22 March 2023
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I rise to speak in support of this motion. In doing so, I note this is the first time I have spoken on the matter in the chamber, so I did want to put on the public record my support for Julian Assange's freedom and indeed this motion. I also want to recognise the leadership of my colleague in this place the Hon. Frank Pangallo and the work that he has done on this issue. Of course, I note that Mr Pangallo is a former journalist who understands the importance of a free press and freedom of speech in our democracy. I also acknowledge the work of my colleague the Hon. Tammy Franks, who has spoken out on this issue many, many times.
The motion does several things. It recognises that Julian Assange is an Australian citizen and a journalist with WikiLeaks who aided in exposing possible war crimes and civilian casualties in the release of classified US materials, which of course included the Afghanistan war logs in 2010 and the Guantanamo Bay files in 2011 that were supplied to WikiLeaks by Chelsea Manning, a former US Army intelligence analyst. The material in those files that has been published in the media was truly shocking.
The motion also acknowledges that Mr Assange genuinely believed his actions were for the purposes of government accountability, transparency and integrity and for the broader public interest and in the interests of justice. It notes that since the publication of these documents Mr Assange has been forced into isolation or imprisonment over the course of 10 years, which has resulted in a serious deterioration of his health and his mental wellbeing.
The motion recognises that Mr Assange's impending prosecution by the United States of America constitutes a serious attack on the fundamental democratic freedoms of the press. It questions the legitimacy of prosecuting Mr Assange in the United States through that country’s Espionage Act of 1917, carrying a penalty of up to 175 years of imprisonment. It also questions the legitimacy of whether that act should be applied to non-US citizens who were living and working in other countries at the time of any alleged offending.
I must say it is appalling to me that we have those who are exposing war crimes being punished in this way, yet the world leaders who have overseen these appalling atrocities are let off the hook. That is an appalling turn of events. The Greens have long advocated to release Julian Assange. His prosecution has always been political, and over the last 13 years the Greens have continually called on the federal government to secure his freedom.
In 2019, my colleague in the federal parliament Senator Whish-Wilson tabled a petition with over 200,000 signatures calling on the government to intervene and ensure Julian Assange's safe passage home. Similarly, my colleagues Senator Janet Rice and Senator Steele-John have continually asked questions in the federal parliament and pushed the federal government to do the right thing and release him from jail.
In 2021, the then opposition leader, the Hon. Anthony Albanese MP, called for Julian Assange's release, saying, 'I can't see what is being served by keeping him incarcerated.' Now, the Hon. Mr Anthony Albanese is our Prime Minister and he is in a position to act, and so the Greens call on the federal government to act quickly and decisively to end Julian Assange's long-term imprisonment.
The Australian Greens believe that freedom of the press is integral to the functioning of our successful democratic society. Journalism should never be a crime. Indeed, as observed by my colleague Senator Jordon Steele-John, 'The Greens will always support journalists' right to speak truth to power, and we will continue to fight to bring Julian home.' I commend the motion.