabriel Shipton told the Herald: “It’s significant that the US government is aware of the considerable support for Julian inside the parliament as well as among the public.”
Australian Opposition Leader Peter Dutton has also changed his position and is supporting the end of Assange’s ordeal.
MP Julian Hill, who has been a guest several times on CN Live! to discuss Assange, led the push for the breakfast meeting with Kennedy at the U.S. embassy, where she was presented with a petition of 26,000 signatures calling for Assange’s freedom.
Hill told the Herald: “It’s significant that the US government is aware of the considerable support for Julian inside the parliament as well as among the public. I thanked the ambassador for her willingness to engage, so she can communicate the strength of views across the political spectrum on this issue back to Washington, D.C.”
“We communicated that the US needs to lead a political resolution on this issue and bring the matter to a close,” Hill said.
MP Bridget Archer, who was at the meeting, was quoting as saying: “I feel quite positive following the meeting this morning that we had a very good hearing with the ambassador and we will continue to work together to keep the momentum going with this issue, to keep the pressure up in relation to Mr Assange and hopefully to see him returned to Australia soon.”
Joe Lauria is editor-in-chief of Consortium News and a former U.N. correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, and numerous other newspapers, including The Montreal Gazette and The Star of Johannesburg. He was an investigative reporter for the Sunday Times of London, a financial reporter for Bloomberg News and began his professional work as a 19-year old stringer for The New York Times. He can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @unjoe