Independent MP Andrew Wilkie was ‘grateful’ for the opportunity to meet Caroline Kennedy to discuss broad concern for the WikiLeaks founder
Daniel Hurst Foreign affairs and defence correspondentTue 9 May 2023
A cross-party delegation of Australian parliamentarians pressed for an end to the pursuit of WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, at a meeting with the US ambassador, Caroline Kennedy, in Canberra on Tuesday morning.
Independent MP Andrew Wilkie, one of the co-chairs of the Bring Julian Assange Home Parliamentary Group, said they were “grateful for this opportunity” to meet with Kennedy to raise “the widespread concern in Australia about the ongoing attempts by the US to extradite Mr Assange to America”.
“In particular we impressed upon the ambassador the broad concern in the Australian parliament for Mr Assange, which was echoed clearly by both the prime minister and opposition leader last week when they said this matter had gone on long enough.”
Wilkie was joined at the meeting by the other co-chairs of the group – Josh Wilson (Labor), Bridget Archer (Liberal) and David Shoebridge (Greens) – along with the Labor MP Julian Hill.
Hill said the group “got a fair hearing and have again made clear that enough is enough and this needs a political resolution led by the United States”.
“We thank the ambassador for engaging directly, so she can convey the strength of the views right across the Australian parliament to Washington DC,” Hill said.
Assange, an Australian citizen, remains in Belmarsh prison in London as he fights a US attempt to extradite him to face charges in connection with the publication of hundreds of thousands of leaked documents about the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, as well as diplomatic cables.
The push to seek his release appears to have gained momentum since the 2022 election victory of Anthony Albanese, who has long been on the record as criticising the ongoing pursuit of Assange.
During a visit to the UK last week, the prime minister reiterated his view that “enough is enough” and that he was “concerned about Mr Assange’s mental health”. The opposition leader, Peter Dutton, agreed it had “gone on too long”.
In a sign of the government’s increasing attention to the case, the new Australian high commissioner to the UK, Stephen Smith, visited Assange in Belmarsh prison in early April.
Last month, 48 Australian MPs and senators – including 13 from the governing Labor party – wrote to US attorney general, Merrick Garland, to argue the extradition bid “set a dangerous precedent” for press freedom.
Their open letter said the charges – 17 counts under the Espionage Act and one count under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act – pertained to Assange’s actions “as a journalist and publisher” in publishing information “with evidence of war crimes, corruption and human rights abuses”.skip past newsletter promotion
The US president, Joe Biden, is due to visit Sydney for the Quad leaders’ summit on 24 May.
Shoebridge said Tuesday’s meeting was “productive” and he welcomed the end of Australia’s “quiet diplomacy” on the Assange case.
“The fact that the ambassador allocated precious time to this issue ahead of President Biden’s visit is a useful indication of the visibility of the campaign to free Assange,” he said.
The White House has previously said Biden was “committed to an independent Department of Justice” when asked about the Assange case.
Wilkie said the cross-party group planned to hold a media conference at Parliament House in Canberra on Tuesday after the meeting with Kennedy.