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Apr 18, 2012

Government ducks and weaves on Assange

After extraordinary delays in responding to FOI requests about Julian Assange, the government has served up a whole lot of nothing.

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This article has been updated on 3 May 2012 – see below

After dodging and delaying FOI requests about its consideration of the case of Julian Assange for months, the government has blocked the release of any material that would reveal its internal legal deliberations over Assange’s extradition to the United States.

Greens Senator Scott Ludlam made an FOI application to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Attorney-General’s Department and their respective ministerial offices in December seeking documents relating to “the potential extradition or temporary surrender” of Assange to the US.

The response of the government has been a litany of excuses and self-justifications.

After several months, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is still seeking to avoid responding. In March, DFAT said it would take them a remarkable four months to process the request and demanded that Ludlam justify why a request for documents about Assange’s extradition was a matter in the public interest. At the end of March, DFAT demanded another 30 days on top of the four months, on the basis that they’d only just realised they would have to consult with foreign governments over the request.

The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet quickly fobbed off the request entirely by claiming that the request “would unreasonably divert the resources of the department”, an excuse permitted under s.24 of the FOI Act.

So far only Attorney-General’s has responded, after trying to unsuccessfully convince the Information Commissioner to re-extend the deadline for responding, and actually breaching the response deadline. The result (PDF), when it finally arrived in late March, featured extensive use of the famous black highlighter and bordered on nonsensical.

Among the treasures served up by Attorney-General’s were:

  • Emails relating to AGD secretary Roger Wilkins questions about Assange’s extradition, redacted to the point of meaninglessness, on the basis of “legal professional privilege”;
  • Detailed advice to Wilkins about Assange’s extradition, including the issue of his facing the death penalty, was entirely redacted (legal professional privilege)
  • A question time brief for Robert McClelland, in which both the talking points and the background material is almost entirely redacted because it “could cause damage to Australia’s international relations”
  • Emails between departmental staff about a request from McClelland’s office for “lines” for use in response to possible questions about Assange after a newspaper article.
  • Correspondence from people concerned about the issue and media articles
  • Some of the Greens’ own correspondence and notices of motion, one of which was bizarrely redacted despite being a public document.

The redactions prevent any assessment of what exactly the government knows about the US government’s sealed indictment for Assange. The government has played dumb on the issue, publicly declaring it knows nothing about the matter, despite it apparently being common knowledge in Washington circles (as revealed by the Stratfor emails) that a sealed indictment against Assange had been issued.

Update

Late today the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade sought an additional month to respond to Senator Ludlam’s FOI request “on the basis that continuing international consultation and the complexity of decision-making required prior to finalising the documents for release.” The continuing consultation raises the possibility of the US or Swedish governments seeking to veto the release of documents under Freedom of Information. DFAT’s deadline for responding will, if the Office of the Information Commissioner agrees, be extended to 3 June (DFAT has withdrawn the claim that it will take it 4 months to process the request). The new deadline effectively ensures that the Australian Government’s position vis-à-vis Assange won’t be revealed before the outcome of his appeal against his European Arrest Warrant is concluded.

Bernard Keane — Politics Editor

Bernard Keane

Politics Editor

Bernard Keane is Crikey’s political editor. Before that he was Crikey’s Canberra press gallery correspondent, covering politics, national security and economics.

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47 comments

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47 thoughts on “Government ducks and weaves on Assange

  1. Glaum Fred

    Ian is right, Foreign Affairs must become our main election issue, and the current bunch of politicians need to hear how serious we are about this. If neither major party represents the interests of the Australian people then we need a breakup of existing party alliances or a powerful third force to be formed. Both main parties care more about their dirty little deals with foreign governments than they do about the voters that they supposedly represent.

  2. Ian

    Frank,

    “Climate millenarianism”? A somewhat extreme accusation from a moderate climate denier like yourself. Tell me do you still believe the sun circles the earth? Just asking! Perhaps it only partly circles it or perhaps the verdict is not yet out – we should just wait and see.

  3. Ian

    We simply have to make foreign affairs an election issue. We cannot allow our governments to creep up the US arse indefinitely else before we know it we will be pulled into a war of some sort or other with our biggest benefactor, China.

    The US is not content with destroying the Middle East but is now setting its sights on the East. The Darwin base is just the beginning and I heard somewhere there were some discussions about using the Cocos Island as a base to launch drones.

  4. Andybob

    I dont think this is party political. There is a constant and unavoidable beaurecratic drift towards hardening of the FOI arteries. At least Scott got some pieces of paper that he can wave around. In Victoria you get nuffink.

  5. Frank Campbell

    schnappi: my point is that both Lib and Lab are sycophants. Only the Greens show any independence. That’s the tragedy of climate millenarianism- the Greens brief period of influence is likely to end soon.

  6. Almuhit

    Julia like Tony continues to uphold the great modern Austrayin tradition of keeping morality out of politics. We deserve no better than a liberal Government as punishment for allowing this travesty of a Goverment and Prime minister to act in the name of of the Australian people. Turn off our plasmas and throw cabbages at the bastards. X.

  7. MaggieP

    Here is the link to the FOI Report, which shows exactly how useless this act now is:
    http://www.expendable.tv/2011/10/foi-abuse-report.html

    By dismissing reports like this, simply because it relates to a helpless now mentally ill woman, smeared to death by the media, the criminal state of Australia will get all it deserves in the future.

  8. MaggieP

    Expendable. Remember that word. It is relevant because all Ludlam’s frustrations with his FOI are tiny, compared to the gross abuses of this worthless piece of legislation, which Expendable exposes.

    Check out the Expendable.TV website for the details of department after department abusing the legislation, evading, lying, and more.

    So when suddenly an article appears her, as though we should all be affronted, forgive me for laughing.

    The proof has been laid out for months, and you haven’t been interested. Crimes by ministers and their apologists are documented. No interest. Sanction of human rights abuse proven. No interest.

    But when a tiny fraction of it relates to one of your pet topics, Mr Assange, it suddenly becomes a big deal. Pathetic.

  9. Schnappi

    Made a comment about lomotil but was not posted can guess who stopped it.

  10. Bohemian

    I think we need also to remember that any questionining of the motives of “our great and powerful friend” invariably ends in “liberation” and that can be very nasty. As a US admiral was heard to remark during a visit by the nukes some years back…”you know this ship couldnt flatten Sydney in four seconds haw! haw! haw!” Lomotil anyone?

  11. Schnappi

    AH FRANK CAMPBELL
    If anyone was up Uncle Sams smelly place ,then it had to be Sheriff Howard,bit hard for abbott to beat,maybe he can be first deputy,but heard inferences what abbott is prepared to do with his arse.

  12. Frank Campbell

    Schnappi: I thought it was obvious- who expects liberalism from the Liberal Party? There used to be a few…Giorgiu, McPhee, Baird…all ended up in shallow graves…

    The ALP is (giggle) supposed to be a respository of Left values…instead it’s a permanent suppository up Uncle Sam’s arse…

    think Bomber Beazley, now beached in his equivalent of the Vatican…

  13. Schnappi

    Have to wonder if Assange has made a mistake in doing interviews on a Russian owned TV channel.as some of Wikileaks dealt with Russian corruption and Putins secret wealth.
    But his show appears to only deal with the corruption in the west,therefore not showing eastern corruption could show complete bias instead of open ended discussion,his first show with the Hezbollah leader seemed totally staged.

  14. Harry Rogers

    Humour wins all the time Schnappi

  15. Schnappi

    OK HR ,but as using a desktop,took your advice and typed this standing on one leg,next time will stand on the other one.

  16. Harry Rogers

    Scnappi,

    You clearly have passion and change requires passion so “throw away ” comments are peripheral. Get off you arse and make yourself be heard in a real sense.

  17. HaTeMaiL

    That too. What the hell, let’s make it a Republic of States too.

  18. Schnappi

    Actually thought it was a federation of states.

  19. HaTeMaiL

    We are the United States of Australia.

  20. AR

    I’m only surprised by the surprise shown above. Gutless, sycophantic, forelock tugging governments of the last almost 40yrs make Uriah Heep look like Braveheart.

  21. shepherdmarilyn

    DAvid, he was on the same frigging side of the US each time.

    Why do you clowns have to keep lying and demonising him.

  22. Harry Rogers

    And…we all sit back and proselytize. makes us feel good ..doesn’t it.

  23. HaTeMaiL

    NGMCWN.COM- That is an unfair critique on the toad population.
    Toads have a conviction, owe nobody nothing and do as toads do.
    Not like that idiot Abbott, or Gillard, at all.

  24. negativegearmiddleclasswelfarenow.com

    Ron Paul the US presidential candidate backs the rights of Bradley and Assange.
    In comparison Abbott and Gillard are gutless toads.

  25. Whistleblower

    As usual the Australian government has rolled over on its back and spread its metaphorical legs in a craven act of supplication to the United States government.

    I never thought I would see a Labor Party government act in such an obsequious way towards the United States, effectively abandoning its own citizen in a dick- sucking exercise of political supplication. This is what I would expect from the Liberal party!

    Perhaps Julian Assange should smoke dope and get caught by the UK police, as the Australian Government has no problems in contacting druggies in jail for perceived political advantage!

    @Bohemian – the Latham reference was to “a conga line of suck-holes” an appropriately apt analogy.

  26. Peter Ormonde

    No Marilyn you’re right – last time I looked stupidity and white-boy arrogance wasn’t a crime. But it wasn’t for lack of trying on Hicks’ part. Going off to fight dirty little wars he didn’t understand in places he didn’t belong. None of which is to say he deserved the treatment he got both from the yanks and his own government. Even the stupid deserve protection.

    Assange is a completely different kettle of fish. House arrest without charge – the possibility of extradition without charge – dodgy allegations of sexual misconduct from a dubious source – on and off investigations – and all the while the US witch-hunters sit with a sealed (secret) Grand Jury indictment waiting to pounce … And the Australian government has “made it’s feelings clear” asking to be “informed” if there is a request for extradition from Sweden to the US. As if they will bother to ask.

    Can any other country kiss arse better than this?

  27. Liz45

    Could someone please tell me why the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Guardian etc are not being hounded – they printed the same material, straight from Wikileaks web site? In fact, the people from the Guardian were in it as far as Julian Assange was/is?Why isn’t the US Pentagon or whoever going after them? Why isn’t Rupert being tailed and threatened? Can someone tell me why only Julian Assange is being demonised by the US? He just reprinted information that came to him – the major newspapers also printed those documents and/or showed the videos? I refer of course to the most damning – the brutal murder of Iraqi citizens, just going about their business? Isn’t it a crime that we found out via brutal and gross video footage what heaps of us already knew! That the US gives not a shit about their own people, let alone anyone else!

    I’m getting so sick of our federal govts (of both persuasions) sucking up to the US. I’m sick of the bloody hypocrisy of the US, and its allies. The cooonnncccerrrn expressed by Hilary Clinton and others over Syria etc makes me want to throw up. It would appear, that the only time it’s OK to kill civillians (by the hundreds if not thousands) is if the US does it! Or their allies do in their name! I’m sick of the sympathy and hushed voices when 32 Australian deaths are mentioned, but who gives a shit about the thousands in Afghanistan or the 1.5 MILLION in Iraq?

    @MARILYN – I agree with you. Hicks did nothing wrong, nor did Moundah Habib, nor did Dr Haneef? Oh yes, when will the Federal Govt take action against the Federal Prosecutor who allegedly told lies to the Court about Dr Haneef? Where was the screaming for his blood(so to speak)? The total bs and hypocrisy is breathtaking! A democratic country? Compared to what? The US rants on about how democratic they are, so they give the President the power to detain, torture and/or kill ANY American citizen, anywhere in the world (just prior to last Xmas I believe)! Why isn’t the US forced to abide by their own Laws? On and on it goes – ad nauseum! They think we’ve all lost our memories if not our minds? I remember all the bs, double speak, gobbly gook etc and I’m sick of it! As are most of you!

    @SB – Is that the best you can do? Figures!

    End of rant!

  28. Schnappi

    Well SM Assange was not captured with an enemy.

  29. shepherdmarilyn

    Why not? Hicks didn’t commit any crime either.

  30. Schnappi

    Well FC the coalition has done nothing ,why not condemn both instead of biased view.

  31. davidk

    I was likewise unimpressed by Roxon’s reponse on Q&A. It seemed the majority of people voting on the night thought the gov’t was not doing enough. Clearly our current gov’t, just like our last gov’t, believes a concession to the hurt feelings of the US outweighs their obligation to the Australian people. Oz is still “All the way with the USA”. God bless America!

  32. kennethrobinson2

    Gillard has sold us out to the Yanks from day one, like our other gutless leaders, one only has to think of the lying rodents, love of GWB, and Gillards fawning creepy crawly speech at the US Congress.
    In the very near future we will be completly dominated by the yanks, thanks to the BETRAYAL of our so called leaders, let us be friends, but they must not rule us, or we will be water boarded for speaking out.
    Julian, doesnt have much of a future, his fate has long been decided, what great friends we AUSTRALIANS have, with leaders subserviant to a foreign power, maybe Assange should seek political assylum in Russia, he certainly wouldnt be worse of than he is now.

  33. Frank Campbell

    As always, the ALP acts cravenly…never forget that Gillard condemned Assange the minute the gringos demanded his head. Her minders then told her to shut up and use plan B: obfuscation, delay etc.

    It’s the same old story- LBJ, the Bushes, Obama…Australia will suck whatever it’s told to suck…

  34. Schnappi

    Would think hicks compared to assange is not a good anology HR.

  35. Harry Rogers

    Sometimes governments make you ashamed to be Australian viz. Howard and Hicks, now Gillard and Assange.

    Maybe we are all naive, fat arsed and in the comfort zone to really appreciate what freedom of speech is and how it should be respected. Are we all guilty of silence ?

  36. shanghai

    Isn’t this what we have come to expect from our glorious sycophantic leaders and their grovelling public service entourage?

  37. Liamj

    With FOI like that, who needs censorship?

    Labor is as gutless as Howard on this. Sure Gough was a hard lesson on even talking about bucking our great and powerful friend across the sea, but times are changing. Why not take a punt on some real patriotism PM, what have you got to lose?

  38. bluepoppy

    Given the decision to allow a US military presence near Darwin the response to FOI relating to Julian Assange is hardly surprising…more’s the pity.

    When will there be a leader on either side of government with the mettle to make decisions as an independent and sovereign nation without requiring tacit approval from a foreign power.

    If our elected representatives are indeed representing us why is the Australian populace kept in the dark on matters which affect them. These sorts of actions demonstrate why Wikileaks is indeed necessary to remind governments of all political persuasions of whom they serve. Corruption cannot prosper under a regime of transparency but they can prosper through secrecy.

  39. zut alors

    When the subject of Assange’s future was raised on Q&A I found Nicola Roxon’s response patently unconvincing.

    Apparently, the (usually obsequious) Oz govt has told the USA to keep their hands off Assange, the Attorney-General assured us. The USA has been warned off, it’s a Done Deal there will be no US rendition. Roxon had that one saved up her sleeve, left over from April 1st.

  40. Peter Ormonde

    Now if Assange was doing his job we wouldn’t have to rely on FoI applications to deny us the public information we seek.

    I expect more of Nichola Roxon than this supine obsequiousness to a foreign government. I have pretty much stopped expecting anything from Julia other than dirge-like recitations from the approved script. At least she could pretend to believe this sludge. Or bring back Arbib – he’s a believer and could fake sincerity real good.

    Shameful. So much for public access to information. So much for the rights of citizens imprisoned without charge.

    I really don’t know why we bother electing anyone here any more…

  41. Schnappi

    Assange needs to be careful about being accused of Propaganga with his tv show.

  42. Suzanne Blake

    Yes its a typical Labor duck and weave

  43. Bohemian

    As Elizabeth Farelly bravely wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald on the 12 April, Australia is a client state of the USA and under the present junta, is also an obsequious lapdog. I can’t remember what Latham called them… conga line of something…? Even retired army generals are coming out and saying the Darwin base is the end of our sovereignty!

    How many of you are aware of Julian Assange’s new current affairs program The World Tomorrow which started on Russia Today overnight and his first guest was the head of Hezbollah (Nasrallah) who hasn’t given an interview in yonks? Assange has already in the can, a series of interviews with famous people the West does not want you to hear speak out. Just go to rt.com and it’s the the lead story. He has a series in the can so even if those who hatre Australia extradite him to the US for torture and then kill him under the disinterested gaze of traitors to the Australian interest, then he will have at least got some of his news we never hear out.

    Assange is under no illusions that the Ruskis are unlikely to let him do anything about them regarding Chechnya (their own false flag), but they have no interest in stifling debate on issues affecting the Great Anglo American Banking Conspiracy. It is a chess game so you can only wonder what the combined talents of the MSM, the US and our beloved homeland come up with on this.

  44. gapot

    The Labor government acts in a totally different way regarding US government handling our citizens when they were in oposition. Could it be Ms Gillard is the new face of Labor as was Tony Blair.

  45. nerk

    The total eclipse redaction in those emails is pure comedy. All it needs is ‘I yearn for you tragically’ at the end.

  46. Schnappi

    Notice on Q&A Pyne was tied in knots about the presumtion of innocence,innocence was alright for Assange ,but not for Thompson,so have to wonder if anyone will know where they stand if the coalition is the next government,the opposition has done nothing to help Assange.

  47. twobob

    The way this government treats decency is abysmal and it deserves to be thrown out on its ear.
    The alternative makes me want to cry.
    The apathy of my country men and the press in general has lead to this.
    What a poor future my children will inherit from the spinelessness of Australians in general.
    Where is the mateship or the fair go that are supposed to be foundation stones of our people?

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