Senator Scott Ludlam asks the Prime Minister what the Government knew about the US sealed Grand Duty indictment against Julian Assange

29 Feb | Broadband, Communications & the Digital Economy
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Senator LUDLAM (Western Australia) (14:19): My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Evans. I refer to reports in the Fairfax press this morning that Stratfor, a Texas based private intelligence firm, has known for more than a year of the existence of a sealed indictment from a secret grand jury against Australian citizen and journalist Julian Assange. Did our ally the United States give the Prime Minister the courtesy of a disclosure and, if so, when? Or did she read it in the papers along with the rest of us? Minister, for how long has the Prime Minister known of the existence of this sealed indictment?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Western Australia-Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:19):I thank the senator for his question. I obviously cannot comment on unsubstantiated media reports about sealed documents that have been discovered, because, quite frankly, all of that was news to me this morning as well. But I can tell you that the Australian government is not aware of any charges by the US government against Mr Assange. Our embassy in Washington continues to closely monitor developments. Mr Assange remains in the UK, awaiting the outcome of his appeal to the UK Supreme Court regarding his possible extradition to Sweden. We continue to monitor closely Mr Assange’s legal situation and have sought and received assurances from Swedish authorities that he will be accorded due process if he is extradited. While Mr Assange was detained in the UK in 2010, Australian consular officials provided him with a high level of consular support. This remains available to him, as we have advised his lawyers on a number of occasions. I understand that officials were last in contact with Mr Assange’s lawyers in late January 2012.

Senator Ludlam:
I call a point of order, Mr President, on the direct relevance of the minister’s answer. I did not refer to any of the Swedish prosecution matters or anything that is occurring in the UK. My question goes directly to whether the Australian government knows of the existence of a sealed indictment-that is just a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’.

The PRESIDENT:
The minister is answering the question from what I have heard.

Senator CHRIS EVANS:
Mr President, I was trying to be helpful to the senator and give him what information I had, but as I said in the first part of my answer, the Australian government is not aware of any charges by the US government against Mr Assange. If that is all he wants to know, I will stop there.

Senator LUDLAM (Western Australia) (14:22): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Does the Prime Minister propose to take any action whatsoever relating to the existence of this indictment and the potential for Mr Assange to be transferred not to Sweden or to anywhere else but to the United States? Is the government intending to do anything at all to prevent this from happening? I am happy for the minister to provide any details at all about any action of any kind that the government proposes to take to prevent this extradition from occurring.

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Western Australia-Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:22):
As Senator Ludlam is aware, the government has clarified in answers to questions he has put a notice on this issue that the Australian government has asked the US government about these reports. The government has not received any advice of any grand jury investigation.

Senator LUDLAM (Western Australia) (14:23): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Perhaps the minister will take the matter on notice. Now that the dirty little secret is out, will the government stop the delays and obstructions in fulfilling-
Honourable senators interjecting-

The PRESIDENT:
Order! Both sides, Senator Ludlam is entitled to be heard in silence.

Senator LUDLAM:
Thank you, Mr President. There was a great deal of shrieking. I am interested to know whether the government will stop the delays and obstructions in fulfilling my freedom of information requests on this matter that went to the Prime Minister’s office last year. Will the minister find out if there is a sealed indictment in the US and report back to the Senate? Will the minister ascertain whether or not such an indictment exists? (Time expired)

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Western Australia-Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:24):
If there are dirty little secrets, they have been kept secret from me, so I cannot help him in that regard. What I can tell him is that I understand he has made an FOI request, which was received by DFAT on 2 December last year. The response is being worked on by DFAT. I gather that is in line with Senator Ludlam’s agreement on an extension of time. That is all I can say in response to his question.http://scott-ludlam.greensmps.org.au/content/questions/senator-scott-ludlam-asks-prime-minister-what-government-knew-about-us-sealed-gran

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