Wednesday, 20 June 2012
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Evans. On what basis have grossly irresponsible statements been made by lawyers within our cabinet: the Prime Minister saying that the work of WikiLeaks was illegal, the Attorney-General saying that Mr Julian Assange had fled Sweden, and the former Attorney-General even threatening to cancel this Australian citizen's passport?
I thank the senator for his question, which I got advised was on Twitter. So thank you for giving us pre-warning of the question. It does not make answering it any easier, but I do appreciate that at least my staff are on it. I personally have not yet mastered Twitter, and I am of the view that anyone over 20 should not play with it, but anyway. I neither tweet nor twitter.
But the question obviously goes to the issue of Mr Julian Assange. As the senator would be aware, there have been some developments in matters concerning him today, where he has sought, as I understand, protection in a consulate in London. I understand that is designed to have him be considered for asylum in Ecuador.
Mr President, I rise on a point of order. My point of order is one of relevance. I did not mention Twitter in my question. I also did not ask for an exposition of what has occurred in London overnight. I am interested in the minister justifying the statements by senior members of the Australian government about the illegality of the work of WikiLeaks, and I ask you to draw the minister to that question.
I was not trying to be unhelpful, but the senator did ask questions about this some time ago. This matter has been debated in the Senate previously by him and questions have been asked. I am not sure how seeking to again debate with the government or ask questions of the government about those issues, which I think are probably six months or a year old now, is particularly helpful. The government has continued to support Mr Assange by making sure he has proper consular assistance. What occurs in terms of the laws in other countries is obviously a question for them, but we continue to provide whatever assistance we can. (Time expired)
I am not sure that I have anything to add to what both the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General have said in relation to these matters previously. As I understand it, Mr Assange's legal proceedings relate to a request by Sweden for his extradition from the UK for investigation in relation to alleged sexual offences. Those matters have been proceeding in England according to British law, as they should. As I say, this government continues to provide Mr Assange with any consular assistance we can or that he seeks. The decision about how he responds to these matters, including seeking asylum in the Ecuadorian consulate, is obviously a question for him. Quite frankly, Senator, it does not matter whether I am a friend or not of Mr Assange; he has the full rights of an Australian citizen and he has received the full support that any other Australian would receive from our consular services.
As I understand it, the current proceedings Mr Assange is dealing with is seeking asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. I am not sure why our response would be directed at the United States of America. What we have made clear in previous advice to the Senate is that we have no advice from US officials of any indictment against Mr Assange or that the US has decided to seek his extradition. I think that has been repeated by US officials. As I say, Mr Assange is being sought by the Swedish authorities for extradition from the UK. Legal proceedings have taken place in recent months. The question of how he responds to that is clearly a matter for him, but the Australian government continues to provide the same consular services to him as we would provide to any other citizen.