A delegation of six Australian members of Parliament are in Washington this week lobbying for the release of Julian Assange.
Watch their press conference outside the Department of Justice. Video stream courtesy of Ford Fischer at News2Share.
Six members of the Australian parliament landed in Washington D.C. on Tuesday armed with a bi-partisan agenda and the backing of an entire nation as they try to convince Congressmen and State and Justice Department officials that the American pursuit of Australian publisher Julian Assange is wrong and must be stopped.
The cross-party delegation is spending two days in the U.S. capital arguing Assange’s case ahead of Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s state visit to the White House at the end of October, where it is expected that Assange will be brought up (as well as Australia being used to test U.S. hypersonic missiles).
The MPs traveling to Washington are former National Party leader Barnaby Joyce, Liberal Senator Alex Antic, Labor MP Tony Zappia, Independent MP Dr. Monique Ryan and Greens Senators David Shoebridge and Peter Whish-Wilson. On Wednesday the delegation met at the Department of Justice.
Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson Australia and the US are the closest of friends and the closest of allies. And of course, that kind of relationship should be built on mutual trust and mutual respect. And it was a good start that we had a meeting today with the Department of Justice as a cross-party Australian delegation. I’m not going to say much except to say that we feel like we had a fair hearing and we had productive discussions and I might see if any of my colleagues want to add anything…. Tony.
Labor MP Tony Zappia Thank you. And we’re here in Washington and can I start by making this observation? The Statue of Liberty is a beacon of US values of justice, freedom and friendship. We are here from Australia as friends of the US, and we are here because we also believe strongly in those values, values which right now have shown that Julian Assange, an Australian citizen, has been effectively deprived of his liberty for the last 11 years and we are here to speak to the US Government, and to make it very clear that the people of Australia believe that Julian Assange has been punished enough that his detention should come to an end, that the charges against him should be dropped. And our discussions with the Department of Justice right now and with others in Washington have enabled us to put that view very clearly and very strongly. We’ve done that and certainly we’ll be doing more of that tomorrow. But we’ve certainly been given the opportunity and a very fair hearing with all of the people we’ve spoken to today.
Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce First of all, I’d like to thank the Department of Justice for the time that they’ve given us. And as Senator Whish-Wilson said, I believe we had a fair hearing. Obviously, justice comes from a fair oversight, a fair oversight of the facts. And Australians believe in a fair go. And we want to make sure that people clearly understand. We did not come here to pick a fight. We came here to present a case and to lobby for an outcome and this is part of the process of making sure that people are aware of all the facts and those wider facts as we also have grown to know over a number of years. So the delegation has come from every corner of the political spectrum, but we have arrived in Washington at the one spot, and that is, after 11 years enough is enough.
Greens Senator David Shoebridge This has been a unique delegation from the Australian Parliament. Literally all sides of politics have come together and united on this one key message, which is that an Australian citizen, Julian Assange, should come home. The only crime that we see that Julian Assange has been charged with is the crime of being a journalist, the crime of telling the truth, and the fact that it’s an Australian citizen that has been targeted by one of our closest friends and allies is a very real concern to us as politicians and to a growing part of the Australian public. More than 85% of the Australian public, close to 90% of the Australian public say that Julian Assange should come home. This is an ongoing irritant in the bilateral relationship. We’ve had productive meetings with the administration and with members of Congress and we’ve made it very clear in each of those meetings that there is a growing political consensus in Australia that Julian Assange should be home for Christmas with his two children and his wife. This has gone on more than long enough and we have made that clear. The growing unity in the Australian people, a growing unity in the Australian Parliament that Julian Assange should come home.
Liberal Senator Alex Antic Yeah. Thanks for that. Yes, so Senator Alex Antic, Senator for South Australia. Look, I am here today as one of what you would describe as being the most broad political alliance in probably in my time watching politics in Australia, being involved in politics in Australia. We’ve got people here representing the right, the left and everything in between and that really does showcase what we’re seeing now, which is a growing consensus in Australia. Nine of ten Australians, it is reported now believe that Julian should come home. There are many, many, many of us who agree with that and we’re here in Washington, DC to get that message conveyed to the American government. I want to thank you all for your interest in the matter, and I want to thank my colleagues for the incredible way in which people have come together across the political spectrum. We may not agree on almost anything else in politics other than this one issue, and it is an enormous effort. We’ve seen 67 members of the Australian Parliament share that message in a joint letter, which we’ve delivered across the spectrum as well today. I don’t think that’s ever happened before. I think we’re seeing an incredible groundswell of we want to see Julia at home as soon as possible.
Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson One thing that we have had, a very strong, clear message that we have been delivering to decision makers, politicians, government here in the US is that the extradition of Julian Assange as a journalist and as a foreign journalists who was conducting activities on foreign soils is a precedent. And in fact the US hasn’t tried to extradite a journalist before, but nor have we seen them use the Espionage Act before to pursue any journalist. This is a very troubling precedent, not just for us in Australia but for everyone in the world. And of course, we’re very excited about being here. You know, it’s clearly the capital of democracy around the world. The beacon to democracy. And we’ve just been highlighting that this is a very dangerous precedent, a very slippery slope for any democracy to go down. Thank you.
Journalist 1 Could you tell us anything about who you met with in the Department of Justice? Anything further about anything they might have told you?
Labor MP Tony Zappia Throughout the day we’ve had several meetings and we’re not going to go into the detail of those meetings. But I can say that they’ve all been useful meetings. They’ve enabled us as representatives of both the Parliament and the Australian people to make and put our case very clearly about the fact that the Julian Assange pursuit and detention and charges should be dropped and should come to an end. I feel more optimistic every day because the fact of the matter is that ever since this commenced over a decade ago, I’ve seen a shift in public opinion, not only in the Parliament but throughout the Australian community and across the world. And as a result of that shift in opinion throughout the world, I’m feeling much more confident that we can bring this matter to an end.
Journalist 2 But the US does not change its position on Assange. What does that say about Australia’s level of influence in Washington, given we’re meant to be one of its greatest allies?
Labor MP Tony Zappia Look, that’s a hypothetical question and my view is that we will deal with the process as the way we have been. I’m sure that at diplomatic levels, these issues are also being discussed. And I’m hoping that when Prime Minister Anthony Albanese comes here next month, perhaps it will be another opportunity to raise the matter.
Greens Senator David Shoebridge I’d like to say one thing.
Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson Given we’re a delegation, we have different views on where we’re going to.
Greens Senator David Shoebridge If this matter is not resolved and Julian is not brought home, it will be damaging to the bilateral relationship. When you have such an overwhelming part of the Australian public demanding Julian come home and when that can’t be delivered from a relationship that is as close as that between Australia and the United States, well that is embarrassing for the Australian Prime Minister and the Australian Government and it’s damaging to the relationship. Sometimes it is very hard to be a friend of the United States when the United States is prosecuting an Australian citizen for basically being a journalist. It’s very hard to be a friend of the United States. We all came here in the spirit of friendship. As Barnaby has said, we didn’t come here to pick a fight, we came here to solve a problem and that can only be solved by Julian Assange coming home.
Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce To continue on that, we want a success for us. Let’s take the word Julian Assange out. Let’s just say, an Australian citizen, an Australian citizen who was not in the United States when an offense was created in the United States, was in Australia, has never been convicted of a crime in Australia… The issue of the reach of extra-territoriality is in… Think of it as your son, your daughter, your brother. If at one stage they were in Australia and they never committed a crime in the United States, then they end up possibly going to the United States for 175 years in jail. You’d want a delegation to turn up, and we have arrived. Now I know little about lots, and lots about politics, and I do not want to put any form of duress or precedent on people. I want them to think about it in a compassionate, logical form for which the success of this delegation is not to score a point, it is for this Australian citizen to come home. And isn’t that all… Isn’t that what everybody wants to do? They just want to go home after a while. Isn’t enough enough? And it’s just time to get back to where you belong?
Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson I think all we can say at the moment is that, you know, we feel like we’ve had a fair hearing. And that’s a good start, that we’ve seen that level of respect, that we’ve actually been able to meet senior officials, senators, Congress, and we’ve had a hearing. And I can say that I have been on this issue now for many, many years and I’m feeling optimistic from that meeting. So I do feel there are cogs turning and the wheels are moving. And I feel optimistic that we’ll get a resolution and Julian will be home with his family.
Journalist 3 With all due respect gentleman, was an effort such as this made for the British government that’s been holding him for four years, torturing him in a high security prison for terrorists, a journalist, a publisher? Where was the effort towards the UK government that you feel you’re still part of as a Commonwealth nation?
Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson It’s a really good question and it’s been something that we’ve discussed as a delegation, including in our meetings. A number of Australian parliamentarians have gone to the UK. In fact, I’ll hand over to David because he’s tried to go into Belmarsh to meet with Julian and do exactly this.
Greens Senator David Shoebridge It’s clearly the view of the friends of Julian Assange across Parliament that Julian should be brought home. One of the reasons we’re here is we’re in the shadow of extradition proceedings in the United Kingdom. And of course, if the appeal is not successful, there will ultimately be a political decision for the UK, for the UK Government, about whether the extradition proceeds, and the arguments we make here in Washington are the same arguments we’d make in London that this should not happen and the Julian Assange should be brought home.
Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson And I think it’s fair to say an easy resolution to this where nobody loses face is for the UK government to simply say no, because ultimately the final decision will be by the attorney general or potentially the Prime Minister and it will be a political decision. And remember, the judge has already ruled that Julian Assange previously was unfit to be sent to the US based on the fact that he’s had mental health issues and was suicidal. The UK government could make this easy for everyone.