As it turns out, Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce supports Julian Assange and it’s safe to say I’m stunned.
While in Iso in the US Joyce wrote an op-ed for the Sydney Morning Herald chaotically titled, “I have never met Julian Assange and I presume I would not like him, but he’s entitled to justice”.
In it the Nationals leader argued that the Australian government should step in and stop the WikiLeaks co-founder’s imminent extradition from the UK to the US. If extradited Assange would face espionage charges and potential prison time over his publication of leaked US military documents a decade ago.
So far Prime Minister Scott Morrison has refused to intervene or bring Assange home after the US won an appeal in the UK high court on Friday over his extradition.
Joyce wrote that while he does “not respect” Assange, the rights to a fair trial and to liberty “apply equally to the person who has unlimited resources and has been blessed with the greatest luck in the random draw of life, and to those who have been less fortunate.”
It’s feels like a weird move by the climate denier who this year said he “couldn’t give a shit” about COVID’s impacts on Melbourne and once threatened Johnny Depp with 10 years in jail, but it actually kind of aligns with his stance on the Biloela family.
Right before he returned to his 2IC job in June, he openly criticised the federal government’s treatment of the family of four, saying that if the two daughters’ names were Jane and Sally instead of Tharnicaa and Kopika “we’d think twice about sending them back to another country which they’re not from”.
In his op-ed Joyce argued that as an Australian citizen, Assange should be protected by his government.
“As an individual, whether you like him or despise him, it is beyond him, given his circumstances, to protect his rights by himself. So we must hope for the British courts to do so, and we will judge its society accordingly.”
He also noted that Assange had not broken any Australian laws and instead won a Walkley Award for journalism.
WikiLeaks published hundreds of thousands of documents on the Afghanistan and Iraq wars leaked by whistleblowers in 2010 and 2011.
“Assange did not steal any US secret files … Assange did publish them,” Joyce wrote.
“If we are content that this process of extraditing one Australian to the US for breaking its laws even when he was not in that country is fair, are we prepared therefore to accept it as a precedent for applying to any other laws of any other nation to any of our citizens?”
Barnaby Joyce now joins a slew of MPs who have called on the government to bring Assange home, sparing him from being tried in the US.
Labor and Greens both want to see the charges dropped against Assange and for the government to encourage the US government to bring this matter to a close.
“Labor expects the Australian government to provide appropriate consular support to Julian Assange, as is his right as an Australian citizen,” Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong said.
Speaking in parliament, Independent Tasmanian MP Andrew Wilkie has called on Morrison to “end this lunacy” and demand Assange’s release.
The UK high court decision at the weekend has been criticised by press freedom and human rights advocates.
“By allowing this appeal, the High Court has chosen to accept the deeply flawed diplomatic assurances given by the US that Assange would not be held in solitary confinement in a maximum security prison,” Amnesty International’s Europe director, Nils Muižnieks, said in a statement.
Assange’s lawyers have said they intend to challenge the UK high court ruling with a supreme court appeal.