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Dr Kristian Lasslett Headshot

'Gillileaks' and Australia's Hypocrisy Over Julian Assange

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When Julian Assange and Wikileaks released a cache of US government cables in 2010, Australia's prime minister, Julia Gillard, denounced the leak in the strongest terms.

She opined, "I absolutely condemn the placement of this information on the WikiLeaks website. It's a grossly irresponsible thing to do and an illegal thing to do."

Fast forward three years, and it would appear the Australian government has had a road to Damascus experience. Leaks it appears aren't all bad, especially when they damage foreign governments threatening Australian corporate interests. Indeed so profound is the conversion that the Gillard government is now in the Wikileaks game itself.

Let me provide the political context. In 2001 Australian mining giant BHP Billiton signed over its shares in the Papua New Guinea (PNG) copper mine, Ok Tedi, to a charitable trust, PNG Sustainable Development Program (PNGSDP). In return, the PNG government agreed to indemnify BHP over the environmental disaster its mine had caused.

Since 2001 BHP has retained control of PNGSDP's board, to the chagrin of PNG's current prime minister, Peter O'Neill.

Accordingly, last year O'Neill attempted to wrestle the reins from BHP. PNGSDP's outgoing chairman, the Australian economist, Ross Garnaut, publicly warned local control risked cooptation by PNG's leaders.

Outraged by the neo-colonial sentiment, prime minister O'Neill slapped a travel ban on Garnaut. As a result, he has been unable to fulfil his other major corporate duty in PNG, the chairmanship of Ok Tedi Mining Limited (OTML).

Garnaut recently resigned as a consequence. However, he has not gone quietly. Last week, a very public media assault was launched.

Excerpts from Garnaut's damning letter of resignation was published in the Australian, he also gave a cutting interview on ABC radio, rich in hyperbole.

"My ban was a low point for Australian diplomacy generally, a low point for PNG development and a low point for Papua New Guinea democracy", Garnaut claimed.

However, it was a front page article in the Australian Financial Review (AFR) published on the same day as Garnaut's media assault that should interest Wikileaks supporters.

The report is based on a leaked document belonging to Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). It includes sordid details on BHP's dispute with O'Neill, as told from the company's perspective.

"He [O'Neill] subsequently blocked our [exploration] lease applications and made it clear they would only be granted if we transferred our rights [PNGSDP] to the government", BHP claimed in the leaked DFAT document.

In short, O'Neill is alleged to have blackmailed Australia's largest miner. This is a hugely damaging attack on the prime minister's reputation, and he has strongly denied the allegations.

There are a number of possible explanations for the DFAT leak. More benignly, perhaps a government official fed up with O'Neill's treatment of BHP felt morally obliged to make this injustice known, at risk of their career.

At the malicious end of the spectrum, it may be that this damaging leak was a coordinated attack jointly organised by DFAT and BHP officials. Given that the AFR report was aired on the very same day Garnaut launched his media assault on O'Neill, this hypothesis is certainly plausible.

Whatever the explanation, the reputation of prime minister O'Neill, and his government, has been seriously tarnished. Yet there has not been a peep from the Australian prime minister or foreign minister on the leak. Not an apology or an explanation.

Surely the Gillard government condemns the DFAT leak - be it intentional or a result of poor data protection - and will launch an inquiry right away?

That journalists are not asking these questions of the government, speaks volumes.

In lieu of public condemnation, silence must be treated as tacit approval, in which case the Australian government should think very long and hard before censuring Julian Assange anytime soon.

More so, if we take into account that Wikileaks documents the crimes of secretive superpowers and shady corporate actors, while in contrast 'Gillileaks' is geared towards the humiliation of Melanesian neighbours looking to wrestle economic independence from Australian mining giants.

In that light I expect Mastercard, Bank of America, VISA, Paypal and Western Union will place a ban on donations to the Australian Labor Party, given their Wikileaks sanctions.

I can't see consistency prevailing here either. The powerful after all dance to a very different tune.

Around the Web

BBC News - Julian Assange row: Ecuador and UK to 'seek solution'

Julian Assange: Wikileaks to release 'million more files in 2013' - BBC

Julian Assange | Media | The Guardian

Julian Assange: expect more from WikiLeaks | Media | guardian.co.uk

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