Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Daniel Hurst Foreign affairs and defence correspondent

Australian PM Anthony Albanese supports vote calling on UK and US to free Julian Assange

Andrew Wilkie with Liberal Bridget Archer and Labor's Josh Wilson and other MPs voting in favour of a motion on Julian Assange
(L-R top row) Andrew Wilkie with Liberal Bridget Archer and Labor's Josh Wilson. Crossparty MPs backed a motion on Wednesday calling for Julian Assange to be allowed to return to Australia. Photograph: Mike Bowers/The Guardian

Australian federal MPs – including the prime minister and cabinet members – have voted overwhelmingly to urge the US and the UK to allow the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to return to Australia.

The independent MP Andrew Wilkie hailed the passage of the motion, 86 votes in favour and 42 against, as “an unprecedented show of political support for Mr Assange by the Australian parliament”.

The opposition leader, Peter Dutton, joined Coalition colleagues in opposing the motion on Wednesday, although the Tasmanian MP Bridget Archer crossed the floor to back the pro-Assange motion.

The vote coincides with confirmation from the attorney general, Mark Dreyfus, that the Assange matter was raised when he met his US counterpart, Merrick Garland, in Washington DC two weeks ago.

“This was a private discussion; however this government’s position on Mr Assange is very clear, and has not changed,” Dreyfus told Guardian Australia.

“It is time this matter is brought to an end.”

Assange remains in Belmarsh prison in London as he fights a US attempt to extradite him from the UK to face charges – including under the Espionage Act – with the UK high court due to hold a two-day hearing next week.

The charges are in connection with the publication of hundreds of thousands of leaked documents about the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, as well as diplomatic cables, in 2010 and 2011.

Wilkie successfully moved to suspend parliamentary standing orders on Wednesday to debate the matter, a move seconded by the government backbencher Josh Wilson.

Anthony Albanese’s government has repeatedly said that “enough is enough” and that it is time for the Assange matter to be “brought to a conclusion”.

But the motion on Wednesday removed the ambiguity about what that conclusion should entail: allowing him back to Australia.

The parliamentary motion specifically underlined “the importance of the UK and USA bringing the matter to a close so that Mr Assange can return home to his family in Australia”.

During the debate, Wilkie implored fellow MPs to support the motion because it was “time for all of us to take a stand”.

Wilkie said that if Assange lost his final UK appeal next week, “he could be on a plane to the United States within hours”.

“We’ve just about run out of time to save Julian Assange,” Wilkie told parliament.

Wilson, the Labor MP, told parliament that the same material at the heart of the charges against Assange had been “published without legal consequence by media organisations in the United States”.

“It is significant that both the prime minister and the leader of the opposition have been clear in saying the matter should come to an end,” Wilson said.

Despite Dutton’s past comments on the matter, he and fellow Coalition frontbenchers ultimately voted against the motion, which also included the statement that the material “revealed shocking evidence of misconduct by the USA”.

Some Coalition MPs who have previously backed calls for Assange’s release, including Barnaby Joyce, were not present for the vote. Eight Coalition MPs who were present for a separate vote immediately beforehand did not vote on the Assange motion.

The Greens and many crossbenchers supported the motion.

The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, has previously pushed back at the Australian government’s complaints that the pursuit of Assange had dragged on too long.

After talks in Brisbane in July, Blinken said it was “very important” for “our friends” in Australia to understand the US concerns about Assange’s “alleged role in one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of our country”.

Assange’s supporters argue it was in the public interest to publish information about the Afghanistan and Iraq wars and say his prosecution sets a bad precedent for press freedom.

In September more than 60 Australian federal politicians explicitly called on the US Department of Justice to drop the prosecution, warning of “a sharp and sustained outcry in Australia” if the WikiLeaks founder was extradited.

A small cross-party delegation then flew to Washington DC in late September to lobby Biden administration officials and US lawmakers in the lead-up to Albanese’s visit.

Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.