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Published: ABC The Drum

The basic assumption underlying statements Prime Minister Gillard chose to make about Julian Assange should have been that he has done nothing wrong. Gillard should have demonstrated her commitment to the rights of Australian citizens and to the independence of Australia from other jurisdictions. Instead she delivered an ill considered and prejudiced response, devoid of independent thinking or moral compass. Both her desire to shirk responsibility and her demonstrably bad judgement have come home to roost.

The Swedish Embassy, in response to well argued letters of protest, has issued a prepared and unconvincing reply. Gillard should have sent, and still needs to send, a message to Sweden first querying the way charges were laid, investigated and dropped, only to be picked up again by a different prosecutor; second, expressing Australia’s concern that contentious Swedish action has had one of our citizens in solitary confinement in an English prison, and third, expressing Australia’s concern that as an Australian citizen Mr Assange has his case dealt with expeditiously and with due legal process.

Despite the recent decision of the High Court to release Assange on bail, Britain needs a nudge. Gillard has to ensure Britain resists US pressure.

Strangely a spokeswoman for the Swedish prosecutor’s office, Karin Rosander, told the media the decision to oppose bail was “a decision of the British prosecutor and that is what the British prosecutor’s office has confirmed to me.” What? Assange voluntarily surrendered, prominent people stumped up bail, and he won’t be fleeing home to Australia…… Why shouldn’t he have been granted bail from the outset? Gillard should be made to keep a close eye on extradition proceedings.

Australia’s message to the United States should also be equally clear:
Australia will not be drawn into the Wikileaks debate, which essentially is a matter internal to the US; that objective international bystanders can’t see that Assange has broken any law, and that any action undertaken by police, prosecutors and judges is free, and seen to be free, from pressure, influence, advice or instruction from any government. It is fortunate that information has been leaked as it offsets some of the influence and power enjoyed by the US through improperly held and protected information. If only WikiLeaks could extend to Russia, China, Japan and India.

For the sake of the Alliance Gillard should be telling the US to get its house in order and fast. How many other leakers of US over-classified information are out there ready to dump. Maybe next time not to WikiLeaks, but to some other, far better organised, body or even government.

But what does our government do?

Our Attorney General runs for cover behind a lengthy Australian Federal Police investigation, when in fact it should be officers from his own department advising on the applicability and relevance of Australian law to any action believed to have been illegally performed by Assange. Let’s hope our Attorney-General isn’t trying to delegate to the AFP his responsibility of advising the government on the legality of Assange’s or Wikileaks’ actions. This is dangerous territory. If he is launching a factual investigation we can assume he hasn’t provided any legal advice to the Government about the matter, so does that mean Gillard’s comment was entirely her own work?

Instead, our government – reeking of sycophantic cronyism redolent of the Howard years – goes all out to appease the United States, “our powerful friend”. The relationship’s not dissimilar to Australia’s fawning relations with Indonesia.

What would the US position have been if the leaks were from another powerful nation with which America vies? You can bet that “the land of the free” would be offering safe haven to Assange and secure hosting for Wikileaks, and that we’d follow right behind and do the same.

Internationally the goodies and baddies are created for us by propaganda fed to a complicit and compliant media. But what if the United States is no better than anyone else, and maybe even worse? The only response we ever seem to see from the US is patronising condescension, with wanton aggression and the diplomacy of bullies in the face of threat, defiance and solid criticism. We saw that after September 11. As the only (then) remaining superpower, by their own description, they didn’t have to build networks or create consensus in order to secure international support before acting: they did what they wanted, relying on their own power, saying arrogantly, “You’re either with us or against us”. And so far that’s worked.

But has Wikileaks challenged this power, and America’s influence? Certainly it seems that only a few self-interested powerbrokers are jumping to defend US integrity, or even expressing sympathy for its situation.

The more common world view is demonstrated by the popular protests in cities around the world, including the odd Guy Fawkes mask; by the global petitions and open letters; by supporters of free information uniting to attack Mastercard, Visa and Paypal, the financial vassals of the political elite; by the exponential growth of WikiLeaks mirror sites around the world; by high profile world leaders and celebrities adding their support, including, quaintly, Vladimir Putin who slammed Assanges’ detention as “undemocratic” and Brazil’s president who voiced “solidarity” with the jailed WikiLeaks founder.

The problem with the “official” line is people just don’t buy that this persecution of Assange is not politically motivated. Perversely, it’s a bit like Dubya’s simplistic logic: to the person on the street: if you are anti-Assange then you are anti-freedom of speech, anti-democratic and anti- transparency. The citizens of the world see WikiLeaks as a beacon of hope for truth and freedom to flourish and for people empowerment; Assange’s guilt or innocence is entirely irrelevant to that perception. Whatever happens to him won’t affect public support for the organisation or divert attention from the content of the leaks or the questions they raise.

People sniff the prospect of positive change, and they like it. They understand it’s not Assange purporting to act with impunity, it’s their governments.

By: Kellie Tranter lawyer and human rights activist and Bruce Haigh political commentator and retired diplomat.

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