Reflections on the views or capacity of the Australian government have only featured fleetingly in the US government cables which have be released to date by the WikiLeaks website. But the targeting of Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, and an Australian citizen (who grew up in my home state of Queensland around the same time I did), has provided more than enough of an Australian angle. This is likely to increase further now Assange has been arrested in the UK.
What Wikileaks has been doing with this and earlier releases – in conjunction with a number of established mainstream media newspapers, it should be emphasised – raises a number of issues, not all of which have a simple black and white answer. (One of the most balanced and rational perspectives on these issues I’ve seen to date is this one by US writer Clay Shirky.) In many ways it is unhelpful that there has been so much focus specifically on Assange, as it is deflecting the opportunity to have more extensive and reasoned debate on the issues raised both in the leaked cables and in the approach that WikiLeaks is taking.
But regardless of people’s individual views about what Wikileaks is doing, or impressions about Julian Assange’s motives or character, there does seem to be a growing concern that the Australian government is more interested in supporting the increasingly hysterical attacks on Assange and Wikileaks by the political elites in the USA. Repeated inferences by Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Attorney-General Robert McLelland that Assange may have broken some law and/or may have his passport cancelled have not stood up to scrutiny. Even the conservative Opposition party have clearly stated Assange has not done anything legally wrong (regardless of arguments as to whether it is morally wrong in some way).
With a number of political leaders and media commentators in the US now openly calling for Assange to be executed, assassinated or declared a ‘terrorist’ or an ‘enemy combatant’, the lack of interest from the Australian government in expressing any concern about what has basically become an incitement to murder has led a number of prominent Australians to pen an open letter to the government asking them to condemn such calls and indicate the importance of ensuring the situation is addressed within the rule of law and basic procedural fairness. Within the space of a few hours, that letter attracted expressions of support from well over 4,000 other Australians.
In addition to the acquiescence of the Australian government thus far, the efforts of the US and other governments to take down WikiLeaks’ website, deny access to funds and the like would do communist China proud. Whilst the Australian community is generally very supportive of the USA and our country’s alliance with them, there is less sympathy if our government is seen as sitting back and letting another country launch witch-hunts and lynch mobs against an Australian citizen.
The news that renowned human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson – who is Australian, though British based – is preparing to represent Assange in his current legal battles in Britain/Sweded/Europe suggests this issue is likely to escalate further. Even the strongly conservative Murdoch newspaper The Australian has felt the need to provide space for Assange to put his view (with the vast majority of public comments to date being very supportive). Governments who continue turning up the heat on this matter might want to be careful what they wish for.