The Albanese government insists it will not conduct “diplomacy by megaphone” as it faces calls to do more to prevent the extradition of WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange to the US.
On Saturday, the British home secretary, Priti Patel, approved the extradition of Assange to the US, where he is charged with breaching the US Espionage Act and faces up to 175 years in jail if convicted. He has 14 days to appeal the decision.
Supporters of the Australian citizen, including on Labor’s backbench, have urged the new prime minister, Anthony Albanese, to do more to pressure the United States to drop the case, which has been running since 2010, when WikiLeaks published a trove of leaked documents about the Afghanistan and Iraq wars along with diplomatic cables.
The minister for employment and workplace relations, Tony Burke, said the government’s view was that the case had gone on too long and that conversations were happening.
“We’re not going to conduct diplomacy by megaphone. This case has gone on for far too long. We said that in opposition, we’ve repeated that in government,” Burke told Sky News on Sunday.
“The issue needs to be brought to a close. Australia is not a party to the prosecution that’s happening here [and] each country has its own legal system.
“The days of diplomacy being conducted and conversations with government being conducted by megaphone, text messages being exposed – that was the way the previous government behaved. We’ve been building constructive relationships again with our allies and they’re conversations that happen government to government.”
TimelineJulian Assange extradition battleShowJune 2010 – October 2010
WikiLeaks releases about 470,000 classified military documents concerning American diplomacy and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It later releases a further tranche of more than 250,000 classified US diplomatic cables.
A Swedish prosecutor issues a European arrest warrant for Assange over sexual assault allegations involving two Swedish women. Assange denies the claims.
A British judge rules that Assange can be extradited to Sweden. Assange fears Sweden will hand him over to US authorities who could prosecute him.
Assange is questioned in a two-day interview over the allegations at the Ecuadorian embassy by Swedish authorities.
Britain refuses Ecuador’s request to accord Assange diplomatic status, which would allow him to leave the embassy without being arrested.
11 April 2019
Police arrest Assange at the embassy on behalf of the US after his asylum was withdrawn. He is charged by the US with ‘a federal charge of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion for agreeing to break a password to a classified US government computer.’
24 February 2020
Assange’s extradition hearing begins at Woolwich crown court in south-east London. After a week of opening arguments, the extradition case is to be adjourned until May. Further delays are caused by the coronavirus outbreak.
15 September 2020
A hearing scheduled for four weeks begins at the Old Bailey with the US government making their case that Assange tried to recruit hackers to find classified government information.
4 January 2021
A British judge rules that Assange cannot be extradited to the US. The US appeals against the judgment.
Labor MP Julian Hill, who has been a vocal advocate for Assange, described Patel’s decision to approve the extradition as “appalling”, and compared his plight with army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, who was the source of the leak.
“Manning, who leaked classified material exposing US war crimes, has been pardoned, yet Assange who published it (a journalistic activity), is facing an effective death sentence,” he said on Twitter on Saturday.
“There can never be a legal solution to this case. It is inherently political. Political cases should never be the subject of extradition. We should speak up for our fellow Australian and request these charges be dropped and he not be extradited.”
Manning was released in 2017 after Barack Obama commuted her 35-year military prison sentence in one of his final acts as president.
Independent MP Andrew Wilkie called on Albanese to make an immediate and direct appeal to the US president, Joe Biden, and the UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, on behalf of Assange.
“I have no doubt that Anthony Albanese has enough influence over the British prime minister to bring this to an end if he picks up the phone and says, ‘end this madness’,” Wilkie said on Saturday.
“I have no doubt that Anthony Albanese has a good enough relationship with Joe Biden to pick up the phone to the US president and say, ‘end this madness’.”
Karen Percy, the federal president of the media division of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, said the potential extradition of Assange to the US was “a dangerous assault on international journalism”.
“We urge the new Australian government to act on Julian Assange’s behalf and lobby for his release,” Percy said.
Former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce, who was also a vocal supporter of Assange, said the new government needed to pressure the US to drop the case, saying he did not believe a soft diplomatic approach would be sufficient to secure his release.
“The new government has to make a clear statement, because if you speak in riddles, you are saying nothing at all,” Joyce told Guardian Australia.
He said that while he had attempted to rally support for Assange, “I had a different position to the previous government”.
In a joint statement on Friday, the foreign minister, Penny Wong, and the attorney general, Mark Dreyfus, issued a response to the extradition ruling.
“We will continue to convey our expectations that Mr Assange is entitled to due process, humane and fair treatment, access to proper medical care, and access to his legal team,” the statement said.
“The Australian government has been clear in our view that Mr Assange’s case has dragged on for too long and that it should be brought to a close.
“We will continue to express this view to the governments of the United Kingdom and United States.”