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Home Issue 20 Cr Auricht: All the way with USA on fate of Assange

Cr Auricht: All the way with USA on fate of Assange

By KIERAN FINNANE

Last updated 13 February 2020, 10.33am (minor edits).
 
The petition was straightforward: that the Town Council call on the Australian government to demand the release of Julian Assange and arrange his repatriation to Australia. It was signed by 111 Central Australians.
 
Right: Mr Assange being removed from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London after the country withdrew his asylum status. The photograph heads a petition to Free Julian Assange on change.org, started by veteran broadcaster Phillip Adams.
 

It was presented to council at last month’s ordinary meeting and was on the agenda for debate in last night’s community development committee meeting, with Councillor Jimmy Cocking in the chair.

 

As it came up, a flurry of consternation. Cr Eli Melky left the chamber declaring a conflict of interest: the American government is a major client of his business.

 

Cr Jamie de Brenni grumbled that he is not a member of the UN or a Minister and that he would like to get on with talking about core business – things like reporting on the record number of entries (600+) in the Alice Prize.

 

Cr Glen Auricht wanted to shut down debate all together: it was “in real conflict with our community,” we have “a very large American contingent in town” who “work with the town on many many issues”.

 

Organisers of the petition were in the public gallery. “That’s the problem,” one of them called out.

 

It was “a direct conflict of interest for the council to be involved in any way with this petition,” continued Cr Auricht.

 

A bit of background: Julian Assange is in Australian citizen, and as such he entitled to consular protection by the Australian Government. His supporters are concerned that the government’s efforts are not great and the government is saying nothing to reassure them.

 

Mr Assange is the founder of Wikileaks, which shot to international prominence in 2010 when it made public a cache of military documents on the Afghan and Iraq wars, leaked by former US soldier Chelsea Manning. The release included footage of a US helicopter shooting Iraqi civilians – arguably a war crime.

 

Mr Assange is currently gaoled in Britain, facing extradition proceedings to the United States. There he would be tried for multiple offences under the Espionage Act, and if convicted, could spend decades in gaol – the possible sentence is calculated as up to 175 years.

 

He has become the focus of an international campaign, concerned to protect his human rights – including his right to humane treatment in prison and fair access to his legal team – as well as the right to free speech and a free press more broadly.

 
Supporters include the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe – 324 parliamentarians from its 47 member countries. In January they passed a resolution on media freedom, declaring that the detention and prosecution of the Wikileaks founder “sets a dangerous precedent for journalists” and calling for his prompt release.
 

What Mr Assange did in Wikileaks, it is argued, is what many a traditional news medium has done and will continue to do – publish, in the public interest, leaked material, even classified material, and protect sources. Examples in the Australian media have been made famous by AFP raids in 2019 on the offices of the ABC and the home of News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst.

 
In our 26-year history, the Alice Springs News has frequently dealt with leaked material and whistleblowers. Doing so is part of “that check upon government which no constitution has ever been able to provide”, as proclaimed under our masthead in a famous quote from the Chicago Tribune. 
 

Back to the council chamber: Cr Cocking coolly explained that the organisers had brought the petition to him to submit to council as the level of government closest to community. If there was support in the room, council could write a letter to the federal government.

 

Cr Marli Banks thanked the members of the public attending, acknowledging that they “feel passionately” about this issue. 

 

She said she understood that other Elected Members may feel it is not council business, but she was happy to give the motion to write a letter her support.

 

Deputy Mayor Matt Paterson said he would not support it, as it is “well outside our obligations”.

 

“Others councils have done it,” interjected a supporter in the public gallery.

 

Cr Banks said she was happy to second the motion, “as a matter of natural justice”.

 

The motion will now carry through to be voted on at the Ordinary Meeting at the end of the month.

 
 
 

19 COMMENTS

  1. Why is this Assange an issue for the Alice Council to take action on? What connection has Assange with the Council, or with Alicians? Why is the Alice Council taking over a political role beyond its charter; a constitutional role of federal parliament?

  2. Kieran, thank you for your informed reporting of this matter of grave concern.
    How lucky are we here in Alice Springs to be able to receive your reportage, without prejudice.
    You point out the 26 year history of the Alice Springs News and the motto under the current masthead.
    [That motto could equally] read “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”.
    Your coverage has been a stalwart of news reporting for our town, our territory and our country and in all that time I can never recall you insulting, among others, our American neighbours and/or friends who share this town with us.
    Those I know are proud Americans who would understand that we are proud Australian citizens.
    We come from many parts of the world, some become citizens here, and we understand and share the cultural differences that each of us bring.
    We all share an understanding of the merits of natural justice and what our moral obligations are and this further exemplifies the truth telling that the Alice Springs News promotes, an understanding as to why you are still going strong some 26 years later.
    As I began, a mighty thank you once again and as always, for the transparency you disclose that keeps us all informed about our local ‘representation’ at Council.

  3. Excellent article!
    Alice Springs councillor Cr Glen Auricht’s response is so revealing and parallels the attitude of Australian governments –Liberal and Labor alike– towards Assange and exposes why they have thrown him to the Washington wolves.
    “Don’t do anything that might upset the US government!”

  4. The situation of Assange is terrible, but like John Bell I fail to understand what the council can do about it when there is nothing it can do about the crimes in our town.
    Australian politicians are in a position to advocate for Julian Assange and have, thus far, failed to do so. How could our Councillors succeed?
    The role of each councillor is to:
    • Represent the interests of electors, ratepayers and residents.
    • Provide leadership and guidance to the community.
    • Facilitate two-way communication between the community and the council; and
    • Participate in decision making processes at meetings.
    Nothing here indicates it can get involved with Federal decisions.

  5. How insulting to our “very large American contingent in town”!
    Are we to assume that all of this contingent agree with this travesty of justice?
    Just as Australia is politically evenly split, so too is the U.S.A.
    It wouldn’t surprise me if a significant number of American residents in Alice Springs are as opposed to Assange’s treatment as many of us Australians are.

  6. @Frank Baarda. Frank. Regardless of whether or not there is an American community in the Alice, surely the relevant question is – what business is it for the Town Council to make the issue of Julian Assange, his crimes and his treatment,a formal item of Council business and Council motion? This is one more socio-political cause that local councils around Australia are engaging in, outside the charter they were created for. Taking on a political role. You are an Assange supporter, so you reckon it’s ok.
    Councils are increasingly assuming a political role that must impact negatively on service delivery, taking up gabfest time and outraged energy, affecting their ability to conduct core charter business. The radical councils down here in Mexico south of the border are basically thumbing their noses at the role of state and federal parliament eg Australia Day citizenship ceremony and its politics. Great if you are a local council shire resident/rate payer who happens to agree with the position the Council takes, but not so great if you are a ratepayer who disagrees….on any Council cause that is the flavour of the moment. However, when a radical Left council eg Yarra Council, starts collecting rubbish once a fortnight instead of once a week, you can see where I am going with this?
    What political role do you see local councils have in taking up such causes and can you define what causes Council should take up and why? If you are going to justify Assange, who does not even live in Alice, where do you draw the line with any other cause that may be linked to any international section of the Alice community, eg the Somalian or Thai or Filipino or Burmese residents of Alice?

  7. John Bell, Listen to the words of John Farnham… You’re The Voice.
    The connection Julian Assange has with the council or Alicians is that we are all Australian Citizens. It wouldn’t matter if it was Julian Assange or a little baby…what is taking place in England against Julian is a gross violation of human rights and torture. Every Australian Citizen should be angry as if it were their child, brother, or family member. Just as we all express our objection to injustice around the world, all injustice against any human has got everything to do with you, your community and your call for action.
    Councils collectively can make a huge difference. So far 2 local councils in Melbourne have made an official statement to the foreign minister of Australia in support of Julian Assange. Alice Springs may be the third. A further two councils are in the process of following. The Northern Territory Greens Party have joined in the call for justice. Other small groups including a doctors group, lawyers group, journalists group etc.. are joining the call for justice. A group of 14 Federal Members of Parliament have formed a group. The more people that get behind the call for justice for an Australian Citizen, the greater the pressure for Scott Morrison to stop pretending that he has Australians’ interests at heart and to stop bowing down to U.S. interests. While the Alice Council can’t change things on its own, it is a powerful part of our democracy that can put pressure on federal parliament. All groups can make a difference… and when you really get down to it, it’s these small groups that make Australia great… not the big Federal guys who have no idea of what is really going on.
    As our Federal Government has ignored the human rights violations toward an Australian Citizen, it is up to the citizens of Australia to protest and force government to act. Federal, State and local government are all avenues for citizens to voice their demands and demand action. As our current Prime Minister and Liberal government are acting in the interest of the United States, over the rights of Australian Citizen Julian Assange, it is up to us to make as much noise as possible and make our government serve its people first. If you care about the human rights of an Australian Citizen, you should be pressing your local, territory and federal politicians to act. You can even go to your bowls club, golf club, tennis club and try to get a letter to the Prime Minister. Good community and government isn’t the responsibility of those elected, it’s the responsibility of the citizens of Australia. The Alice Council is not taking over a political role beyond its charter, it is doing exactly what it is supposed to do by joining other councils and expressing the concerns and objections of Australian Citizens.
    Now if you don’t care about the rights of Australian Citizens or think that Julian Assange doesn’t deserve human rights, that’s another matter altogether…

  8. Some commenters are assuming that the Alice Springs Town Council has come to a decision to write to the Federal Government in support of repatriating Assange. The vote on a motion to do so will come at the end of the month meeting (February 24). The mood in the chamber on February 10, as reported, would not have delivered a majority in favour.

  9. In my humble opinion, a council is representing the people.
    Hence should a petition be made for an official statement to the foreign minister of Australia in support of Julian Assange that our representatives could present in our name to the Feds?

  10. @ Malcolm S. Well said Malcolm and Frank B.
    @ Evelyne. Sorry, I have trouble making sense of your comment.

  11. @Malcolm S. Thank you for your thoughts. Your quote: “Now if you don’t care about the rights of Australian Citizens or think that Julian Assange doesn’t deserve human rights, that’s another matter altogether”
    With due respect, this is a supposition of the same genre as the question “Have you stopped beating your wife yet?” Answering yes or no condemns whichever answer. Your supposition presupposes the obvious answer of all reasonable people – yes of course as a reasonable (like you) I believe in every Aussie citizen’s protection of his and her human rights. (And believe me when I say that I have been down that path with with the Human Rights Commission. In a ratherlong and painful journey).
    But in answering yes to your supposition, your conclusion is that I should therefore agree with you that the Alice Council should approach the federal government formally on this issue. I simply disagree with you that the Council should do this. For the reasons I have previously stated. There are citizen avenues to approach the Human Rights Commission and members of parliament in due process to get whatever it is you or I may believe is justice in any given rights issue.
    I simply see Councils becoming political voices, departing from their charter responsibilities, assuming a political role beyond their charter. In the most over -governed country per head of population in the western democratic world, we all want to become chiefs in a cause(s) of our individual choosing, ignoring the integrity of due process channels that underpins the obtaining of justice.

  12. @ Charlie (sorry mate old age): I am simply asking if the people of Alice should make a petition for Assange? If yes, then the petition should be presented to the council which in turn will present it to the Feds.

  13. @ Evelyne Roullet @ Charlie Carter: Charlie – I read in Evelyne’s comment that Evelyne was questioning what right does the Council have to make formal representation to the Federal government in this Assange matter on behalf of the council’s residents (the people)?
    I also question that right. In presuming to speak for all residents, the council is abusing an individual citizen’s right to privacy, the right to express one’s individual view to government in an issue outside council charter.

  14. WOW, what an insight to democracy and such a great platform to accept all comments about Julian Assange.
    Just a couple of points of information; Kieran Finnane brought attention to the vote on a motion (accompanied by a petition) at the next Town Council meeting. Thanks Kieran.
    This will occur in Council Chambers on Monday 24th February, open to the public and starting at 5.30 pm and yes, the elected councillors can add the Alice Springs Town Council voice to other Australian Local Government voices who are notifying the elected members of the Australian Federal Government that they urgently need to act for an Australian citizen who is locked in a high security UK prison with no charges against him.
    Julian Assange must be repatriated to Australia as should be the case for any Australian citizen who gets locked up for carrying out their profession and revealing to all of us, as any professional journalist would do, the truth. This is not a crime.
    On that same date, Julian Assange will face his first trial proceedings in the UK to face extradition to the US.
    Local Government is a tier of government and it “affirms its commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights … and should act towards one another in a spirit of common humanity…”.
    This is why council support is being sought.

  15. I agree with Malcolm S about the need for us to stand up for one of our fellow citizens.
    The outcome of this extradition hearing and then court proceedings – should they proceed – has significant implications for all of us, as Julian Assange, editor and publisher of Wikileaks, faces extradition to the USA to face 175 years imprisonment and possible execution for publishing news material that was in the public interest.
    If publishers cannot publish material that is in the public interest, without fear of charges and imprisonment (and possibly death), then this affects all of us if we want to live in a country that allows for truth and transparency, no matter how uncomfortable it might be.
    This has implications for the future of our country.
    All individuals, organisations, community groups and councils and Governments have a stake in this.
    All have a voice – and all should be allowed the right to exercise that voice.

  16. @ Jonathan Pilbrow. “(Punishment) for publishing news material that was in the public interest.”
    Wow. That’s a neat throwaway line that whitewashes the enormity of what Assange actually did.
    Many, many American families are still grieving today for the sons and brothers and daughters and sisters whose undercover lives behind enemy terrorist lines were revealed and “disappeared” when Assange indiscriminately disclosed details that helped identify them to the enemy.
    A keyboard warrior, safe in his underground virtue signalling nerd world, snuffed their lives.
    He did not even have the decency, far less respected them and their loved ones, before he went for glory as a self-styled martyr to the “public interest”.
    Many people would argue that he deserves the same fate. Citizenship or no citizenship issue.

  17. Oh the wriggly comments, John Bell, trying to sound legitimate.
    Obviously there are a lot of people in Alice Springs who feel strongly about the issue of Julian and human rights. That is why they are collecting signatures and pushing the Council to make a statement. The Council must respond and act in the interests of the community. That is all that is being asked.
    [Such a letter] has already been written by 6 councils now. One is the Geneva City Council in Switzerland! They care more about an Australian than you do.
    You are simply not going to stick up for an Aussie who has committed no crime and is being tortured in solitary confinement for nearly a year while only on remand. He has no charges as yet, and should be on bail at the very least.
    There are millions of people around the world who care about Julian, and care about human rights and are doing whatever they can. Others like yourself are making excuses for not wanting to.

  18. And for the record John Bell, Julian did not disclose the information you are talking about.
    It was the Guardian Newspaper who released a password to the un-redacted material, not Wikileaks.
    This is well documented and even the US prosecutors in the show trial that is taking place in the UK had to be corrected. Furthermore, Julian made great efforts to warn the US authorities that this had happened and that they should take steps to protect people.
    They ignored him.
    Some of the phone calls he made to the White House are actually on a film that was being made at the time.
    You obviously have only heard what the BS mainstream media have made you believe, and have made no effort to find out the truth. I think you should listen to those people who are asking for signatures and hear what they are saying first. Listen to both sides before you go and make foolish statements about the “what Julian actually did”.

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