Assange is a figure whom Australians are ashamed to call our own

They want their government to care about them and their everyday challenges, not fete and lionize a now-convicted criminal

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WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange arrives back in Australia (Getty Images)
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Convicted spy Julian Assange has come home to Australia. Assange’s chartered private jet touched down in Australia’s capital, Canberra, early in the evening local time to a hero’s reception. That the plea-bargaining deal ensuring his freedom was executed in a remote courthouse on the American territorial island of Saipan, in the isolated western Pacific but satisfying American demand that Assange be convicted on American territory, added a bizarre touch of the exotic to the whole tawdry business. It was a rubber stamp stopover en route from London to Canberra.

It’s appropriate the deed was done on…

Convicted spy Julian Assange has come home to Australia. Assange’s chartered private jet touched down in Australia’s capital, Canberra, early in the evening local time to a hero’s reception. That the plea-bargaining deal ensuring his freedom was executed in a remote courthouse on the American territorial island of Saipan, in the isolated western Pacific but satisfying American demand that Assange be convicted on American territory, added a bizarre touch of the exotic to the whole tawdry business. It was a rubber stamp stopover en route from London to Canberra.

It’s appropriate the deed was done on Saipan. After all, the island was liberated from brutal Japanese occupation in 1944 by American land and sea forces in bitter and bloody fighting costing tens of thousands of lives. The vital operation’s success was, in no small measure, due to top-secret planning and intelligence gathering that was not compromised by recklessly dangerous publicity of the sort that Assange and Wikileaks gave to security operations in Afghanistan, and elsewhere, through their mass dumps of ill-gotten documents.

It’s doubtful that Assange would even be aware of the history of the place that confirmed his freedom, and the irony of it happening there. As far as he and his supporters are concerned, he has been vindicated and triumphed over his enemies.

Australian prime minister Anthony Albanese has been eager to take credit for brokering the plea-bargain deal that saw Assange plead guilty to just one charge of espionage in exchange for time served on remand in Britain. “I am pleased that he is on his way home to Australia to reunite with his family here,” he told Australia’s parliament on Wednesday.

“Over the two years since we took office the government has engaged and advocated, including at the leader level, to resolve this. We have used all appropriate channels, this outcome has been the product of careful, patient and determined work — work I am very proud of,” he added.

Having previously insisted that Assange was receiving “normal consular assistance” through his legal battles with Britain and the United States, Albanese also confirmed what TV pictures from Saipan revealed: that Assange’s entourage for the trip home included both Australia’s ambassador to the US, former prime minister Kevin Rudd, and its high commissioner to the UK, former Labour foreign minister Stephen Smith. For any other Australian standing accused in a foreign court, “normal consular assistance” would be a junior official on a first posting, if that.

Instead, it’s the prodigal son being welcomed home, flags waving and bands playing, with Albanese the overjoyed father killing the fatted calf for the homecoming feast.

If, however, it’s being assumed outside Australia that all Australians are jumping for joy at the news of Assange’s freedom and return, think again. For every Australian politician, journalist and activist who hail Assange as a hero of press freedom, and a shiner of light on the less savory doings of Western governments, militaries and security services, there are many more who shudder with revulsion at the very thought of him and his actions.

An Australian frontbench opposition MP, Jane Hume, spoke for the silent majority when she said of Assange’s release:

He recklessly released information that put counterintelligence and intelligence communities at risk, and more importantly… Those brave Afghani and Iraqi members of their public, that were working towards bringing down their totalitarian regimes, that were working with coalition forces, were also put at risk. He left them out there and I don’t know how many lives have been lost. I don’t know whether we will ever know that. But we certainly know that the last fourteen years for those people, if they are still with us, has been a very difficult and frightening experience and that’s because of a choice that Julian Assange made. And a law that he is now admitting that he has broken.

Hume said what many Australians were thinking, but she only went to the actual charges against Assange. She didn’t mention the others who were thrown to the wolves, such as former US soldier Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning. She didn’t mention the sexual assault allegations against Assange, which he denied and which Swedish prosecutors later dropped. And she didn’t mention Assange’s vile and obnoxious behavior towards his unwilling hosts in London’s Ecuadorian embassy before he was thrown out and handed over to British authorities.

In short, many if not most Australians are anything but proud of Assange and are revolted by his personal conduct, but especially by what Wikileaks did and how it did it.

Assange is a figure whom are ashamed to call our own, and he has brought shame on Australia’s international reputation. He has returned here simply because he is an Australian citizen. His adopted country, the United Kingdom, hasn’t kept him, and the United States surely will bar him for life. He has nowhere else to go.

The political and media circus surrounding Assange’s return, not least the VIP treatment of an Australian government-chartered plane and top-level diplomatic escort (the costs to be recovered from Assange, but good luck with that!), is galling to average Australians struggling to cope with cost-of-living pressures, exorbitant energy prices, and high mortgage rates. They want their government to care about them and their everyday challenges, not fete and lionize a now-convicted criminal whose actions endangered the security of not only the US and Britain, but Australia and the West as a whole.

We would rather be shot of Julian Assange. Now we are stuck with him. He has paid a price for what he has admitted to doing, but many Australians share Jane Hume’s well-expressed reservations about what he did, and doubt that price truly is enough.

This article was originally published on The Spectator’s UK website.