Updated: May 13
In December 2021, Julian Assange lost his battle with the High Court of Justice in England with the court ruling that Mr. Assange could be extradited to the United States to face charges. However, in January of 2022, Mr. Assange was granted permission to appeal to the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom and so his fate, for now, remains in question.
In September of 2021 it was also revealed that CIA officials under the Trump administration had discussed both abducting and assassinating Mr. Assange in 2017. Mr. Assange had initially taken refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy since 2012, avoiding extradition to Sweden on sexual assault allegations. The United States claimed in 2010 that Mr. Assange agreed to help whistle-blower, Chelsea Manning, hack into a military computer to obtain secret materials. In 2018 he was then indicted by a grand jury in Virginia on the charge of "conspiracy to commit computer intrusion." Mr. Assange is currently indicted on 17 other espionage charges related to WikiLeaks' release of thousands of leaked military and diplomatic materials. Together, Mr. Assange's charges carry a maximum sentence of 175 years in prison.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison's Response to Assange's Situation
In April of 2019, in response to Mr. Assange's arrest in London after the Ecuadorian embassy ended his nearly 7-year period of political asylum, Prime Minister Scott Morrison stated that Mr. Assange would not receive "special treatment" and would not challenge the United States' attempts to extradite Mr. Assange:
"He won't be getting any special treatment from Australia, he'll be getting the same treatment that any other Australian would get...When Australians travel overseas and the find themselves in difficulties with the law, they face the judicial systems of those countries. It doesn't matter what particular crime it is that they're alleged to have committed, that's the way the system works."
In 2021, despite calls from both the federal opposition and Mr. Assange's supporters, Mr. Morrison stated he would not be appealing to the United States' President Donald Trump or incoming President Joe Biden to pardon Julian Assange. Mr. Morrison also stated that Mr. Assange would be free to travel back to Australia once the appeals process had concluded:
"If that all turns out, he's like any other Australian, he would be free to return home if he wished. That would be a matter for him when those proceedings and processes end."
The Australian Government's Response to Assange's Situation
Opinions on Mr. Assange cut through party lines of Australia’s politicians, with both former Labor Party Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and current Liberal National Party Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce voicing support for Mr. Assange to be brought back to Australia for trial or at least not be tried by the United States.
Following Mr. Morrison's decision not to appeal to the United States regarding Mr. Assange, Labor MP Julian Hill suggested Mr. Morrison should be coming to Mr. Assange's defence:
"Scott Morrison should defend him and demand he return home and promise not to extradite him to the US. I never thought I'd say this, but Trump should pardon him."
Nationals MP George Christensen called for the British government to release Mr. Assange and return him to Australia immediately and claimed that a pardon from then president, Donald Trump, would ensure no further action would be pursued against Mr. Assange:
"He is being held without any charge in the jurisdiction where he is being held, so there is no justification for him to stay in Belmarsh Prison for a moment longer. Furthermore the Australian government should ensure that when he is returned to Australia, there is no avenue for an extradition from his home country to the United States."
In 2017 as both Attorney General and Leader of the Government in the Senate, George Brandis supported sentiments made in a senate committee hearing on Mr. Assange’s detainment overseas, stating:
“...where an Australian citizen has been caught up in legitimate legal processes of any country, we accept that it is the right of that country to pursue them under their courts and in their laws.”
This is in contrast to Mr. Brandis' sentiments in 2015 that:
“[Mr. Assange] hasn’t broken any Australian law…Nor does it appear he has broken any American laws.”
In October 2019 a group of 11 federal MPs (both LNP and Labor) called for the Australian government to act in Mr. Assange’s defence.
In 2021, the federal opposition leader, Anthony Albanese, declared his support for Mr. Assange to be released from prison:
"Enough is enough. I don't have sympathy for many of his actions but essentially I can't see what is served by keeping him incarcerated."
Whistle-blowers in Australia
While Julian Assange is arguably the most well-known, the Australian government and courts have a complicated relationship with a number of other Australian whistle-blowers.
Richard Boyle, for example, blew the whistle on the Australian Tax Office in October 2017, exposing unethical tactics to recover small business debt.
David McBride is facing up to 50 years in prison for exposing evidence of war crimes committed by Australian Service Personnel.
Witness K & Bernard Collaery
Witness K exposed the Howard Government’s illegal corporate espionage during negotiations with East Timor’s government regarding oil and gas in 2004.