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Tuesday, 23 February 2021
Page: 1373

Senator WHISH-WILSON (Tasmania) (20:36): Speaking in the Australian Senate chamber tonight, I'd like to make a heartfelt appeal to the US President, Joe Biden, and the new US Attorney General, Merrick Garland. Firstly, Attorney General, congratulations on your recent appointment. My appeal to you is to prioritise, review and walk away from your appeal seeking the extradition of Australian award-winning journalist and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. While I understand the US Department of Justice recently decided to appeal the UK court's decision not to extradite Julian Assange, I also understand it would have been very out of the ordinary for an acting attorney general waiting for a new attorney general in a new administration to stop any high-profile case before it started. I also understand that the US prosecutor in the Assange extradition case recently said there was division within the Department of Justice on proceeding with this appeal. I hope this is a decision you will be reviewing and contemplating shortly.

Gentlemen, after Judge Vanessa Baraitser, on 5 January this year, accepted all the substantive arguments of your prosecution for the extradition of Julian Assange, you now hold the high ground, legally and politically speaking. You won your moral victory. By rejecting extradition on mental health grounds, the judge also made it clear that Julian Assange is a broken man and that extraditing him would be tantamount to murder. You can now stop this extradition appeal with the stroke of a pen. I and many others are asking: why would someone so powerful continue to pursue a sick, broken man? It looks very personal and very political. The full resources of one of the world's great nation states is intent on the destruction of one man. That is hardly fair, now, is it? My fellow Australian citizens across all political colours may be many things but we all have an innate sense of fairness.

Pursuing Assange will be seen as overreach. The chorus of voices from around the globe is echoing this. If you proceed with this appeal, you risk undermining your legal judgement and your high ground, certainly in the court of public opinion. If Mr Assange dies in prison, you also risk a significant backlash, not to mention martyring him. If you succeed in any appeal and he faces trial in the USA, you risk the actual trial being on the real and existential threats to press freedom, the First Amendment and much, much more, rather than on the alleged espionage activities of Assange and WikiLeaks. If you drop this extradition treaty now, your sword, or the prospect of another extradition, or worse, will hang over Julian Assange for the rest of his life. You get to have your cake and eat it, politically speaking, if you walk away now. You have made your point.

Gentlemen, both our parliamentary systems are based on the ancient republic of Rome. One thing the Romans knew too well was that, the more powerful you became, the more you needed to be challenged and held to account. Who is there in this day and age to hold the powerful to account? A greatly diminished free press, perhaps, which your extradition threatens to its core? Whistleblowers, who you throw in jail? Your deeply divided partisan political system? I think not.

If it's not just the destruction of Julian Assange that you seek, but also what he represents, then I ask you to consider this: politics today feels like it is full of lies and liars—so many lies, layers upon layers of them. Call it a post-truth world or whatever, but we both know it is eating away at our parliaments and institutions of democracy. And you would know this better than anyone. The man whose administration you replaced had been caught out lying over 30,000 times during his presidency.

Without a value on truth and truth-telling, there is only one path left to tread. And it gets more dark and more dangerous from here. Again, you should know this better than anyone after the desecration of your own capital. All because of lies. Lying with no consequences and no accountability. What is there left if we demonstrate we don't value the truth? Especially from our leaders. Lies are the cancer on our polity. You might truly believe that what was published by WikiLeaks on the Iraq War was stolen by a whistleblower, Chelsea Manning, and, to quote Mike Pompeo, published by a hostile actor, Julian Assange, and WikiLeaks. But I ask you to please put politics and personality aside and ask yourself: how is it morally hostile to publish war crimes and other criminality, exposing lies and deceit, so that citizens know the truth? I'm sure that, like me, on honest reflection you were both angered and deeply saddened by some of the terrible things that were made public in these disclosures—things that needed to change.

I would ask you to reflect on the fact that everything published, the documents over which you are extraditing Assange, were 100 per cent factual and clearly in the public interest. No lies here—this is beyond dispute. These disclosures may well make you uncomfortable, and the manner in which they were made public may make you angry, but surely citizens have a right to know what is done, the decisions that are made in their names and in their countries' names, with their taxpayer dollars, especially when this involves invading another country and the aggression and tragic loss of life involved in a war. I remind you that reliable and credible estimates have put the civilian death toll of the Iraq War at over a million people.

You see, it was a lie and a terrible deceit that led us to war in Iraq in the first place. Your country and mine. A manufactured deception by some of the most powerful people and organisations on this planet. Perhaps the most egregious, dangerous lie of our time. And it appears they have all got away with it. By going after my fellow countryman Julian Assange, you are going after the truth-teller of this terrible war, this dark chapter in our collective history. By doing so, you are reminding people of this lie. They will not forget this. It is not acceptable to send any messages that crimes can be covered up, and truth-tellers prosecuted and persecuted, in the name of secrecy and national security.

I invite you to reflect on how this looks and how this extradition appeal process will simply continue to erode trust in our political leadership, in our democracy, in our institutions and, importantly, in our nation's deep and abiding friendship—but, most importantly, in eroding the value of truth and truth-telling. I trust you are honest men and you value the truth and the importance of protecting press freedoms, especially at this juncture in history. Once more, I invite you to reflect on what is really at stake here and choose the truth. It's not too late, and history will judge you well for this intervention. Thank you.