Philip Dorling – March 27, 2012
Julian Assange says he wants to bring liberty back to the centre of Australian politics, using his Senate candidacy to defend free speech and the ”right of citizens … to live their lives free from state interference”.
The WikiLeaks founder also plans to be a ”fierce defender of free media” if elected to the Senate, using parliamentary privilege to break court suppression orders and other ”excessive constraints” on free access to information.
In his first interview since declaring his intention to run for the Senate in the next federal election, Mr Assange said he ”could be described as a libertarian” and nominated Australian Democrats founder Don Chipp and former prime minister Malcolm Fraser as political figures he admired.
Mr Assange declared his priority was to campaign for greater openness in government, what he termed ”the politics of understanding before acting”.
He criticised Australian politics for the ”increasing levels of cronyism” and ”the betrayal of the rights and interests of people … by political insiders, operating in their own interests”.
Mr Assange confirmed to The Age that Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s attacks on WikiLeaks, in particular labelling its actions as ”illegal” – contrary to advice from the Australian Federal Police – directly contributed to his decision to embark on a Senate campaign.
WikiLeaks announced last week that Assange had decided to run for the Senate after it discovered that his detention on sexual assault allegations was not an impediment.
He has been under house arrest in the United Kingdom while he awaits a British Supreme Court decision on his appeal against extradition to Sweden to be questioned in relation to sexual assault allegations.
While not charged with any offence in Sweden, he fears extradition will open the way for his extradition to the United States on possible espionage or conspiracy charges in retaliation for WikiLeaks’ publication of thousands of classified military and diplomatic reports.
Mr Assange was sharply critical of both the federal government and opposition, saying there is ”very little difference between Liberal and Labor – especially once they get into government. Labor suffers more from cronyism, while the Liberals care more for big business.”
He is considering ”all possibilities” for his Senate bid, including running as an independent, seeking an alliance with another party, or launching a new party
devoted to open government. While support for WikiLeaks is strongest among Greens voters, Mr Assange noted recent polling had shown 53 per cent approval across the spectrum.
He emphasised his record as ”a fierce defender of press freedom … even though I have known only too well smear by unethical media”.
Asked whether he would use parliamentary privilege to overcome court-imposed gag orders, he replied: ”Absolutely.”
Mr Assange nominated Don Chipp as an inspirational figure with whom he shared ”many basic ideas”, including the importance of ”keeping the bastards honest”. He also singled out Malcolm Fraser for speaking up for civil liberties and humane treatment for asylum seekers.
On global issues, he argued that Australia must take into account the likelihood of ”serious decline” of the US over the next 15 to 20 years – indeed ”collapse of its superpower status”. In this case he supports much greater regional engagement and an increased defence and intelligence budget ”to reduce our reliance on the US”.
He repeatedly emphasised the importance of protecting small business and individuals from the power of government and large corporations.
On controversial social issues including same-sex marriage and euthanasia, he acknowledged ”strong arguments on all sides”.
Former Australian Democrats leader Natasha Stott Despoja last week observed: ”There will be many Australians who prefer to side with those who reveal, not conceal, so get ready for a fascinating campaign and watch the scrambling for [Assange’s] preferences.”