Supporters of Julian Assange have welcomed Kevin Rudd’s appointment as Australia’s ambassador to the United States, saying they are hopeful he will use the position to press the Biden administration to drop espionage charges against the WikiLeaks founder.
Assange remains in London’s Belmarsh prison in London as he fights a US attempt to extradite him to face charges over the publication of hundreds of thousands of classified documents and diplomatic cables relating to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
As far back as 2010, when he was serving as foreign minister, Rudd had insisted that the US government and whoever leaked the documents should be held responsible for the disclosure rather than Assange.
Former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd has been a vocal opponent of Julian Assange’s extradition to the United States.
In a 2019 letter to the Bring Julian Assange Home Queensland Network, Rudd said Assange would pay an “unacceptable” and “disproportionate” price if he was extradited to the US.
Rudd said he could not see the difference between Assange’s actions and the editors of American media outlets who reported the material, adding that the US had failed to secure classified information appropriately.
“The result was the mass leaking of sensitive diplomatic cables, including some that caused me some political discomfort at the time,” he wrote.
“However, an effective life sentence is an unacceptable and disproportionate price to pay. I would therefore oppose his extradition.”
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese appointed Rudd to the nation’s most prestigious diplomatic posting on Tuesday, saying he would “conduct himself in a way that brings great credit to Australia”.
Assange’s father John Shipton noted that Rudd’s views reflect those of Albanese, who last month said he had personally raised Assange’s case with US officials.
“My position is clear and has been made clear to the US administration – that it is time that this matter be brought to a close,” Albanese told parliament.
Shipton said: “Ambassador Rudd is, from my view, a vigorous, experienced and skilled diplomat.”
He added that Rudd was “no doubt fully aware” of Albanese’s position on Assange’s “dire circumstances”.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is facing extradition to the US to face espionage charges.
Lawyer Greg Barns, an adviser to the Australian Assange campaign, said: “The appointment of Kevin Rudd should assist Prime Minister Albanese push to end the US pursuit of Assange.
“Mr Rudd has been supportive of Julian’s position and we look forward to his being able to ensure there is an end to this case.”
Chelsea Manning, the former army soldier who leaked the classified material, was sentenced to 35 years in jail but had her term commuted after six years by then-president Barack Obama in one of his final acts in office.
Earlier this year Rudd blasted then-UK home secretary Priti Patel’s decision to certify Assange’s extradition to the US to face charges under the Espionage Act.
“I disagree with this decision,” Rudd said on Twitter.
“I do not support Assange’s actions and his reckless disregard for classified security information.
“But if Assange is guilty, then so too are the dozens of newspaper editors who happily published his material. Total hypocrisy.”
A spokesman for Rudd pointed to his past statements on the issue when asked for comment.
In a statement following his appointment, which will begin in March, Rudd said: “Our national interest continues to be served, as it has for decades past, by the deepest and most effective strategic engagement of the United States in the region.”
Wikileaks /The Sydney Morning Herald