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.

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32 thoughts on “Are the govt’s Assange redactions

  1. Gocomsys

    Did I mention that everything is always the federal governments fault? “Limited News” and the LNP said so. It must be true.

  2. Kevin Herbert

    After the surrender for torture of two Aussie passport holders, supported by both the Howard and Gillard Governments, who would believe anything our ignoble national government says about Assange.

    DFAT is a sub branch of the US State Department…..end of story.

    I’m ashamed to be an Aussie passport holder.

  3. drsmithy

    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.

    Assange quite explicitly said on numerous occasions he would be happy to be questioned by the Swedish authorities in the UK, either in person or via videolink. They didn’t take the opportunity then, so there’s no reason to think they’ll do it now.

  4. Apollo

    He can face the music and let it be, if the US really get him then he will be a true martyr and prove the US is the real Satan people say it is, dodging things is tainting his image and giving the left a bad name.

  5. Liamj

    The point of show trials is not due process, it is to intimidate other subversives, so its no surprise that DFAT keeps the hood on. But do they know more than that anyway, or are they just following the manual from the US & UK?

    If there was any honour all these (DFAT ONA ASIS ASIO DSD..) clowns would have resigned after Iraq-WMD war crime was launched, but i know money is a popular substitute for honour.

  6. AR

    LiamJ -“The point of show trials is not due process, it is to intimidate other subversives” is beautifully illustrated by the letter sent by the US State dept to Ms Robinson, Assange’s Oz lawyer when this imbroglio began, full of vague threats & innuendo against her!
    Or take the Crown’s statement at trial of the Sydney airport Customs bloke at his sentencing hearing “… a custodial sentence is sought as a warning to other public servants.”!!
    “Die on your feet or live on your knees” sang a bald headed Oz rocker way back when – not sure what happened to him though.

  7. Oscar Jones

    Posted Friday, 27 July 2012 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

    Did I mention that everything is always the federal governments fault? “Limited News” and the LNP said so. It must be true.”

    And yes it is their fault.
    When Australia’s majority news organisation doesn’t bother reporting that a gormless US politician says on TV that Assange is a ‘traitor’ and gives the game away by revealing that they regard us as ‘citizens’ when it suits, our lot are complicit.

  8. izatso?

    Apollo, you’re not shinin’ …… an’ not volunteerin’ much, either. Like to see your style of dodgin’ when your existence is threatened. ….. and your not interestsd enough to know the details anyhow. Prat.

  9. Apollo


    I’m. It here to volunteer for anybody or to shine.
    Be consistence, if you keep talking about respecting the law and due process then dont run away. If the Brit court say Sweden can extradite then respect it, face Swedish court and see whether there really is a female victim that need justice or prove if the US is that evil instead of keep throwing allegation at them.

    I would have strong interest if he only dedicate his work to expose wrong doings in responsible manner.

  10. Apollo

    I’m not here to volunteer


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