Caroline Kennedy meets with Assange supporters, fuelling breakthrough hopes

A cross party delegation of Australian politicians has met with United States ambassador Caroline Kennedy to increase the pressure on the Biden administration to drop its pursuit of Julian Assange and warn the WikiLeaks founder’s ongoing incarceration risks undermining the US-Australia alliance.

Assange’s supporters feel heartened by Kennedy’s decision to hold the meeting and are cautiously optimistic that momentum is building for a breakthrough on Assange’s case as he continues to languish in London’s high-security Belmarsh Prison.

US ambassador Caroline Kennedy has met with Australian MPs who want Julian Assange brought back to Australia.

Alex Ellinghausen / AP

The highly sought-after meeting comes at a pivotal moment, just a fortnight before Prime Minister Anthony Albanese hosts Joe Biden for his first presidential visit to Australia and days after Opposition Leader Peter Dutton significantly shifted his rhetoric on Assange’s case.

Kennedy hosted the conveners of the Parliamentary Friends of Julian Assange Group – Labor MP Julian Hill, Liberal MP Brigid Archer, Independent MP Andrew Wilkie and Greens senator David Shoebridge – for a working breakfast on Tuesday at the US embassy in Canberra to hear their views on the issue.

The four members of the delegation stressed that while they have differing views on an array of political topics, they all agree the case against Assange had dragged on for too long and he should be allowed to return to Australia.

Wilkie said he hoped the meeting signalled the Biden administration was interested in a “fresh start” on the issue.

“This is an intensely important time with the US President about to visit,” Wilkie said.

“It would be very unhelpful if he comes to Australia and this issue is still unresolved, it will hang over us all in an uncomfortable way.

“The US and Australia have a very important and close relationship, and it’s time to demonstrate that.”

Asked about the argument that the US justice process should be allowed to play out independently, Wilkie said: “This has always been an inherently political matter and it needs a political solution.”

A spokeswoman for the US Embassy confirmed the meeting had happened but declined to comment further.

Assange’s brother Gabriel Shipton said it was a “good sign” Kennedy had agreed to the meeting and thanked the MPs for presenting a petition of 26,000 signatures calling for Assange to be freed.

“It’s significant that the US government is aware of the considerable support for Julian inside the Parliament as well as among the public,” he said.

Hill, who led the push for the meeting, said : “I thanked the ambassador for her willingness to engage so she can communicate the strength of views across the political spectrum on this issue back to Washington D.C.

“We communicated that the US needs to lead a political resolution on this issue and bring the matter to a close.

“Aside from the issues at stake in Julian’s case, the delay in resolving it is an unwelcome distraction from AUKUS and our work with the US to confront the strategic challenges we face.”

Biden will address a joint sitting of Parliament in Canberra in a fortnight’s time before travelling to Sydney for the Quad leaders summit alongside Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

Albanese last week said he was frustrated by his inability to convince the Biden administration to drop its extradition request for Assange, saying he had left United States officials with no doubt about his position on the matter.

Dutton – who had previously been highly critical of Assange – followed by saying that Assange’s case had gone on for too long and should be brought to a conclusion.

The United States Justice Department has charged Assange with 17 counts of breaching the Espionage Act, plus a separate hacking-related charge, and has been seeking to extradite him from the United Kingdom since 2019.

Shoebridge described the meeting with Kennedy as “productive”, saying it allowed the parliamentarians an opportunity to convey the widespread support for the US to drop its extradition case against Assange.

“The fact that the ambassador allocated precious time to this issue ahead of President Biden’s visit is a useful indication of the visibility of the campaign to free Assange.

“The end of Australia’s ‘quiet diplomacy’ on Assange last week is an important step forward and brings us closer to a just conclusion of the ongoing persecution of Julian Assange.”

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