Jul 27, 2012

Are the govt’s Assange redactions

New FOI documents on Julian Assange reveal little -- except the breadth with which bureaucrats interpret FOI exemptions.

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

The government has again used FOI exemptions to block scrutiny of its handling of the Julian Assange case, including redacting material already publicly available. This week the Attorney-General's Department released its response to Greens Senator Scott Ludlam's FOI request for material relating to the Assange case. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade released its heavily redacted response (large file) at the end of June.

AGD appears to have a slightly different take on exemptions and redactions than their colleagues in DFAT (bearing in mind FOI decisions are made at bureaucratic level, not by ministers). A letter from then-foreign minister Kevin Rudd to then-attorney-general Robert McClelland on November 15 heavily redacted by DFAT has been provided by AGD with some of the missing -- entirely innocuous -- content left in, as has McClelland's reply a week later. The exact nature of Rudd's questions to McClelland about Assange's extradition have been redacted in both letters on the grounds that it might cause damage to the international relations of the Commonwealth, but were of sufficient weight that there was, at least briefly, consideration given to holding an interdepartmental meeting involving the two departments and PM&C in order to address them. However, AGD left in an anodyne paragraph omitted in the DFAT version in which McClelland expresses support for Assange receiving full consular assistance including attendance at his court hearings. AGD also left in a paragraph relating to DFAT's dealings with UK and Swedish authorities and its urging that Assange's case proceed in accordance with due process. Given even AGD didn't think this would have posed any threat to Australia, it is clear that DFAT's interpretation of the "damage to the international relations" legislative clause is extremely broad. The convenient breadth of that interpretation is again demonstrated in the October response of a DFAT official, on behalf of Rudd, to Gareth Peirce, Assange's London lawyer, who wrote to Rudd on September 15 via a letter delivered by Malcolm Turnbull. Apart from getting Peirce's gender wrong (an error rectified in a subsequent DFAT letter to Peirce), the letter contained some minor details of discussions between Australian and Swedish officials, nearly all of which were redacted by DFAT in the FOI version. AGD's version, again, gives us a slightly clearer idea, and reveals DFAT redacted the highly damaging information that it had raised with the Swedes the expectation that Assange's case would proceed in accordance with due process. Absurdly, the letter itself has been publicly available in unredacted form for months via the Justice4Assange site. That shows AGD and DFAT concluded that it would be breaching the confidence of another government to reveal that Sweden had advised that it had a policy not to extradite for offences where the death penalty was involved and that Sweden would require the approval of the UK before it extradited Assange to the United States. DFAT even omitted a paragraph advising that Assange's passport had not been cancelled, on the grounds that it was personal information. The documents also show that after McClelland's reply to his November letter, Rudd was sufficiently interested in the issue of "temporary surrender" to ask for a briefing note . Typically for Rudd, the request was issued late on a Friday afternoon for a briefing paper by Monday, with AGD only asked for input at 4.45 on Friday. "Thanks for the email," an AGD officer replies to DFAT. "We'll work with you on Monday in relation to this." The DFAT officer told AGD that DFAT had already provided several "hasty emails" to Rudd's office on the issue "in response to an article on this issue on the swedenversusassange website" (which is now the justice4assange site), indicating Rudd and his office team were proactively monitoring the issue and demanding input from DFAT about it. As Crikey reported earlier this week, the government's formal view is that there is no distinction between Assange's rights under "temporary surrender" in the event the US seeks his extradition, and his rights under ordinary extradition processes. Even if the documents themselves continue to obscure the government's internal deliberations about Assange, they do reveal just how absurdly broad the government's interpretation of statutory FOI exemptions can be.

Free Trial

You've hit members-only content.

Sign up for a FREE 21-day trial to keep reading and get the best of Crikey straight to your inbox

By starting a free trial, you agree to accept Crikey’s terms and conditions


Leave a comment

32 thoughts on “Are the govt’s Assange redactions

  1. Jimmy

    Gee 2 govt departments have different opinions on what should be redacted, there must be an anti Assange conspiracy afoot!!

  2. Rourke

    This makes me angry. FOI is not there so bureaucrats can slice off anything mildly controversial, it is supposed to about providing information unless there is a serious reason for omitting it. What can we do about it? First fix the culture, maybe sack a few people while we’re at it. The written guidelines are supposed to prevent this heavy-handedness already. FOI is for us to find out what our paid representatives are doing. This example is F A I L.

  3. jj mick

    Assange has been sold out by his own government. Not too different to the day Microsoft sent a jet to Sydney to take away a young hacker who had hacked the Microsoft source code.

    It is wrong that Australians can be abandoned by its own government and shows the level of indifference and arrogance from those in power. It brings to mind George Orwell’s famous quote from Animal Farm – “all pigs are equal but some pigs are more equal than others” …… nothing to do with police for those too young to understand.

  4. Jimmy

    JJ Mick – “Not too different to the day Microsoft sent a jet to Sydney to take away a young hacker who had hacked the Microsoft source code.” Hmm that’s interesting, on the other day you posted this – “as does a young lad from the Central Coast who broke the source code for Microsoft software and had a plane show up to take him away )to the US) never to be heard of again.”

    So he mover from the central coast to Sydney?

    You never did tell me his name or whether he had any family.

  5. Oscar Jones

    The US is determined to impose selected laws that suit it upon their client countries and extradition is a prime example.

    EU laws were changed to reflect that so ‘middlemen’ in software & film piracy, or the big guns like Dot Com in NZ (with a fine magistrate reading the law correctly)can be destroyed by the US legal system where Jimmy quaintly believes “all men are created equal!” except of course, when it comes to obtaining expert legal advice where only money counts and even the innocent are bankrupted.

    The UK, like Australia seems desperate to comply with US requests when once they refused to handover the vile Pinochet who murdered dozens of Spanish citizens.

  6. botswana bob

    It looks like Richard Ackland’s opinion piece on David Hicks, Assange and the supine posture of the Gillard government is correct.


    Makes one wonder what former Senator and frequent visitor to the U S Embassy Mark Arbib is doing nowadays.

  7. Truth Freedom

    It’s obvious to see our government is hiding the truth from the public on the assange extradition. They continue to state publicly that there is no evidence the US is after assange when there is evidence of a grand jury working on a case against wikileaks and julian assange – shown in the Stratfor emails.

    Many prominent US politicians have called for assange to be tried with treason, sentenced to death or imprisoned for life. He should not be allowed to fall into their hands, especially not by the Australian government! The US are just biding there time waiting to strike when they get the chance.

    Ecuador have just invited Sweden to interview assange in the Ecuadorian embassy in the UK, it will be interesting to see if they take them up on this offer as he is only wanted for questioning. I don’t see why such extreme measures are being taken to extradite him to Sweden? Maybe its because once in sweden he can be held without charge and have no avenue to appeal any extradition requests from the US?

  8. AR

    What amerika wants, it gets, from obsequious political poltroons in UK, OZ or any other satrap. If not it will drone, render, assassinate or disappear individuals or invade, bomb, blockade, destabilise or sanction any country that it chooses.
    Oz has hermetically sealed bases in NW Cape, Pine Gap and soon will be garrisoning 2,000 marines in Darwin ( but it’s NOT a base, heaven forfend!) whilst the legalities are prepared to cede the Cocos/Keeling Islands on the same terms (none coz the inhabitants aren’t indigenous) as the UK ceded Diego Garcia.

  9. Owen Gary

    Assange already handed himself into the Swedish authorities regarding the so called rape allegations which were not put forward by the women in question as both counts were of consential sex. The women were harassed by the authorities into doing this but the women refused. Although there is the possibility some incentives or threats may have been thrown in their direction since that time.

    After handing himself in during this time, the Swedish authorities said he had no case to answer & he left the country, since that time they have reversed the decision. The whole thing is a witchhunt as shown on 4 corners, but I suspect most people on here already know this.

    JIMMY still believes that Joe public is protected by the “Rule of law” apparently hasn’t heard of the “Golden Rule” which dictates he who has the gold makes the rules, & in fact breaks them when they see fit. Then again Jimmy must have an ample supply of pixie juice.

  10. Gocomsys

    “Are the govt’s Assange redactions justified?”
    I don’t think any armchair critics here have the answers. Who does?
    > “Ecuador have just invited Sweden to interview assange in the Ecuadorian embassy in the UK”.
    Very interesting development indeed!

    Oh, by the way, mustn’t forget to mention:
    “It is always the federal governments fault”.

Leave a comment

Share this article with a friend

Just fill out the fields below and we'll send your friend a link to this article along with a message from you.

Your details

Your friend's details