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3 May 2022

As part of our ongoing election coverage, ALN will be profiling the parties through the lens of policy (I know, crazy right). Each week we will be looking at the main players, analysing their official and unofficial positions on an issue, and giving a ALN recommendation on that particular policy area.

This week we are discussing the plight of journalist Julian Assange (and by extension Freedom of the Press). Julian has recently had his extradition to the US given the all-clear by a UK court and is in real danger of facing further persecution at the hands of the US for the crime of revealing war crimes or as it’s otherwise known – being a journalist. The one last hope for freedom Assange has and again by extension – the free press lies with UK Home Secretary Priti Patel who has the final say on the matter.

In exploring the official party positions on Julian Assange, we are essentially uncovering their commitment to Freedom of the Press by default, as if they are unwilling to stand up for journalism when it comes under assault, then we can’t take them seriously as an advocate for a free press.

Below are statements and party positions that we were able to find, our assessments of their performance,and a conclusion on the best advocates for a free press.

The Australian Labor Party

Position = Weak Support

As recently as February 2021, Anthony Albanese has been quoted in support of Julian Assange but only after disavowing his actions.

‘I don’t have sympathy for many of his actions but essentially I can’t see what is served by keeping him incarcerated.’ Albanese said in a Caucus meeting reported the Daily Mail.

Official Policy:
A site specific google search found no mention of Julian Assange on the ALP website. However on Page 79 of the official Australian Labor Party Policy Platform under the section of “Healthy Public Debate” it says the following:

“In an era when media diversity, media freedom and quality public interest journalism and local news are under threat around the world, Labor will ensure Australians have access to a strong, healthy, diverse and independent media operating in the public interest.”

ALP OFFICIAL PARTY PLATFORM

The Liberal-National Party Coalition

Position = Weak Support

As government for the last nine years, the responsibility to protect and advocate for an Australian citizen has been the sole jurisdiction of successive Coalition governments. Through this period there has been no official position taken or decisive action to free Assange from his capture. In fact there has been a general reluctance to address the issue.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that Julian is “free to return home to Australia once legal challenges against him are dealt with” Morrison said in January 2021, Reuters reported.

Several high profile members of the government however have expressed support for Assange, including leader of the National Party and Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, who voiced his opinions on the editorial pages of The Age in late 2019 in a piece titled “I have never met Julian Assange and I presume I would not like him, but he’s entitled to justice”.

“A decent society makes the investment to uphold everyone’s basic attachment to this vessel of rights. You can judge a society on whether the protections and enforcement of these rights is actively pursued by the state in a form where all are truly equal.”

Barnaby Joyce, Nationals leader/Deputy Prime Minister of Australia

Official Policy: No mention of “press freedom” or “Julian Assange” were found on the official Liberal Party website. The Nationals, however “believe” in freedom of speech on the about page of their website.

“The Nationals believe the prime responsibility of the Commonwealth Government should be to ensure freedom of choice and opportunity for all citizens; to provide an economic framework that rewards individual effort; to preserve the family as the foundation of society; to guarantee freedom of speech…”

The Nationals ‘Our History’ page

Greens

Position = Strong Support

The Australian Greens have been consistently strong advocates for Julian Assange with multiple leaders making statements to that effect.

In January of 2020 active leader Adam Bandt made a statement about the journalists plight via press release via the Greens website.

“It’s time for Scott Morrison to fight for an Australian citizen whose work exposing war crimes has subjected him to an extraordinary campaign of persecution from the United States,”

Adam Bandt, Greens Leader

Previous leader Richard Di. Natale echoed that sentiment in 2019.

Official Policy: A search of the official Greens Party website found many editorial references to Assange but no official policy position on the Wikileaks founder. The Greens however did discuss press freedom on their website under their media and communications policy as follows:

The Australian Greens believe that:

Freedom of the press and effective, affordable and accessible media and communications systems are integral to the functioning of a successful democratic society.

Australian Greens Media and Communications policy

United Australia Party

Position = Broad Support, lacking detail

Although no official position can be found regarding Julian Assange on the United Australia Party website and neither Craig Kelly (current leader) or former leader Clive Palmer have expressed support for him, the UAP has emphatically expressed support for a free press in a press release title “Australia needs freedom of the press” dated October 2, 2018, on the United Australia Party website.

“Australia needed freedom of the press at this critical time in our country’s development.”

Clive Palmer, Former leader UAP

Liberal Democrats

Position = Strong Support

While no commentary on Julian Assange can be found from any sitting members of the Liberal Democrats at a state or federal level, they do outline a strong position directly addressing the ongoing persecution of Assange on the official Liberal Democrats website under their Freedom Manifesto.

Free Assange. Julian Assange alerted the world to the dangerous power of the State in the age of the internet. We will advocate for his immediate release and repatriation.

Liberal Democrats Official Policy

They also have a strong clear policy on protected speech advocating for open discourse online and offline on their Free Speech page.

Freedom of speech is fundamental in a democratic society. The free exchange of ideas and opinions allows these ideas and opinions to be tested, with the more robust being accepted. Speech that is agreeable and popular is protected by default. The most important function of free speech is to protect unpopular speech.

Liberal Democrats Official Policy

One Nation

Position = Strong Support

The leader of One Nation, Pauline Hanson has expressed strong support for Julian Assange in a letter addressed to then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull advocating for his release.

The letter which was sent in November 2016 depicts Assange as a hero, reported the Daily Mail. She also has made comments advocating for a presidential pardon for Assange.

“In Australia and under Australian law we believe that a person is innocent until proven guilty. In a time when the media cannot be trusted … it is now the work of people like Mr Assange that is so integral to the healthy functioning of our democracy. It is organisations such as Wikileaks that are now the true fourth pillar of democracy.”

Pauline Hanson’s letter to the Prime Minister

Also of note is former LNP member now One Nation candidate for Dawson George Christenson who brought the issue to Australian parliament in late November 2021.

As a backbencher for the sitting government, Christenson introduced a private members bill addressing the illegal detention of journalists, called “Free Julian Assange” reported 7news.com.au

CONCLUSION

The major parties have consistently lacked the courage to speak out on behalf of Julian Assange preferring to speak in deferential terms to the interests of the US and UK. Both parties have failed to advocate on his behalf in the 10 years since his asylum was granted by the Ecuadorian embassy and so do not perform well on the issue of freedom of the press.

United Australia Party lacks any real policy detail on freedom of the press, speaking in very broad platitudes, and as they have failed to even address the most important example of journalistic persecution they are not really a serious voice on this issue.

By far the parties that have consistently and strongly advocated for the release of Julian Assange are One Nation, The Liberal Democrats, and The Greens. These parties clearly believe and strongly advocate for a free press and have proven this through ongoing public statements and election platforms.

They earn the ALN recommendation for standing up for freedom of the press.

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Drew Roller is a Filmmaker, Musician and stay at home dad. He enjoys films about sword swinging immortals, 90s games about British spies and long conversations online that push at the boundaries of polite conversation.

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