Greens leader Bob Brown has spoken out in support of WikiLeaks, following its Cablegate document release to major media that began last week. While urging the global whistleblowing website to be “diligent” in ensuring that its released documents do not put lives at risk, Brown told Crikey that “the documents have caused increased scrutiny on often controversial aspects of US foreign policy. Such scrutiny is a good thing.”
Brown’s statement comes as the Gillard Labor government, which remains in power with the support of Green MHR Adam Bandt, continues to explore ways in which it can prosecute Julian Assange. Attorney-General Robert McClelland stated yesterday that “… the Australian Federal Police are looking at whether any Australian laws have been breached,” a repeat of earlier statements. However, he is yet to specify any crimes with which Assange might be charged.
McClelland has also raised the possibility of cancelling Assange’s Australian passport, though again no grounds on which this might occur have been raised.
The Australian Passports Act 2005 currently states:
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Australian Passport Cancellation Notes
18 Refusal/cancellation requests
(1) For the purposes of this Act, a refusal/cancellation request is a request made to the Minister under subsection 12(1), 13(1), 14(1) or 16(1) by a competent authority, being a request that the Minister do either or both of the following:
(a) refuse to issue an Australian passport to a person;
(b) cancel an Australian passport or travel-related document that has been issued to a person.
(2) A competent authority may make a refusal/cancellation request in relation to a person:
(a) whether or not the person has applied for an Australian passport; and
(b) whether or not an Australian travel document has been issued to the person; and
(c) whether or not the person is an Australian citizen.
(3) To avoid doubt, a competent authority may suspect on reasonable grounds that circumstances in subsection 14(1) apply in relation to a person, even if the competent authority knows that the person has already been issued with an Australian passport.
22 When an Australian travel document may be cancelled
(1) The Minister may cancel an Australian travel document.
(2) Without limiting subsection (1), the Minister may cancel an Australian travel document that has been issued to a person if:
(a) the document is still valid at the time when the person applies for, or is issued with, another Australian travel document; or
(b) the document has been lost or stolen; or
(c) the person dies; or
(d) a competent authority makes a refusal/cancellation request in relation to the person; or
(e) if the document is an Australian passport — the Minister becomes aware of a circumstance that would have required or permitted the Minister to refuse to issue an Australian passport to the person because of section 8, 11 or 17, had the Minister been aware of the circumstance immediately before the document was issued; or
(f) if the document is a travel-related document — the Minister becomes aware of a circumstance that would have required the Minister to refuse to issue a travel-related document to the person:
(i) because of section 10; or
(ii) because a Minister’s determination made for the purposes of subsection 9(1) in relation to that kind of travel-related document no longer applies; or
(g) circumstances specified in a Minister’s determination exist.
The move is reminiscent of actions by the Menzies government at the height of the Cold War, when passport cancellation or refusal to issue was one of several techniques of political censorship and repression.
Should the government decide that it wants to pursue action around the “Cablegate” material, other Australians involved with WikiLeaks may well be liable for prosecution. The most prominent of these is the broadcaster Phillip Adams, who is, or was until recently, a member of the advisory board of WikiLeaks. The board was listed on the old WikiLeaks site until earlier this year. However, there is now no mention of it …
Given that there is most likely no criminal liability for Assange, there is virtually no possibility that a charge would attach to Adams. However, the proximity of a figure who has been close to key Labor figures for decades — and only resigned his party membership this year — is no doubt embarrassing for the government.
WikiLeaks remains in operation despite repeated reports of its final demise. Last week, its rented server capacity was cancelled by Amazon, after the group was contacted by the office of Senator Joe Lieberman, the former Democrat Senator from Connecticut. EveryDNS, the agent for the “wikileaks.org” domain name cancelled the group’s account, saying that denial of service attacks on WikiLeaks was causing havoc for its other clients.
The service was rehoused at a Swiss domain name, www.wikileaks.ch, whose provider has so far resisted pressure from the French and US government to cancel service. It is also being mirrored through numerous other sites around the world. A defence organisation, WikiLeaks Central, has also sprung up after the Cablegate releases, acting as a clearing house for WikiLeaks publicity and site re-routings.
Though large parts of the site remain out of access, it now includes raw copy of the thousand or so cables on which last week’s news stories were based. These include reports from US Secretary of State that Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd suggested that military action against China may be a necessary last resort in the future. Rudd’s comments came in response to questions in which Hillary Clinton explicitly acknowledged that China’s position as major US creditor posed major foreign policy problems for the United States.
The Australian government has reiterated that it will do everything it can to assist the US in its pursuit of Assange. In response, numerous individuals and groups have begun efforts to defend Assange’s rights as an Australian citizen. It is still to be seen whether that will include any prominent members of the Australian Labor Party.