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Thursday, 16 August 2012
Page: 5577


Senator LUDLAM (Western Australia) (15:28): I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Senator Bob Carr) to a question without notice asked by Senator Ludlam today relating to Mr Julian Assange.

The minister chose not to provide to the chamber earlier this afternoon answers to questions that I put to him about the situation unfolding in London overnight. My question was, as is the format of this place, threefold, but it effectively went to whether the minister was aware of, had taken an interest in and contacted our high commissioner or, particularly and specifically, had made representations to the representatives of the British government either in Australia or in London as to why they appear to have breached international law and threatened the integrity and potentially also the staff of Ecuador's embassy in London in their pursuit of Australian citizen Julian Assange, who has obviously been in that embassy since June.

The minister was, as he always is, on-message and completely off-topic, but he was at least on-message. I could just about have read the brief that he read into the chamber, because I have heard it so many times. I have nearly memorised it. It does not matter what question you put to him; you get the same thing back.

I asked because of the actions of the British government. There is a lot of rumour and speculation flying around at the moment as to what has actually occurred. The statement made by the government of Ecuador this morning said:

We are deeply shocked by the British government's threats against the sovereignty of the Ecuadorian Embassy and their suggestion that they may forcibly enter the embassy.

It has been surrounded by units of the metropolitan police and goodness knows who else. The British government appears to have threatened to break the door down or, potentially, even rezone the embassy so that it is no longer diplomatic territory. This kind of behaviour puts every embassy in the world at risk.

Imagine what Minister Carr's response would be, quite rightly, if the Australian government embassy was surrounded by elements of the Afghan National Police in Kabul. Just imagine that for a moment. There is the idea—and this is hundreds of years of international law, not decades—that you do not interfere with diplomatic postings and personnel overseas. That is being threatened with unpicking by the apparent actions of the British government in London in pursuit of somebody who has not been charged with any offence in any jurisdiction. He is wanted for questioning by Swedish prosecutors who failed to take the opportunity to question him during the two years when Mr Assange has been under house arrest. That is what he is wanted for: an Interpol red notice, an extradition order, for questioning in Sweden. Now the British police appear to have entered the building. I understand the embassy is on the fifth floor of a building in Knightsbridge in London and the British police have surrounded and occupied the ground floor of that building. Minister Bob Carr, after having as long as any of us have had to take stock of the situation, plus the advantage of at least being able to call our high commissioner in London to work out what exactly is going on, said, 'I haven't been advised.' You might as well walk in here with a blindfold on. Seek advice and find out what is occurring, because many people would like to know what is going on.

In effect, it is already a massive diplomatic incident. Should the British decide to occupy the embassy or to forcibly enter the premises, article 22 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations says:

The premises of the mission shall be inviolable. The agents of the receiving State may not enter them, except with the consent of the head of the mission.

That is the kind of threat that appears to be posed to the staff of the Ecuadorian embassy in London at the moment in pursuit of an Australian citizen. This is not a matter on which the Australian government can stand back in blissful ignorance for very much longer. This is something that concerns us directly.

We are not asking for further consular assistance. Consular assistance is for people who lose their mobile phone or their passport overseas; consular assistance is for teenagers who are found with small quantities of drugs in Bali and are therefore put at risk. Consular assistance is not what is being asked for here; it is not what is being sought; it is diplomatic and political assistance. Does the United States government intend to prosecute Julian Assange for espionage, computer hacking offences or whatever it may be? This unprecedented-in-nature-and-scale investigation was launched nearly two years ago. Does the US government intend to pull the trigger and unleash that prosecution or not? That is what this is about; that is what it has always been about. I hope the next time this issue is raised in the Senate, which will probably be pretty early, depending on events that are unfolding right now, the foreign minister will not walk in here with a blindfold on and claim that he was not advised. It is not good enough.

Question agreed to.