LATIKA M BOURKE: Julian Assange’s release is a diplomatic success but no hero homecoming

Latika M Bourke 
The Nightly
Julian Assange’s release is a diplomatic victory for the government, but the Labor Government is unwise to merge its coup with a homecoming victory lap.
Julian Assange’s release is a diplomatic victory for the government, but the Labor Government is unwise to merge its coup with a homecoming victory lap. Credit: LUKAS COCH/AAPIMAGE

Julian Assange’s release is a diplomatic victory for the Government and in particular former Prime Minister

Kevin Rudd, who has worked hard as Australia’s Ambassador to the United States for the WikiLeaks founder’s release.

But the Labor government is unwise to merge its coup with Assange’s homecoming victory lap.

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Being seen to join in the heroisation of Assange risks greenlighting further attacks on the national security community, and platforming a man who has pleaded guilty to espionage.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese called a late-night news conference on Tuesday to toast his success.

This in of itself was self-indulgent.

While the general public might overwhelmingly agree that Assange had served his time for his crimes, that doesn’t mean they see him as innocent.

Julian Assange waves at supporters (file image)
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange spent more than a decade trying to dodge US authorities. Credit: Lukas Coch/AAP

Further, it was held during a Queensland v NSW state-of-origin match - played in Melbourne and on a day when inflation had risen to 4 per cent, likely ending any chance the Reserve Bank will cut interest rates any time soon.

Albanese should be acute to where middle Australia’s interests lie.

There is, after all, a reason why, when congratulating his ability to “get things done,” ie. getting Assange freed, Mr Albanese quickly qualified it with the acknowledgment that “there will continue to be different views about Julian Assange and his activity.”

That activity included offering to coach Chelsea Manning on cracking passwords to hack into US systems and steal secret cables.

The publication of that information, unredacted, compromised human intelligence agents, according to sources.

And that action is what a British judge ruled, went beyond the “mere encouragement of a whistle-blower” – the defence Assange and his supporters proffer in order to defend the mass dump of those cables online, something no news organisation would allow its journalists to do.

This is a man who has repeatedly aided Russia in hosting a television show on the propaganda channel RT and publishing Russian-hacked emails belonging to the DNC which ultimately aided Donald Trump’s election.

Albanese was right to identify the time spent behind bars as a determining factor in the reason for lobbying the Biden Administration for Assange’s release.

Even Jim Clapper, a former director of US National Intelligence agrees that he had served his time.

But Assange’s incarceration was also self-inflicted. In skipping bail to seek asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy for seven years, to avoid being questioned in Sweden over alleged sex crimes, Assange showed he thinks himself above the law.

It is jarring how many of his supporters profess to support women’s rights but sweep Assange’s refusal to face the justice system under the carpet.

His seven-year hideout in the Ecuadorian embassy in London was the reason, that why when he was unceremoniously evicted by his landlords in 2019, a judge sent him to jail, noting his previous disregard for the law.

Assange was behind bars from that day on as the Trump Administration launched its pursuit of him under the Espionage Act, relating to his activities more than a decade ago.

Now Assange wants a Presidential pardon showing that not only does he believe he has done nothing wrong, he has not changed his stripes.

It is highly likely that Assange, now free from jail, a barrage of book and movie deals to tell his story will be in the offing, not to mention his own social media channels and an overwhelmingly adoring media fanbase, will resume espousing the same anti-Western views that led to his guilty plea on Tuesday.

Julian Assange and Kevin Rudd arrive at court on the Mariana Islands
Julian Assange was accompanied by Australian Ambassador Kevin Rudd to court in Saipan. (AP PHOTO) Credit: AAP

And this is the danger for Anthony Albanese, who seconded his hand-picked diplomats, former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and former Foreign Minister Stephen Smith to personally escort Assange around the world and home.

Rudd and Smith were happy props in the WikiLeaks propaganda as they ushered Assange from London to the Pacific to Canberra.

Mr Albanese published a photograph of himself in his prime ministerial office phoning Mr Assange.

This sort of image is usually reserved for the PM phoning world leaders who have just been elected to office, not freshly convicted criminals.

Mr Albanese, Foreign Minister Penny Wong and Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus issued a statement urging the media to respect the privacy of a man who found international fame by violating the national security secrets of his own country’s main ally.

The Prime Minister then likened Assange’s case to that of Cheng Lei, who was detained by the Chinese Communist Party, which, like the Kremlin, has continually advocated for Assange and Sean Turnell who was wrongfully detained in Myanmar.

Australians celebrated journalist Cheng Lei and academic Sean Turnell’s release, just as they did Kylie Moore-Gilbert’s, whose release from Iranian jail was negotiated by the Coalition government.

The same cannot be said for Assange. The government is mistaken if they think the cheering from their natural support base of journalists-turned-advocates, human rights lawyers and celebrities looking for a cause represents the community’s sentiment.

It does not.

In twinning their images with Assanges and merging their own self-congratulation at forcing the US to obey Australia’s requests with the WikiLeaks victory lap, the danger for the government is that whatever Julian Assange does next, is seen as enabled and endorsed by the Labor government.

And 2024 is a vastly different national security environment compared to when WikiLeaks first exposed shocking allied war conduct in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Support is high in Australia for Ukraine which is fighting for its existence following Vladimir Putin’s illegal invasion.

Russian propaganda has joined with the CCP in barracking for Assange and berating the United States for seeking his extradition.

This combination cannot and will not be as easily glossed over in 2024 compared to 2014.

There will be huge interest in what Assange does next. Albanese, Rudd and Smith should be those watching most closely.

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