Beware if Mr Assange goes to Canberra


Julian Assange headshotAs Australia's unofficial election campaign grinds dispiritedly towards a distant polling day, the plans of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange to seek a Victorian Senate seat are providing a diverting sideshow.

Last week those plans took a small step closer to fulfillment when the Australian Electoral Commission placed Assange's name, as a citizen residing abroad, on the electoral roll for the House of Representatives seat of Isaacs, held by Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus.

To write about Assange is to risk immediately being classed either among his tormentors or among those for whom he long ago transcended mere hero status, becoming instead a sort of messiah who will save this fallen world from treacherous politicians and their minions.

In some eyes, by having described the cult of Assange in this way I will have declared myself to be one of the tormentors.

And unfortunately, so enmeshed in whispers of conspiracy has the debate about Assange become, they may not be dissuaded if I protest that I think it risible to label him a dangerous security threat; that I think Wikileaks' publication of US diplomatic cables usefully served the peoples of the world by opening a window on to the dealings between their governments; and that I think the Swedish prosecutor should travel to London to question Assange about the sexual-assault allegations against him, rather than insisting on his extradition.

And for the record, I think the US military justice system's treatment of Bradley Manning, who is accused of providing Wikileaks with the diplomatic cables, has been brutal and appalling. So there.

My concern is not with Assange's activities as editor-in-chief of Wikileaks. Nor is it with the related debate about whether Wikileaks and similar websites are a democratic means of wresting control of the dissemination of information from traditional news media (which, to Assange cultists, are as untrusworthy as the governments they purport to cover).

It is not the Assange who aspired to strut the global stage, whether as messiah or as a naughty boy, who bothers me. It is the Assange of recently diminished ambition, who now apparently aspires only to strut the corridors of Parliament House.

I am not suggesting, of course, that he should be barred from nominating as a candidate. He possesses the same right to do so as any other citizen who has not been convicted of a crime. And I acknowledge that, as some have suggested, entering the Senate race may be a ruse intended to forestall his arrest and extradition (though just how that is supposed to work is unclear).

But so far there is no reason not to accept the Senate plan at face value. Prominent Australians are organising support for his candidacy, and it seems that Assange in Victoria and the lawyer and activist Kellie Tranter in NSW will run under the banner of the Wikileaks Party.

And that's what niggles. The Wikileaks Party. Think about that name. Wikileaks, Assange assured the world during his editor-in-chief, pre-Ecuadorean embassy days, existed to hold governments to account. All of them. And it was therefore necessarily independent of them.

Whether or not one accepted Assange's self-description as a journalist, or preferred to call him a source, as the New York Times and The Guardian did during their alliances with him, Wikileaks and traditional news media had one claim in common: they could be trusted to report fairly on political process because they were not part of it.

The further claim of Wikileaks was that its claim was the stronger, because it was not beholden to any other corporate, sectional or private interest, either. Wikileaks, so the argument went, was what the traditional media had only pretended to be.

Perhaps it was. But what of Assange? The reality is that the man who, like so many before him, promised to keep the bastards honest is now intent on joining the bastards.

One could, of course, maintain that he won't be like other politicians, that he won't really be a 'politician' at all. And some earnest cultists probably will maintain that.

But would it not be more honest to say that in the trajectory from journalistic messiah to expat candidate Assange has, unintentionally, given us a salutary election-year lesson. The democratic process, for all its frustrations and openness to corruption, and for all the venality of most of its practitioners, remains all we've got. Beware those who promise to save us from it. 

Ray Cassin headshotRay Cassin is a contributing editor.

Topic tags: Ray Cassin, Julian Assange, Wikileaks



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Existing comments

This article seems to be entirely without a point.
Marilyn | 05 March 2013

Democracy is all we have and gives us the freedom to elect our own dictator.
Father John George | 05 March 2013

I note with respect that the author Ray Cassin, a journalist with The Age, was an opponent of the Iraq War. Reminder: Bradley Manning and WikiLeaks helped bring that war to an end. What does Mr Cassin propose Assange should do, given that he has been totally abandoned by his government (aside from the Greens) and the Australian media (aside from a select few including Fairfax reporter Phil Dorling aka @ausflatfish)? By running for the Senate, Julian Assange is taking a potentially life-saving gamble that the Australian people care about his plight. This is the true essence of Democracy, by any definition. Julian Assange is an Aussie hero who needs all the help he can get. For more information, please see Gary Lord
Jaraparilla | 05 March 2013

Excellent article, Ray.Julian Assange seems to be an anarchist who has ended up as somewhat of a practical nihilist. I take your point about Bradley Manning. Assange, intellectually, could do very much what the Anarchists did to the Republic during the Spanish Civil War. It is easy to be cynical about democracy from a safe armchair here, as some of its deriders are wont to do, but people in countries like Syria would love to be here and not go through what they are. You'd have to be mad not to support democracy. It's the only system where rulers can be held responsible, if necessary by the law.
Edward F | 06 March 2013

Jarapilla, did you mean to write, "Whether or not one accepted Cassin's self-description as a journalist"? Edward F, "You'd have to be mad not to support democracy. It's the only system where rulers can be held responsible, if necessary by the law", what, like how Italy has been able to prosecute and jail (if need be) its rampantly stupid and dangerous ex national leader? Or the Blair war criminal? Or the US war criminals who face no courts for years of illegal activities, or Israel for building and holding atomic bombs? Or Pakistan, another 'democracy', or those Indian politicians who condone and promote the rape of Indian women, the worlds biggest 'democracy'. Seems to me there is not much practical difference between a 'democracy' and a modern China, both rely on massive corruption to operate, protection of thieving elites, and above all, all rely on major sales of arms around the world. As for Assange, he will not achieve sufficient primary votes and no party of any credible size will send preferences his way. After all, the ALP would rather help Family First and the DLP and the Coalition will be assisting anything that promotes any and every form of denial and negative policies.
Janice Wallace | 06 March 2013

Ray Cassin sounds like a cross between Yes Minister and the late Don Chipp. Julian Assange, in his view, seems to be an outsider opposed to the system joining that system. Keeping the bastards honest from outside is different from keeping the bastards honest from inside, so he suggests. A greater worry is that a successful Julian Assange might never take up his seat in the Senate. His replacement, thanks to Malcolm Fraser's Constitutional amendment of 1977, must be someone from the same political party. Is Wikileaks a political party? The replacement, filled by a joint sitting of both houses of the parliament of Victoria, might be someone from a different political party that the majority of Assange voters might not want. Whether from the Wikileaks party or otherwise his replacement might hold the balance of power in the upper chamber. Scary thoughts.
Lyle Allan | 06 March 2013

This article is unhelpful though I respect the author's prior statement of his bona fides. At this point, i believe, Assange deserves an easy armchair more than some of those sitting in those chairs now. He has struggled heroically for good public interest causes and, as I know, people who do such work are seldom rewarded or recognised by their home communities - it is well said that a prophet has no honour in his own country. Bradley Manning is suffering hugely, far more than Assange, but we cannot help him directly. We can make a powerful and useful political point to the US by voting Assange into the Senate or at least voting in large numbers for him. Here in the ACT I will be voting for Simon Sheikh. Good luck in Victoria, Julian.
tony kevin | 06 March 2013

Seems Mr Cassin has a very dim view of politicians and how governments treat their citizens. ie. Bradley Manning. Time for a change Mr Cassin give Wikileaks a try - couldn't be much worse could it? If it was you could always vote them out. You admit politicians are rotten so do something about it vote for Wikileaks they may end up being something completely unfamiliar - honest politicians.
Ann | 06 March 2013

You were fine until your last sentence. Assange never said he was saving us from the democratic process. Rather his stated goal is to make it honest and transparent. So beware those who seek to lock up whistle blowers. The best journalists have always been whistle blowers, showing us what's going on behind our backs.
TruthAloneTriumphs | 06 March 2013

"The democratic process, for all its frustrations and openness to corruption, and for all the venality of most of its practitioners, remains all we've got. Beware those who promise to save us from it." I don't think that saving us from the democratic process is the purpose of Wikileaks (though I suppose it may be for some). Rather it tries to make that process more open by making voters more informed about government. Thus "Wikileaks Party" is not an oxymoron or a denial of the original purpose of Wikileaks. (I have no particular opinion about Mr. Asange being a candidate, being, as a North American, not very familiar with Australian politics)
Malik | 07 March 2013

Assange wants to 'strut' does he? So should every human being. Or are you suggesting we all learn to crawl and petition 'our betters' for what is our human birth right?
damien | 02 April 2013


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