Unlikely political alliance for ’urgent’ cause

Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce and independent Monique Ryan have detailed their plans to fly to the US and lobby the Biden administration to drop charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

In a rare moment of political unity, Dr Ryan and Mr Joyce will join a bipartisan delegation to fly to Washington DC in late October to fight active US attempts to extradite Mr Assange from a British prison.

“There’s a real degree of urgency about this, and we know Mr Assange’s health is really poor, and it’s actively deteriorating,” Dr Ryan told the ABC on Wednesday.

“The Australian people want this over and enough is enough – it’s time to bring him home.”

Mr Assange has been detained in Belmarsh Prison for more than four years and faces charges relating to the publication of hundreds of thousands of leaked documents about the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

Mr Joyce and Dr Ryan will travel with Labor MP Tony Zappia, Liberal senator Alex Antic and Greens senators Peter Whish-Wilson and David Shoebridge to negotiate with members of the US Congress and Senate.

The group will highlight that former US Army soldier Chelsea Manning, who leaked documents about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, was released from prison in 2020.

Mr Joyce, who has long argued the WikiLeaks founder should either be tried in Britain or sent back to Australia, said the US had set a “very bad” legal precedent in its pursuit of Mr Assange.

“If he ends up in the United States and goes to jail for 100, possibly 175 years, I think a lot of us might think that we failed in our duty to an Australian citizen,” he said.

“We’re not going over there to lecture or to create a fight. It’s really important that if we believe in the principle of law in Australia, then we stand by it.”

The cross-party visit will come before Anthony Albanese flies to the US for his first prime ministerial meeting with US President Joe Biden in late October.

Both the Prime Minister and his political opponent Peter Dutton have publicly backed political intervention to free Mr Assange, with Mr Albanese declaring in June that he had made his stance “very clear” to Mr Biden.

When asked about the rare bipartisan team-up, Mr Joyce said politicians were expected to battle it out in the chamber but they “don’t play rugby in the change room”.

“I’ll be supporting the efforts of the Prime Minister of Australia to also bring this issue to a conclusion,” the former deputy prime minister said.

Dr Ryan agreed that it was rare for herself and Mr Joyce to agree on political matters but said they shared an ideal outcome to secure key conversations with major US players and affect lasting changes.

“A win for us is to secure Mr Assange’s freedom and I think that many people, both in parliament but also on the streets of Australia, will be behind us.”

Originally published as Political leaders details plans to free WikiLeaks founder

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