‘Gaping hole in governance’: Why council backs Assange
BYRON Shire Council will ask for the Federal Government to intervene in the potential extradition of Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange to the US.
Mr Assange, who lived on the Northern Rivers for a number of years, is currently facing an extradition hearing in the UK, which could see him extradited to the US to face 17 charges of espionage and one charge of conspiring to commit computer intrusion.
Deputy mayor Sarah Ndiaye said it was a matter close to her heart, as a former journalist and as someone who had been friends with Julian Assange’s father.
She brought a notice of motion, asking the council to write to the Australian Foreign Affairs Minister “requesting that the Australian government must immediately step in to ensure the British authorities address his poor health condition and to uphold the Human Rights of an Australian citizen” and ask state and federal MPs “to either join or support the Bring Assange Home Parliamentary Group”.
“We can’t let our freedoms and our rights be eroded like this,” she said.
“He is the one who’s been held up to all of us …(saying) this is what can happen to you if you speak up … if you reveal war crimes.”
Cr Ndiaye said while some parliamentarians had formed a cross-party group lobbying to bring Mr Assange back to Australia, she said the Federal Government had not done enough.
“Australia has been doing bugger all,” she said.
Cr Alan Hunter voted against the motion, saying it was not a matter for the council.
“We’ve got far too many potholes, far too many parking issues, far too many local issues,” Cr Hunter said.
“Whatever the result of this, it’s not our area of government.”
He acknowledged Mr Assange had been “poorly treated whilst being incarcerated” but stressed his alleged actions could have put lives at risk.
“I’m as in favour of freedom of the press as anyone is, but not if it’s going to harm lives,” Cr Hunter said.
“I can’t for the life of me, with a clear conscience, go to … my community and say I’m going to waste any more time on this issue because at the end of the day it’s got nothing to do with us, at this level.”
Cr Basil Cameron said a supported the motion, saying as an Australian citizen, Mr Assange should be protected by his country.
“We’re a democratic institution,” he said.
“The most important support for democracy comes from a free press.
“If you don’t have a free press then you really don’t have democracy.
“It’s really important we have a democracy that is open and transparent and accountable to its citizens.
Cr Michael Lyon said Mr Assange “is an Australian hero”.
“Our freedoms in this country and countries around the world are being eroded almost on a daily basis,” he said.
Cr Ndiaye said the issue “requires cross party support”.
“It is everybody’s freedom, it is everybody’s democracy that’s at stake here,” she said.
“I would love to be able to leave this to the federal government.
“But unfortunately, like climate change, like so many federal, issues we have to step in (because) they’re leaving a gaping hole in governance.”
All councillors except Cr Hunter (and Cr Paul Spooner, who was absent) supported the motion.
Richmond MP Justine Elliot said given Mr Assange’s currently legal proceedings in the UK, it was “to comment publicly while that process is underway”.
“As Julian is an Australian citizen, he, like any Australian citizen facing legal difficulties overseas, is entitled to consular assistance provided through Australia’s overseas missions. I understand this assistance has been offered to Julian through the Australian High Commission in London, and this will continue to be the case,” she said.
“Labor is also concerned about reports that Julian’s health has been deteriorating while in custody. The Shadow Attorney-General and Shadow Foreign Minister have written to the Australian Government requesting that Australia press the UK Government to ensure that Julian receives appropriate medical care.”
Ms Elliot has not said whether she will join the cross-party group calling for Mr Assange’s release.