Wikileaks and the trial of Bradley Manning

estimates

Budget Estimates - 5 June 2013 - Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade

 

Senator LUDLAM: Minister, has the Australian government got representatives observing the trial of Private First Class Bradley Manning in the United States?

Senator Bob Carr: I would not think so.

Senator LUDLAM: We have had his pre-trial hearings.

Senator Bob Carr: I might be corrected.

Mr Brown : Senator, your question was whether the embassy has had officials at the pre-trial hearings?

Senator LUDLAM: No, at the actual trial. The pre-trial has concluded. The trial is underway at the moment. It started yesterday. I believe Australia has had diplomatic officials present for the pre-trial hearings. I am wondering who we have there at the moment.

Mr Brown : I understand there has been a locally engaged official from our embassy that has been present at the trial.

Senator LUDLAM: Why is that? What is their function, exactly?

Mr Brown : As you know, Senator, the government has been following the Manning legal process for its duration. Given its connection to the WikiLeaks investigation that is underway in the United States, there has been an effort on our part to try to stay abreast of developments in the Manning case.

Senator LUDLAM: That is extremely good to hear-an Australian government official acknowledge that there is an investigation into WikiLeaks in the United States and into Julian Assange-because it has been like pulling teeth, actually, getting that admission.

Mr Brown : That is not what I said, Senator, with respect.

Senator LUDLAM: Go ahead.

Mr Brown : The fact that the US Attorney has made public that there is an investigation into WikiLeaks does not mean that there is an investigation or an indictment that applies to Julian Assange.

Senator LUDLAM: Well, now you are misrepresenting me. I did not say there was an indictment. We would not know if there was until such a document was unsealed.

Mr Brown : Correct. We do not know. But the US Attorney's announcement was that there will be an investigation into WikiLeaks.

Senator LUDLAM: Okay. And their editor-in-chief would be Julian Assange, so presumably those things are connected. Could you just provide us a bit more information, then, about the role of that Australian official at the trial? Is he or she just there as an observer? What is he or she actually doing?

Mr Brown : As an observer, correct.

Senator LUDLAM: Have you had any reports back thus far? I think we are into day 2 or day 3.

Mr Brown : I have seen a report, but I have not had time to read it yet.

Senator LUDLAM: Perhaps on notice, then, can you provide us with your impression of the nature of the trial so far? What is contained in that report?

Mr Brown : Sorry, could you just repeat the question, please?

Senator LUDLAM: Can you provide us with an undertaking that you will let us know what is in that report or what that official's impression of the trial is?

Mr Brown : Well, I will have to look at the classification of the report. We are happy to respond to your question, of course.

Senator LUDLAM: Feel free to take this one, Mr Brown, or Minister, if you would rather step in and take it, as it is potentially a policy area. Has the Australian government expressed a diplomatic view that Mr Assange is entitled to protections under the first amendment of the US Constitution for publishing activities that are entirely legitimate?

Senator Bob Carr: Not to my knowledge, no. It would not be a matter of concern to Australia to make a case for him, no. Why would we do that?

Senator LUDLAM: I am just going to trust that that is a rhetorical question. Thanks also, Minister, for your response to my letter, which provided several pages of citations from multiple sources that you have acknowledged state that there is a grand jury underway. Since receipt of that correspondence, which I thank you for, have we made any further representations to the US government about the status of that grand jury investigation into WikiLeaks?

Senator Bob Carr: No.

Senator LUDLAM: Is that because we are not interested in its status, or are we just expecting to be told when it concludes?

Senator Bob Carr: There is nothing more to say about it. We are not going to overservice these consular cases.

Senator LUDLAM: To your knowledge, is that grand jury investigation still ongoing, or has it-

Senator Bob Carr: I do not know. I cannot tell you. You would need to address that to the American government.

Senator LUDLAM: And you have not sought to find out? We are not interested to know whether it is still ongoing?

Senator Bob Carr: No.

Senator LUDLAM: Why is that?

Senator Bob Carr: It does not affect Australian interests.

Senator LUDLAM: This is an Australian citizen being investigated by a US grand jury on charges that could include life imprisonment.

Senator Bob Carr: We have made our views clear. We have an interest in the case. I am not going to have resources allocated to it. There has been enough investment of DFAT resources in looking after Mr Assange's interests. This is an overservicing of a consular case.

Senator LUDLAM: It was not really a consular related question that I was asking. As you say, we have an interest in the case, but our interest does not extend to wanting to know whether it is still ongoing or not?

Senator Bob Carr: When information emerges from the American system, it can be looked at with interest.

Senator LUDLAM: When we are told, but we will not do anything to find out?

Senator Bob Carr: Well, it is not a focus of our diplomacy. Why would it be?

Senator LUDLAM: Why would it be? Well, again, that is another rhetorical question. Senator Carr, Mr Dorling has reported on WikiLeaks material that discloses that you have been a source since about 1974 for US diplomats seeking information on Australian governments in the broader trade union movement in Australia. Is that a contention that you would concur with, or do you dispute the findings by Mr Dorling?

Senator Bob Carr: That is entirely ridiculous.

Senator LUDLAM: Go ahead.

Senator Bob Carr: When I was in my 20s, I had lunch on, I would say, three occasions with the US consul-general in Sydney. If you want to say that makes one a source for the US government, you need to take account of the fact that members of parliament in this building on all sides of politics routinely talk to diplomats.

Senator LUDLAM: I probably have from time to time too.

Senator Bob Carr: And you have to take account of the fact that Australian diplomats all around the world are seeking every opportunity to talk to members of parliament and members of the trade union movement. Indeed, the cables I receive are full of information gleaned from such sources. There is nothing remarkable about it. There is nothing sinister in it. That report in the paper did not imply there was. The comments I am reported as having made are the sort of comments that any observer of politics would have made at the time.

Senator LUDLAM: I was in my 20s-

Senator Bob Carr: In fact, I am struck by how well they stood up and how sensible they were given that I was in my 20s.

Senator LUDLAM: Let us not get started on that. Senator, just to be clear, these are not allegations that I am raising. These have been reported in the press. I am just noting Mr Dorling's piece. You said that to propose you were a source or a protected source is ridiculous. So it is not the case?

Senator Bob Carr: Look at what the article, based on the documentation, said I said-that the Whitlam government was behind in the polls and that, in the lead-up to the 1972 election, the Labor Party was embarrassed by any display of union power. These were commonplace observations that anyone reading a newspaper at the time might have made. I have to assure you that as national president of Young Labor and an education officer of the Labor Council of New South Wales, I had access to not the remotest sensitive intelligence or strategic data.

Senator LUDLAM: I am not sure that that was alleged in the article either.

Senator Bob Carr: I think it implied it. Thank you very much.

CHAIR: I am advised that the minister and the secretary are required to attend a national security meeting between 6 and 8 pm this evening, so the minister will be represented by Senator Farrell and the secretary by Ms Bird. Senator Ludlam, do you want to continue that line of questioning?

Senator LUDLAM: I could ask Senator Farrell if he is a protected source for the United States government, but it is probably uncomfortable.

Senator Farrell: No. I am very happy to answer that question. To the best of my knowledge, no, I am not.

Senator LUDLAM: To the best of your knowledge. I will leave it there, Chair.