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Wednesday, 29 February 2012
Page: 1234

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Senator LUDLAM (Western Australia) (15:30): I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research (Senator Evans) to a question without notice asked by Senator Ludlam today relating to Mr Julian Assange» .

I recognise that Senator Evans was sent in here for question time in his representational capacity—this matter is not in his portfolio—but what a remarkable response I received from him. I asked whether the Prime Minister knew of a sealed indictment against Mr Julian «Assange» which has been made by a secret grand jury in the United States. We do not have the grand jury system in Australia; there are very few jurisdictions that still have grand juries. However, we need to learn a great deal about it.

What the Prime Minister sent Senator Evans in to question time with by way of a brief was remarkable. I have been foreshadowing that I was going to ask questions about Mr «Assange» all day. I told the press gallery this morning that I was going to ask the these questions of the Prime Minister, and I foreshadowed them in the MPI discussion earlier today. The first question was: what does the government know about this attack on the democratic rights and citizenship entitlements of an Australian? The answer that came back through the brief given to Senator Evans was vacant and ambiguous, and that is a perfect description of the Australian government's response to these matters over more than a year. When is the Australian government going to step up and do its job?

The Prime Minister of the country did not necessarily know, Senator Evans told us—although he did not directly engage with the substance of my question—whether or not such an indictment existed. So, even though some ex-State Department guy in Texas running a little intelligence organisation apparently knows—his knowledge has been revealed in an email which was one among a drop of five million emails from Stratfor—the Australian government apparently does not. Or maybe it does; that is what we are seeking to find out.

Mr Burton, who is the former deputy chief of counterterrorism at the US State Department and who is now the vice president of intelligence at Stratfor, turns up in a large number of this drop of five million emails. His Australia Day message for Australia in 2011 was:

Not for Pub—We have a sealed indictment on «Assange» . Pls protect.

The 'we' that he refers to is the US government. If our government knew of this, why weren't we told? If the Prime Minister—or perhaps the Foreign Minister or the Attorney-General—knew that the attack on Mr «Assange» was coming, why wasn't the information shared with the Australian people? Why wasn't it shared with me at any time during the interminable series of questions on notice I have asked and the freedom-of-information requests that I have lodged to try to assess exactly what the game is and how deeply involved and implicated in it the Australian government is? Some conspiracies turn out not to be theories at all.

The second question I put to Senator Evans was whether the Australian government had any intention of taking any action whatsoever—anything at all; name one thing—to protect against the very real threats now being levelled at this journalist, Mr «Assange» , who works for a publishing organisation. In a short time I will test the Senate's views on whether it agrees that Mr «Assange» is indeed a journalist and that the WikiLeaks organisation is a publishing organisation. There is a motion on the Notice Paper which I invite senators who are with us this afternoon to take a quick look at. It does not call on the Senate to do anything—heaven forbid!—but to recognise that Mr «Assange is indeed a journalist, as the British High Court and the Walkley Foundation have done.

The Prime Minister, through the minister's vague and ambiguous answer this afternoon, did not seem to indicate that anything at all had been done. Here is an idea: call in the United States ambassador. That is why the United States ambassador is here in Canberra—to keep the flow of communi¬≠cation open about matters of relevance between states, particularly between allied states. I have not had much luck in my request to meet with the ambassador; maybe it will jump a little bit higher up the to-do list after today—we will see.

The third thing I asked the Prime Minister was whether she plans on taking any action and whether the government would perhaps stop obstructing my freedom of information requests and put some material on the record. Let us know, because the Australian government in this matter will turn out to have been either complicit or ignorant—either we have been kept in the dark or the government has been keeping secrets. The Prime Minister and the rest of the cabinet may think that the rest of this information will be disclosed when they are good and ready. Perhaps it will be disclosed along with a story of somebody killed in action as a result of the wiki-drop. The existence of such a story has also been disclosed in the email drop, so perhaps the strategy now is to wait until the appropriate time and then tell the world public through the world's media organisations that there has been a death and that it is Julian Assange's fault and then to move to unseal the indictment. What a breathtakingly cynical strategy that would be!

I think it is time that the government put some material on the record, because—you know what?—you may not get to do it at a time of your choosing. Who knows what material WikiLeaks has on your cabinet and on what the Prime Minister knows. We will find out one way or another. Please, Prime Minister, take the lead and release this information. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.