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Apr 2, 2013

Why Julian Assange can win a Senate seat: campaign director

National campaign director of the newly formed WikiLeaks Party, Greg Barns, outlines how Julian Assange could become a Senator -- and how to deal with the pesky not-actually-in-Australia issue.

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Julian Assange is, as they say, in the mix when it comes to who might win the sixth Senate seat in Victoria at the September 14 federal election. He is a candidate with an established high profile, he attracts support from across the political landscape, and the issues he stands for resonate with an electorate disillusioned with the mega spin cycle of the Australian political process.

Of course, Assange has some quirks about his campaign which make him unique in this country, although there are precedents in other democracies. That is, he is an Australian citizen who has sought asylum in the embassy of Ecuador in London. Assange is there because he rightly fears that the Swedish prosecuting authorities, who want to question him on allegations of s-xual assault, will hand him across to the United States.

A poll by the ALP pollster UMR last May is instructive in assessing the chances of Assange’s bid for the Senate. Assange is highly thought of by voters across the political parties — 66% of Greens voters like him, as do 45% of ALP voters and 40% of Coalition voters. Assange polled around 27% in voting support. UMR’s boss John Utting said that on those numbers Assange could take the sixth Senate spot from the Greens, on the basis that 14.29% of the vote is required to win the final Senate position.

Naturally the numbers for Assange will drop in the context of an election campaign where the major parties hog the media, and Assange is subjected to a negative campaign about the fact that he is not in Australia and may not be able to take his Senate seat. But from where I sit the strong support for Assange is a good place to start a campaign for election.

It would be a mistake to see Assange’s Senate campaign as being about him alone. Assange will have other candidates running with him on the Senate ticket and the newly formed WikiLeaks Party will be running candidates for the Senate in New South Wales. The Senate and the WikiLeaks Party are a good match — the former is meant to be the house of review, of scrutiny and about keeping the executive in check, the latter is about the values of accountability and transparency, alongside protecting individual liberty against government.

Assange would not be the first person to be elected to a parliament but who could not, or would not take up his or her seat. In 1981 Bobby Sands, a hunger striker in a Northern Ireland prison was elected to the UK Parliament. In the same context, those MPs elected in Northern Ireland from Sinn Fein refused to take up their seats at Westminster.

If confronted with the prospect of an individual elected by the people of Victoria not being able to take up his seat after the September election, the Gillard or Abbott government might even be tempted to do what has not been done to date — use its diplomatic capital to ensure Assange can return to Australia. Failing that, the WikiLeaks Party would look at its legal options and its number two candidate on the Victorian Senate ticket would be in a position to take the party’s seat in Canberra. In short, the challenge of running a campaign in the circumstances Assange finds himself in is not insurmountable by any means.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the WikiLeaks campaign for political junkies will be where it takes its votes from. The strong level of support for Assange and the values WikiLeaks stands for tells us that votes are likely to come from across the parties. The WikiLeaks Party is not a party of the Australian left or right. Nor are its roots in environmentalism. Philosophically this makes it a genuinely different voice and in an election where the race to the lowest common denominator and populism will be the hallmark of the ALP and Coalition campaigns — this makes for an attractive alternative.

Greg Barns —

Greg Barns

Barrister and WikiLeaks Party national campaign director

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20 thoughts on “Why Julian Assange can win a Senate seat: campaign director

  1. Warren Joffe

    @ Mike Flanagan

    Plenty of respectable people who might not be natural oppressors of those they disagree with seem to like your take on the question of whether Assange has genuine fears.

    But, think of it this way. You know of your friends being ruined by trusting Bernie Madoff or any one of dozens of plausible high class (well highly praised) rogues but you don’t think twice about putting all your eggs in one basket so you can devote your retirement years to your hobbies and good works while they are minded by Lehmann Bros, Merrill Lynch, Bear Stearns, UBS-Royal Bank of Scotland [whatever it is now], Patrick Partners [to use a 1970s Australian example) or whatever. No…..

    When the consequences of being wrong in your giving trust is so disastrous you hedge your bets. So with Assange.

    If trust in the Swedes and their system is, despite all sorts of reasons for suspicion (and an instinct honed by knowing of injustices in nearly every country) unfounded, and he does get lifted by the US, that is, effectively, a 90 per cent wipeout of his life and vocation. His actions can be justified as perfectly rational even if he has had siren voices saying that the Swedes really wouldn’t allow it or that, if the US really wanted to get him they would have tried to have him extradited directly from the UK etc etc. If I were he in that situation, and wanting, like him to be able to continue his Wikileaks work and defend himself legally I would say “Put your money where your mouth is. Bank $25 million for me that I can use to defend myself in Sweden or the US or anywhere else, provide bail money (and you’d better guarantee to top up the $25 million if the US courts up the bail too far).” “Yeah, I’ll go on fighting for the cause as well as my liberty if I have the means to do so”.

    Even so I would want some guarantee that any incarceration would be in the sort of civilised surroundings that people like Conrad Black are kept in.

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