EDITORIAL: Labor panders to left in Julian Assange deification

Editorial
The Nightly
He arrived in Australia for the first time in 14 years on Wednesday night.

Julian Assange is not the messiah.

Something to keep in mind as he kicks off what is sure to be a self-indulgent homecoming tour.

It’s also important to remember that much of Assange’s 14-year confinement, first at the Ecuadorian embassy in London and then in a British prison as he fought extradition to the US, was self-imposed.

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He could have ended it at any time, by agreeing to face up to the allegations against him of sexual assault and espionage.

Julian Assange.
Julian Assange's supporters say he will have a prominent role to play in promoting press freedom. (AP PHOTO) Credit: AAP

Instead, he cast himself as a political prisoner, wrongly persecuted by the United States and the victim of an international conspiracy.

They’re claims which stretch credulity.

But it appears Anthony Albanese has been taken in by Assange’s martyr act.

In a late-night press conference on Wednesday night to celebrate Assange’s release and return to Australia, the Prime Minister likened the Wikileaks founder’s incarceration to that of jailed journalist Cheng Lei and academic Sean Turnell, both of whom were legitimate political prisoners once held by authoritarian regimes, something one cannot call the UK, US and Sweden.

Mr Albanese, who said he was “pleased” to have been the first to speak with Assange on the phone following his release, deflected questions about whether he would meet with him in person in the coming days.

But the temptation to do so will be strong.

Many, primarily on the left, do see Assange as a hero, conveniently skating over the fact that his document dumps led to intelligence agents and those working with coalition forces in conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq being compromised. “Compromised” is a benign phrase to mean “exposed to revenge attacks from the Taliban and al Qaeda”.

But never mind that.

Mr Albanese has played up the image of Assange as a homecoming hero in order to win favour with the hacker’s left-leaning devotees, whose votes Labor fears losing to the Greens at the next election.

Anthony Albanese talks to Julian Assange as he lands in Australia
Anthony Albanese talks to Julian Assange as he lands in Australia Credit: Anthony Albanese/X formerly Twitter

It’s the same motivation driving Mr Albanese’s wet lettuce response to Fatima Payman’s insubordination in the Senate Chamber on Palestine.

Many of Senator Payman’s caucus colleagues were holding their breath for a dramatic punishment for the West Australian’s defiance in crossing the floor to vote with the Greens on a motion in favour of recognising Palestinian statehood.

Ill-discipline isn’t tolerated in Labor. Once a decision is made in caucus, all members are expected to abide by it publicly, regardless of their personal views. So it was expected Senator Payman’s punishment for being the first Labor member to cross the floor in 18 years would be swift and decisive. Expulsion from caucus was a strong possibility.

Instead, she received a one-meeting suspension and a half-hearted dressing down from Senate leader Penny Wong.

To go too hard would be to risk the ire of that leftist cohort Labor is determined to keep on side. But by leaning too far toward them, they risk losing those in the middle.

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