Like a lot of Australians, I was not just disappointed but actually shocked by the attitude of Julia Gillard and her government – many of the senior members of government – to Julian Assange and the major Wikileaks release of 250,000 documents that started in 2010.
It was an emotive response to a number of factors; one of which being “those leaks”, that were published a few days before. They were the ones that named Mark Arbib as an informer, an insider who informed on the workings of our government to a foreign power. It might be an ally, but it’s still a foreign power, and you don’t do that. You don’t tell a foreign power what’s going on inside your own government… Imagine that the other way round; if Australian Intelligence had been receiving information about the internal workings of Obama’s government, and sending it back to Canberra. This would have been… you can imagine the reaction in the US. The fact that there was virtually no reaction illustrates the servant-master relationship; post-colonial relationship; NEO-colonial relationship that we have with the United States.
We are the willing Deputy Sheriff, and nothing has illustrated that more than the reaction Julia Gillard had when she claimed, completely wrongly – and the woman’s a LAWYER, for God’s sake – that Julian Assange was in breach of the law and that he had done something illegal. Then it was put to the federal police and what did they say? “No, he hasn’t broken any law”.
The other terrible thing at that time, was that Attorney General McClelland said that he would examine the state of Assange’s passport, as though he might not be allowed back into Australia – a last refuge, one would have thought, if the forces of authority are hunting him throughout the world. But what does the Australian government do? It says we’ll examine his passport to see if he can be kept out. The last person they did something like that to was Wilfred Burchett, so presumably they see Assange, in his own way, as as dangerous as Burchett – the last thing we had as a real renegade journalist – who didn’t take the government’s orders and reported as he wished. But that was decades ago…
So is Assange the new bête noir of the Australian government? Presumably he is.
My feeling about Julian Assange is that he should be celebrated. He is someone who has gone off in pursuit of truth. That’s all. He’s like Daniel Ellsberg and The Pentagon Papers, which showed the dark side of the Vietnam War (it was all the dark side really) and Assange; what he’s been trying to do is to get papers which will show the unseen side of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. From a journalistic point of view, you have to remember that these wars have not been reported. They have gone UNREPORTED. Why is that? The last wars that were reported in any way objectively… the last one was Vietnam, where reporters were on the ground as free agents and could report what they saw. A number of them died in that process, but they got the news out as they saw it.
In Iraq and Afghanistan, reporters are embedded, and they spout the line of whoever embeds them with their troops. They see the war from the perspective of those who are giving them safety and comfort, and with whom they are bedded down. This is not the way that journalists should operate and it’s not the way that the public will ever learn the truth. So we have to accept that we are not getting information about those wars.
The French theoretician Jean Baudrillard spoke of the first Gulf War and said that it was an electronic confection, put on almost as a form of entertainment, and through it you could no longer contact or touch the reality of war. Iran and Afghanistan are the same, and the major powers are stage-managing their conflicts now, so that the public back home never worry about them; turn off The News and turn on The Simpsons.
The problem is someone like Julian Assange comes along and through releasing all sorts of government information, shows what the facts actually are, and the true danger is that the public may learn them. That’s why they’re so terrified of him. What is the attitude of the Australian government to a citizen, who has only brought material to light that was volunteered to his website anonymously? Take away his passport. Say that he’s done illegal acts. What does that really construe? That says he’s a criminal. He’s none of those things. He’s a journalist and a publisher, and that’s all he’s done. And for the things that he’s done, we should be awarding him the A.M., the A.O. He should be Australian of The Year. That’s the kind of person he is.
This government has betrayed a person whose only crime is to publish the truth. No one says these cables aren’t correct. They are authentic documents. And is Julian Assange accused of stealing them? No. So what is his crime, in any country? Even the Americans will find it hard to make that stick.
So from my point of view it’s one of the worst performances of this Government; the one that’s really sapped faith in the progressive side of politics, in the shell of what was The Labor Party. If they are going to suck on this level, God knows what Mark Lathem would say about them…