Australia PM backs parliament motion calling for Julian Assange’s release

By Thomson Reuters Feb 14, 2024 | 5:36 PM

By Renju Jose

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese voted in favour of a motion in parliament’s lower house calling for the return of WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange to Australia, ahead of a hearing next week at London’s High Court on his extradition.

The motion, moved by independent lawmaker Andrew Wilkie, was passed on Wednesday with 86 votes in favour and 42 against after it was supported by the Labor government. Most members of the conservative opposition coalition opposed the motion.

“(The motion) will send a powerful political signal to the British government and to the U.S. government,” Wilkie told parliament ahead of the vote.

U.S. officials are looking to extradite Assange from a British prison to the United States, where he is wanted on criminal charges over WikiLeaks’ release of vast troves of confidential U.S. military records and diplomatic cables.

Britain has given the go-ahead for his extradition, but Assange, an Australian citizen, has filed a possible final legal challenge to stop it. A public hearing will take place on Feb. 20-21 when two judges will review an earlier ruling that had refused Assange permission to appeal.

Wilkie said he would travel to Britain to attend next week’s hearings.

“Whether you worship or loathe Julian Assange, the matter has gone on long enough,” Wilkie told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

Albanese has been urging the U.S. to drop the extradition requests and release Assange and has said he was frustrated for not yet finding a diplomatic fix.

Assange’s supporters say he has been victimised because he exposed U.S. wrongdoing and potential crimes, including in conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Washington says the release of the secret documents put lives in danger.

Australia’s Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said Assange’s extradition was raised in a meeting with his U.S. counterpart Merrick Garland in Washington last month.

“This was a private discussion, however this government’s position on Assange is very clear, and has not changed,” Dreyfus said in a statement.

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

(Reporting by Renju Jose in Sydney; Editing by Jamie Freed)