After seeking asylum in Ecuador's London embassy, WikiLeaks' Editor-in-Chief Julian Assange asserted that Prime Minister Julia Gillard's Labor Party government in his native Australia had made an "effective declaration of abandonment" by refusing to intervene in any extradition to Sweden or the USA. Now the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, has confirmed that Mr Assange can expect no better from Australia's Coalition parties.
Mr Abbott made the following comments during a recent JJJ radio interview:
Q: I want to move on to another issue, Mr Abbott, about the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Your Foreign Affairs spokesperson Julie Bishop has been very critical of the government's handling of his case. She said, you know, in comparison the PM has called on a 14 year old in jail in Bali - personally called him - and Bob Carr flew to Libya to visit Melinda Taylor when she was incarcerated there. Do you think the government is doing enough to help Julian Assange?
Tony Abbott: "Look, I think the government should do as much for him as it does for anyone else in trouble."
Q: Julia Bishop was highly critical about the Prime Minister's comments. She has said in 2010 that Julian Assange had "engaged in an illegal act". Do you think that that was appropriate, for Prime Minister Gillard to say that?
Tony Abbott: "Certainly she seemed to be very quick to judge the guy. And normally Prime Ministers don't set themselves up as the judge, jury and if necessary executioner. He's entitled to the presumption of innocence, just like other people who are accused of offences overseas, and he's entitled to the ordinary representation that the Australian government gives."
Q: Would you have said that he'd engaged in illegal acts?
Tony Abbott: "Look, I don't claim to be the world's greatest expert on Julian Assange and I'm not very sympathetic to people who publish things that might endanger national security. Even people who I don't particularly like or admire are entitled to their day in court and the presumption of innocence and - "
Q: Do you think he really has endangered national security though, Mr Abbott?
Tony Abbott: "Well... Many people think he has. I haven't made it my close preoccupation."
Q: But do YOU think he has?
Tony Abbott: "Well, it's not a very good thing for Australia, or for our alliances, or for our allies, for their military secrets to be published."
Q: Last question, Mr Abbott. If the US did try to extradite Assange, do you think the government should intervene?
Tony Abbott: "Well I think we should allow the same processes to operate in respect of him as operate in respect of others. Now my understanding is that we have an extradition treaty with the United States. The British and the Swedish would have extradition treaties with the United States, and the ordinary law of the land, or of those lands, should operate."
Q: But people class this as - His supporters say he's being you know, accused of committing political crimes -
Tony Abbott: "Mmmm..."
Q: - and that you shouldn't support the extradition of someone for that, for perceived political crimes. So even if the treaties allow for criminals to be extradited between the UK and America, or Sweden and America, or Australia and America for that matter, should it be for something like this?
Tony Abbott: "Well I don't see the distinction between one crime and another crime. I mean a crime is a crime is a crime. And -
Q: But this, is it a crime? Releasing documents that many would say the public has a right to know?
Tony Abbott: "If the appropriate prosecuting authorities think that he might have committed a crime and they think that there's a prima facie case, let them bring the case and let the courts decide."
Q: Even if he faced a life in prison for releasing those documents?
Tony Abbott: "Well if you commit a crime in Indonesia, you are judged in accordance with Indonesian standards. If you break American law in another country, it depends upon the extradition arrangements between America and that other country, and it should be dealt with in the ordinary courts in the ordinary way."
Responding to Mr Abbott's comments on the same radio program, Julian Assange's mother Christine said she was "gob-smacked".
"The man is ignorant," said Mrs Assange. "Absolutely ignorant. We're talking about a journalist. This is not a crime. This is a recognised media organisation who has worked in co-operation with other media outlets. Nobody except the US is alleging there's a crime here, and they can't even produce evidence of a crime."
"My grave concern, my great fear, and the fear of everybody who knows this case well, is that Julian will be extradited because his government won't stand up for him, and that unless he is given political asylum, he will be extradited, tortured and killed."
Barrister Julian Burnside, who has been visiting Julian Assange in the Ecuadorean embassy, also rejected Mr Abbott's claims.
"In the two years since the cables were released, and re-published by the press around the world, I've not heard any plausible report that the national security of any country has been impacted by that release. But in addition to that, if Mr Abbott is concerned about threats to national security, he should reflect on the fact that he was part of the government that took Australia into an illegal war in Iraq. And I would have thought that had much greater impact on our national security than anything WikiLeaks has done."
Mr Burnside dismissed Mr Abbott's caution about interfering with extradition processes in other countries.
"I think it misses a main point. The concern about Assange being sent to Sweden is that Sweden and America have got a witness lending program, by which a prisoner can be transferred informally between those two jurisdictions, bypassing the formal extradition processes. What Assange is particularly concerned about is that if ever he gets into the custody of the Swedes, the Americans will ask them to lend him to America, and once he gets into America of course he is likely to suffer the same sort of fate that Bradley Manning has suffered."
"Now Manning, who is alleged to have originally obtained the documents that were published on WikiLeaks, has been held in dreadful conditions for two years by the Americans. He's been held naked in his cell, ostensibly for his own protection, and during that time apparently they have tried to get him to implicate Assange in the original obtaining of the documents. Assange has not been implicated in that."
"And so far as saying that it's a criminal offence for WikiLeaks to have published those documents, the fact is that the mainstream press around the world published the same documents. And there's no suggestion that the proprietors of the mainstream press around the world have committed any offence."
Christine Assange claims both major Australian political parties are ignoring the facts.
"This is the problem that I've got with this commentary all along, is that neither Gillard, Abbott, or the appointed henchmen Carr and Roxon are telling the people the facts. And there's fact after fact after fact that indicates that this is nothing more than a political persecution to silence the truth. And what does the Australian government do - all except the Greens - is aid and abet that political persecution."
Mrs Assange also revealed the cost this prolonged lack of Australian government support is taking on her personally.
"I live with terror," she said. "Absolute terror. Nightmares all night."
"I've had to rise to the occasion. I am not a public person, I'm actually quite a shy person, personally, so this has been very difficult for me, to do this. And I wish he'd never done it, as a mother, to be frank.
"But as a citizen, I am so proud of him. I am so proud of WikiLeaks, and that courageous little team of half a dozen people."