8:55 AEST Thu Dec 9 2010
By Stephen Johnson
The Australian government has suggested WikiLeaks has engaged in criminal activity.
The Australian government has suggested WikiLeaks has engaged in criminal activity as the actions of another Labor minister were detailed in leaked diplomatic cables.
Federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland said on Thursday the “unauthorised obtaining” of classified US files might, in itself, have been an offence.
“Certainly to release that sort of information by an officer of the commonwealth, if it were Australian material, would in my view certainly involve criminality,” Mr McClelland told a book launch in Sydney.
The legal interpretation came as WikiLeaks supplied Fairfax newspapers with information revealing how Labor powerbroker Mark Arbib gave US officials inside knowledge about former prime minister Kevin Rudd’s bid to contain the leadership ambitions of his eventual successor, Julia Gillard.
In October 2009, Senator Arbib told US diplomats Mr Rudd wanted to “ensure that there are viable alternatives to Gillard within the Labor Party to forestall a challenge”.
The publication came a day after WikiLeaks released cables suggesting Mr Rudd had been a “control freak” leader.
Senator Arbib, who is now minister for sport, released a statement on Thursday defending his active membership of the Australian-American Leadership Dialogue.
“I am publicly known as a strong supporter of Australia’s relationship with the United States,” he said.
“I, like many members of the federal parliament, have regular discussions about the state of Australian and US politics with members of the US mission and consulate.”
Treasurer Wayne Swan, who became acting prime minister on Thursday when Ms Gillard began a vacation, downplayed the contents of the WikiLeaks material on Senator Arbib.
“We ought to exercise just a degree of caution when we’re interpreting the translation of conversations,” Mr Swan told reporters in Brisbane on Thursday.
“It doesn’t mean that the reportage of them in the cables is accurate, it doesn’t mean to say it’s well grounded, and it certainly doesn’t mean to say it’s in context.”
With WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange now in custody in London, awaiting deportation to Sweden on rape charges, federal independent MP Andrew Wilkie accused Ms Gillard of showing contempt for the rule of law.
“I’m absolutely disgusted at the behaviour of the federal government and of the prime minister personally at the moment,” the former whistleblower told reporters in Hobart on Thursday.
“The prime minister is showing a contempt for the rule of law the way she has ruled out the presumption of innocence.”
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott echoed those sentiments.
“I guess even people who’ve done the wrong thing have to be given the benefit of the doubt, the presumption of innocence, and there doesn’t appear to have been an enormous amount of that from the government,” Mr Abbott told Darwin radio.
Independent MP Rob Oakeshott said Mr Assange deserved the Australian government’s support as he faced the Swedish legal system.
Activist group GetUp is buying advertisements in The New York Times and The Washington Times newspapers defending WikiLeaks.
Australian Human Rights Commission president Catherine Branson said the Australian government shouldn’t take any steps against a citizen facing criminal charges.
“Like every Australian citizen, if he calls on consular assistance he should be provided with it, that is his right,” the former federal court judge told AAP.
Griffith University law professor AJ Brown told a whistleblowers’ forum in Sydney on Thursday night politicians had created a martyr out of Mr Assange.
The comments come as protesters prepared to rally in support of Mr Assange in Brisbane on Friday.