Subjects: Julian Assange; Syria


LAURA JAYES    Good evening to you Michael and for reaction I have with me the Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop. Julie this has just been handed down, there is two weeks of appeal [inaudible] legal argument between French and English but essentially Julian Assange is on his way to Sweden isn’t he?

JULIE BISHOP    The British High Court has found that the extradition order made by the Swedish prosecutor was lawfully made, so that is the judgement that has been made. We have no reason to question or challenge the eminent judgement of the British High Court. It was legal question.

But there has been a stay of proceedings which means that Julian Assange’s is lawyers will have two weeks to determine what other avenues that can pursue, whether there is an appeal elsewhere and there is this issue of the French-English version and so two weeks to consider the impact and the implications of the decision.

LAURA JAYES    It looks like it’s not if now but when he’ll go to Sweden, do you think that means he could really eventually end up in the US?

JULIE BISHOP    This is a concern that Assange and his lawyers have raised from time to time, but I think we have to take it a step at a time. The decision of the British High Court has been handed down saying that the extradition order was lawfully made. The next step is the two weeks to consider the implications of this and thereafter we will see where it goes. So the lawyers have indicated that they’ll even consider an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

LAURA JAYES    But that could take some time couldn’t it, so is that I guess a delay tactic if you like – I might use that phrase – this could take a number of years and he may not be successful?

JULIE BISHOP    Well presumably his lawyers will be looking at every avenue as a step by step process. But as an Australian citizen he should receive and expect to receive unqualified consular support.

LAURA JAYES    Do you think this is what the Australian government has provided so far, has been unqualified support for Assange?

JULIE BISHOP    I am deeply concerned about the prejudicial statements that have been made by government Ministers in the past particularly Attorney General Roxon who spoke of him fleeing Sweden, which was a very prejudicial claim to make in the middle of extradition proceedings.

And previously the Prime Minister had accused him of doing something illegal in relation to the release of the Wikileaks cables. And she has never identified any Australian law that Julian Assange has broken, she has not apologised for claiming that he has done something illegal. These kind of prejudicial statements about an Australian citizen are deeply worrying.

LAURA JAYES    And Bob Carr has said in Senate Estimates, in recent days, that he hasn’t seen any evidence that the US is putting forward charges or trying to extradite him to the US to face those charges over those leaked documents. Have you asked him whether, or are you satisfied at that explanation? And do you think he has in fact asked the right questions of the US authorities?

JULIE BISHOP    This is something that we will have to look at very closely. Senate Carr has given statements today in Senate Estimates on a whole range of things that I will be reviewing very closely over the coming days. But currently I urge the Australian government to give Julian Assange whatever consular support he seeks, as they should give to any Australian citizen who finds himself in this position overseas.

LAURA JAYES    Just finally, quickly on Syria, obviously yesterday was a big development – the Australian government expelling the two top diplomats. How long are we going to wait to see if that action, which coincided with other actions in similar countries around the world, how long do we wait to see if that worked? And then what is the next step for Australia?

JULIE BISHOP    The expulsion of diplomats was part of a coordinated international effort amongst a number of countries; it is just one step that can be taken. It sends a powerful message that the international community was affronted by the mass killings that occurred last week and they are calling on President Assad to stop the violence and to abide by the commitment he gave to halt military action, he gave that commitment to Kofi Annan. And so the expulsion of diplomats is sending a powerful message that the nations that have undertaken this act are affronted by what he has done.

It is back to the UN Security Council. This, in and of itself won’t achieve what people are seeking, but it will send a message that Syria is increasingly isolated, that the regime is undertaking these brutal acts and the world won’t stand for it.

The UN Security Council has to determine what can happen next. Now there are a number issues, there is humanitarian relief, there is talk of a no-fly zone but it is a very different scenario than that that occurred in Libya. On the ground it is a different situation, geographically, politically Syria is a far different nation than Libya in a number of important respects.

So it will be up to the Security Council, and of course Russia has not been prepared to support an expansion of the resolution, particularly anything to do with military intervention.

LAURA JAYES    Okay that is one that the Australian government, no doubt the world, will be keeping a very close eye on. Julie Bishop, thanks so much for your joining us.