Australian foreign Minister Bob Carr finally acknowledged the US grand jury investigation into WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange on June 5.
This investigation will decide whether Assange should be prosecuted for his role in releasing confidential documents through WikiLeaks.
Despite the risk to Assange, Carr told a Senate budget estimates committee that the Australian government will not be seeking information from the US government about the grand jury, because “it doesn’t affect Australian interests”.
Carr’s statement came during the first week of whistleblower Bradley Manning’s trial, where the US government has alleged that Assange helped Manning leak hundreds of thousands of classified US government documents to WikiLeaks.
Their aim is to portray Assange as a conspirator, rather than as journalist, so that he can be prosecuted under the archaic Espionage Act.
Greens senator Scott Ludlam asked Carr whether the Australian government has expressed the view to the US government that Assange should be “entitled to protections under the First Amendment of the US Constitution, for publishing activities that are entirely legitimate”.
Carr replied: “Not to my knowledge, no. It wouldn’t be a matter of concern to Australia to make a case for him ... Why would we do that?”
The prospect of a US prosecution of Assange is a matter of concern to Australians because it restricts the powers of a free media to investigate serious crimes carried out by governments. In publishing the leaked information, WikiLeaks’ actions were no different to the actions of other media organisations that published it.
When Ludlam questioned Carr further about the grand jury, Carr said: “There’s nothing more to say about it. We’re not going to over-service these consular cases.
“I'm not going to have resources allocated to it. There's been enough investment of DFAT resources in looking after Mr Assange’s interests.”
Contrary to Carr’s assertions, the Australian government has offered Assange no substantive assistance since 2010.
In an interview with Lateline on June 10, Assange described the Australian government’s “consular assistance” as a “tick-a-box call procedure”, that is, phone calls are occasionally made by an Australian official to inquire about Assange’s wellbeing, but no practical help is offered.
Assange said: “I have not met anyone from any consulate, any Australian government official since 2010, since I was in prison …
“They have given no advice, nothing at all. No advice, no information, nothing whatsoever. Not [to] me, not to my lawyers, nothing.”
The type of assistance the Australian government could offer, if they supported Assange, would be to make public statements in defence of his rights and make diplomatic representations to the US government on his behalf.
With the recent chilling revelations about the US government’s mass surveillance of personal phone and internet records, and its initiation of a criminal investigation into the source of the information, we should be more concerned than ever about the attacks on journalists like Assange.
Yet Carr prefers to defer to an increasingly authoritarian US government, than to stand up for the rights of an Australian citizen and journalist.