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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.

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.

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  • 1
    Bo Gainsbourg
    Posted Tuesday, 2 April 2013 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    So what about the risk of Assange effectively splitting the Green vote, making sure they don’t get a senate seat, and delivering that last spot to one of the majors or a whacko like the next version of Steve Fielding? Just as likely as anything else I guess. That won’t help climate change much or the Senate if Abbot gets the expected landslide, - might even deliver it to him. Great.

  • 2
    klewso
    Posted Tuesday, 2 April 2013 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    He’d have to be better than “Conroy’s Pup” - “Sloppy” Fielding? He couldn’t be any worse.

  • 3
    Warren Joffe
    Posted Tuesday, 2 April 2013 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    I shouldn’t but I’ld like to help. What’s your email address Greg?

  • 4
    beachcomber
    Posted Tuesday, 2 April 2013 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    Ex-Liberal Ex-Democrat Mr Barns is now WikiLeaks?

  • 5
    Posted Tuesday, 2 April 2013 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    I wonder which Party he would direct his prefs to?

  • 6
    zut alors
    Posted Tuesday, 2 April 2013 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

    Let’s hope Assange has a better prognosis than Bobby Sands.

    How I’d laugh if the Oz government had to pull out its finger and actually do something constructive to repatriate Assange. So tired of hearing Gillard, Carr & formerly Roxon, wax on about how much consular assistance he’s receiving. Sure he is…

  • 7
    John Hamer
    Posted Tuesday, 2 April 2013 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

    what a a crock of siht Greg Barnes. You quote a poll from May 2012 saying how popular the alleged criminal is. 12 months ago Assange hadn’t effectively defected to Equacador after stating Australia had turned its back on him. More recent polls suggest he is anything but popular. It is ludricrous to suggest Assange would be a credible Senate candidate. As if Victorians will vote for a candidate who is not prepared to step foot in Australia.

  • 8
    Achmed
    Posted Tuesday, 2 April 2013 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

    Why vote for someone who will never set foot in the Parliament? What a waste of a vote.

  • 9
    shepherdmarilyn
    Posted Tuesday, 2 April 2013 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

    John Harmer, piss off.

    And Achmed, we vote for people at every election who have never set foot in parliament.

    Every pollie is elected for the first time at some point.

    Snarks like you and John Harmer who refuse to engage in sense drive me nuts.

    And John there is no sense to your claim that Assange doesn’t want to step foot in Australia, he want’s nothing more than to come home.

  • 10
    Em_E
    Posted Tuesday, 2 April 2013 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

    I hope Victorians elect Julian Assange and Wikileaks into the Senate. I believe both candidates could contribute a much needed new and fresh perspective to current government policies and practices. Independents are valued in their roles by providing diversity and balance in decision making. My perception is there are many voters who are disillusioned with the major parties in some areas. If politicians are representatives for the people, then maybe Julian Assange and Wikileaks will add the much needed spice to a bland political pie…
    Yes Greg an attractive alternative.

  • 11
    Danno of Arabia
    Posted Tuesday, 2 April 2013 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

    One would think that the Wikileaks party would fit perfectly with Crikeys founding father’s ethos of, “Disclose, Disclose, Disclose”

    Maybe Mayne’s recent work of pulling back the veil in MCC could be a template for allowing Assange to let the public peek behind the Oz govt curtains.

  • 12
    pertina1
    Posted Tuesday, 2 April 2013 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

    I’d be interested to know whar “Diplomatic Capital” means Mr Barnes. What, specifically do you believe the Australian government can legally do to return this individual to Australia?

    Sorry but an accused sex offender unprepared to face his accusers n court is not my idea of an “Attractive alternative”.

    Seems this more about self promotion of Mr Barnes

  • 13
    michael l
    Posted Tuesday, 2 April 2013 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

    The Coalition could just let him rot in London and leave the Greens with one less vote.

  • 14
    Zeke
    Posted Wednesday, 3 April 2013 at 1:00 am | Permalink

    Pertina1, your remarks about a so-called “accused” sex offender are a little inaccurate. Julian Assange hasn’t been charged with any crime. He is merely wanted to be interviewed by Swedish police. He has a genuine fear that Sweden will give him up to the USA and he’ll never be seen again.

  • 15
    RadhaMa WhiteCrow
    Posted Wednesday, 3 April 2013 at 2:44 am | Permalink

    I’ll vote for Julian Assange and Kevin Rudd. Everyone else is not qualified.

  • 16
    Mike Flanagan
    Posted Wednesday, 3 April 2013 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    Zeke;
    His ‘genuine’ fears are not supported by history. On his logic and that history, he should hold the same ‘fears’ that Ecuador could do the same thing.
    In a recent probing interview he admitted his political ploys and focus are driven by his own ‘freedom’, not the community’s that he purports to represent.

    I await Crikey’s publication of the campaign managers manifestoes, for all the other parties, without much enthusiasm.

  • 17
    Achmed
    Posted Wednesday, 3 April 2013 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    Why vote for someone who will never set foot in Australia?

  • 18
    Warren Joffe
    Posted Wednesday, 3 April 2013 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

    Would he not “set foot in Australia” despite being elected and wanting to be in Australia? It would be unbelievable that the Australian government couldn’t arrange it and there would undoubtedly be plenty of Parliamentary pressure, via the President of the Senate, to make it happen. However, I am not confident that the old “liberty-of-the-subject-comes-first” traditional barrister in George Brandis would triumph in competition with the politician in him, and, if he wouldn’t try to do the right thing - instead of finding some way to demonise Assange further - then who, in the Coalition ranks, would?

  • 19
    Warren Joffe
    Posted Wednesday, 3 April 2013 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

    @ 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.

  • 20
    ben host
    Posted Thursday, 4 April 2013 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    Good to see some interesting independent candidates coming out for the 2013 election, more please

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