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Exchange with Minister Carr on Mr Julian Assange

Scott Ludlam 17 Aug 2012

Senator LUDLAM (Western Australia) (14:20): My question is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Bob Carr. Minister, in response to several carloads of metropolitan police entering the building that houses the Ecuadorian embassy in the middle of the night London time, cordoning off the street and threatening to break the door down and threatening to rezone the embassy, have you or the High Commissioner in London made representations to the United Kingdom to not violate the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations by entering the premises of the Ecuadorian embassy without the consent of the head of mission? I am interested to know whether we have made any representations to the British government in this regard?

Senator BOB CARR (New South Wales-Minister for Foreign Affairs) (14:20): Australia, of course, is not a party to this decision. It is a matter between Mr Assange and the governments of Ecuador and the United Kingdom. The court case that led to this affair arising in this fashion is between Mr Assange and the government of Sweden. I am advised that Mr Assange remains in the Ecuadorian embassy where he has been since mid-June. This morning the Ecuadorian Foreign Minister did announce a decision would be made on his asylum claim at 10 pm Australian Eastern Standard Time. The outcome of Mr Assange's asylum claim, of course, is a matter for the Ecuadorian and United Kingdom governments. The Australian government cannot intervene in the UK legal process. We have no standing in the British courts, but the government does not take up the case-

Senator Ludlam: Mr President, I rise on a point of order going to relevance. I appreciate the minister is reading from a prepared brief, but it is not a brief for the question that I asked. The question I asked was whether we have made representations to the British government on the occupation of the embassy building by Metropolitan Police. That is a yes or no question, Minister.

The PRESIDENT: There is no point of order. The minister is answering the question.

Senator BOB CARR: Mr President, the senator's question is based on the assumption the building is being occupied by Metropolitan Police. I have not been advised of that. To date there have been 62 representations made by the Australian government about the consulate contact with Mr Assange or his legal representatives since legal proceedings commenced in 2010. According to advice I have from the department, no Australian has received more attention in a comparable space of time in terms of consulate representation than Mr Assange. This includes representations on his behalf to the government of the United Kingdom and the government of Sweden to obtain assurances of due process in current and future legal proceedings.
Senator Bernardi: Have you spoken to Henry Kissinger about it?

Senator BOB CARR: I do not think it would be of the remotest interest to Henry Kissinger. (Time expired)

Senator LUDLAM (Western Australia) (14:23): Minister, I am going to take it that your answer to my question is, 'No, representations were not made'. If you feel like you need to correct the record, then please do. My supplementary question is-

Senator Chris Evans interjecting-

Senator LUDLAM: Because the embassy is being interfered with,

Senator Evans. Minister, despite the attempts to obviously threaten and intimidate made by the UK government, will the Australian government respect the decision by-
Honourable senators interjecting-

The PRESIDENT: Order! Just wait, Senator Ludlam. I will give you the call when there is a silence. You are entitled to be heard in silence.

Senator LUDLAM: Ecuadorian authorities at 10 pm tonight if they grant asylum to Australian citizen Julian Assange?

Senator BOB CARR (New South Wales-Minister for Foreign Affairs) (14:25): Mr President, the question of whether the Ecuadorian government grants Mr Assange asylum is a matter for them. We will seek information on it, but we will not make representations to them one way or the other. It is not a matter for us; it is a matter between the asylum seeker and the government of Ecuador. We have no status in the UK court system, and we do not intervene in courts where Australian citizens outside the country are engaged in any case. But I can tell the senator that we made representations to the government of Sweden seeking assurances that, were they to succeed in their extradition of Mr Assange, he would be treated according to due process-in other words, he would be treated as any citizen of Sweden would be treated-and they gave us that assurance. In other words, if he came to be detained in that country, he would have access to his lawyers and to his family. (Time expired)

Senator LUDLAM (Western Australia) (14:26): Mr President, I thank the minister for his answer and I ask a further supplementary question. Can the minister tell the Senate what the government will do beyond providing basic consular assistance to protect Mr Assange if there is evidence that he is being subjected to political persecution by the United States government or its allies? If so, can the minister describe how this intervention would differ from basic consular assistance?

Senator BOB CARR (New South Wales-Minister for Foreign Affairs) (14:26): Mr President, first, might I say that that is entirely hypothetical. There is no evidence of interest in him from the United States government. If extradition of Mr Assange were sought on a charge to which capital punishment would apply, we would oppose it. We would oppose it on principle; we would oppose it strongly. We have no evidence, however, that the United States are seeking to extradite him and, in any case, over the past two years they had every opportunity to seek his extradition from the United Kingdom, with which the US have a robust extradition arrangement and about which they have probably got more ease in seeking extradition than they would have were he in Sweden. But they have not sought it. In two years they have not sought it, and it would be easier for them to seek extradition of him from the United Kingdom than it would be from Sweden. Any application for Mr Assange's extradition from Sweden- (Time expired)



Senator LUDLAM (Western Australia) (15:28): I move:
That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Senator Bob Carr) to a question without notice asked by Senator Ludlam today relating to Mr Julian Assange.
The minister chose not to provide to the chamber earlier this afternoon answers to questions that I put to him about the situation unfolding in London overnight. My question was, as is the format of this place, threefold, but it effectively went to whether the minister was aware of, had taken an interest in and contacted our high commissioner or, particularly and specifically, had made representations to the representatives of the British government either in Australia or in London as to why they appear to have breached international law and threatened the integrity and potentially also the staff of Ecuador's embassy in London in their pursuit of Australian citizen Julian Assange, who has obviously been in that embassy since June.
The minister was, as he always is, on-message and completely off-topic, but he was at least on-message. I could just about have read the brief that he read into the chamber, because I have heard it so many times. I have nearly memorised it. It does not matter what question you put to him; you get the same thing back.
I asked because of the actions of the British government. There is a lot of rumour and speculation flying around at the moment as to what has actually occurred. The statement made by the government of Ecuador this morning said:
We are deeply shocked by the British government's threats against the sovereignty of the Ecuadorian Embassy and their suggestion that they may forcibly enter the embassy.
It has been surrounded by units of the metropolitan police and goodness knows who else. The British government appears to have threatened to break the door down or, potentially, even rezone the embassy so that it is no longer diplomatic territory. This kind of behaviour puts every embassy in the world at risk.
Imagine what Minister Carr's response would be, quite rightly, if the Australian government embassy was surrounded by elements of the Afghan National Police in Kabul. Just imagine that for a moment. There is the idea-and this is hundreds of years of international law, not decades-that you do not interfere with diplomatic postings and personnel overseas. That is being threatened with unpicking by the apparent actions of the British government in London in pursuit of somebody who has not been charged with any offence in any jurisdiction. He is wanted for questioning by Swedish prosecutors who failed to take the opportunity to question him during the two years when Mr Assange has been under house arrest. That is what he is wanted for: an Interpol red notice, an extradition order, for questioning in Sweden. Now the British police appear to have entered the building. I understand the embassy is on the fifth floor of a building in Knightsbridge in London and the British police have surrounded and occupied the ground floor of that building. Minister Bob Carr, after having as long as any of us have had to take stock of the situation, plus the advantage of at least being able to call our high commissioner in London to work out what exactly is going on, said, 'I haven't been advised.' You might as well walk in here with a blindfold on. Seek advice and find out what is occurring, because many people would like to know what is going on.
In effect, it is already a massive diplomatic incident. Should the British decide to occupy the embassy or to forcibly enter the premises, article 22 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations says:
The premises of the mission shall be inviolable. The agents of the receiving State may not enter them, except with the consent of the head of the mission.
That is the kind of threat that appears to be posed to the staff of the Ecuadorian embassy in London at the moment in pursuit of an Australian citizen. This is not a matter on which the Australian government can stand back in blissful ignorance for very much longer. This is something that concerns us directly.
We are not asking for further consular assistance. Consular assistance is for people who lose their mobile phone or their passport overseas; consular assistance is for teenagers who are found with small quantities of drugs in Bali and are therefore put at risk. Consular assistance is not what is being asked for here; it is not what is being sought; it is diplomatic and political assistance. Does the United States government intend to prosecute Julian Assange for espionage, computer hacking offences or whatever it may be? This unprecedented-in-nature-and-scale investigation was launched nearly two years ago. Does the US government intend to pull the trigger and unleash that prosecution or not? That is what this is about; that is what it has always been about. I hope the next time this issue is raised in the Senate, which will probably be pretty early, depending on events that are unfolding right now, the foreign minister will not walk in here with a blindfold on and claim that he was not advised. It is not good enough.
Question agreed to.


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