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. izatso?

    so tell it to the swedes, they had their opportunity, they own the inconsistency, they own the variable agenda, they need NATO, they need the US, if you want to class self preservation as ‘running away’ this time, gahead. Volunteer. Prat.

  2. izatso?

    J.A. delayed his departure from Sweden for nearly a month, when the ‘accusations’ first reared. Nearly a month, then was (note) allowed to leave, when the Swedish Prosecutor found, note, No Case To Answer. J.A. left for the U.K. The Swedes moved the goalposts, and now its your turn……….

  3. izatso?

    …. if it is any consolation, J.A. seems a bit of a Prat, too. No excusing it.

  4. Apollo

    Wow, you’re fired up there.

    May be you are a volunteer and assume that I am also but I’m not. If I volunteer I would not be posting on this site like I have been, but try to reach broader audience, I don’t think you can change the world by commenting on Crikey, it’s a niche limited audience.

    Like I said, he can be a true martyr and prove to the world the the US is evil, the world is watching. Whether the Swedish moved the goal post or found new evidence does not matter to me. I’ve already expressed my view before that he failed his duty of care and published people’s name when he should have blanked them out and that is reprehensible.

    Do I have concern for him? I didn’t before but after I read Karen’s comment I do feel some concern but I don’t see the point of him keep living as a fugitive. I am not interested in keeping commenting all the times, that’s why after I read Karen’s comment I did not reply or come back to that article. Sorry Karen.

    That’s it I’m not gonna comment on this anymore. Have a nice weekend!

  5. izatso?

    yup. run away….. have a good one.

  6. Gocomsys

    OSCAR JONES Posted Saturday, 28 July 2012 at 11:32 am |
    > Did I mention that everything is always the federal governments fault? “Limited News” and the > LNP said so. It must be true.
    It is what’s called in French a “doubler négative”.
    “Limited News” and the LNP in this instance secretly agreed with the governments action. There was no outright condemnation because a conservative government (reference to Howard) would have reacted exactly in the same way.
    If in their eyes it wasn’t the governments fault, but they blamed them regardless, is the above statement still true?
    What sort of politically wise (megaphone diplomacy possibly?) reaction would YOU have expected from our government in this “high profile” case? Over to you.

  7. Kevin Herbert


    You say:

    ” I don’t think you can change the world by commenting on Crikey, it’s a niche limited audience”.

    You’re back in the days of electric typewriters & Tippex.

    Who do you think are the targets of the neocons ? or AIPAC?…….right!!..a niche limited audience….. in the form of the US Congress.

    Wrap your head around this post and then tell me if Crikey originated data, may be influential:


  8. drsmithy

    Be consistence, if you keep talking about respecting the law and due process then dont run away.

    Really ? So you’d send homosexual expatriates back to Iran ?

    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.

    The Swedes can ascertain whether or not there’s a case to be answered without extradition, and Assange has indicated clearly that he happy to assist them. They haven’t, which – quite understandably given Sweden’s history – is scaring him.

  9. Gone Are The Days

    The writer and poet Jonathon Swift, wrote and described a Phillistine as ” a gruff bailiff who shows no mercy.”

    Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832) described a Phillistine as one who not only ignores all conditions of life which are not his own, but also demands that the rest of mankind should fashion its mode of existence after his own.

    Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751–1816) calls Phillistines blood-thirsty Aristocrats. I could go on.

    The Phillistines have entered the DFAT and are executing their US foreign policy agenda against Assange.

    Fortunately for us, we have articles like this from Bernard Keane and sites like this one, Crikey, which are the ” Jaw-Bone of an Ass ” at the throat of the Phillistine…alerting people with information and knowledge.

    Don’t let Delilah cut your hair Bernard.

  10. Hamis Hill

    Those original “phillistines” and their present day descendants might have a claim to be insulted by the above allusions.

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