Anthony Albanese says he has personally advocated on behalf of Julian Assange to the US government and has urged it to drop its legal pursuit of the WikiLeaks co-founder.
In his most substantial public comments on the matter in months, the Prime Minister said he did not have “personal sympathy” for the publisher and activist, but that it was time for the matter to be brought to an end.
Mr Assange remains in Belmarsh prison in London as he fights a US attempt to extradite him to face more than a dozen espionage charges in connection with the release of leaked documents and confidential diplomatic cables by WikiLeaks.
The 51-year-old Australian citizen has been held in custody in the UK since 2019, with his family and other supporters calling on the federal government to intervene in his case to bring him home.
Mr Albanese said earlier this year that he wouldn’t publicly intervene, after the UK Home office ordered Mr Assange’s extradition to the US.
He said at the time Labor would opt for quiet diplomacy in an bid to secure Mr Assange’s release, rather than conducting “diplomacy by megaphone”.
But he revealed in parliament on Wednesday he had personally raised the issue with the US government, adding that the Australian commonwealth government would continue lobbying for his release.
“I have raised this personally with representatives of the US government; 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,” he said.
Mr Albanese’s remarks came in response to a question from independent MP Monique Ryan during question time in the House of Representatives.
Dr Ryan declared public interest journalism was “essential to democracy” and Assange’s freedom would “only come from political intervention”.
“Will the government intervene to bring Mr Assange home?” she asked.
Later in question time on Wednesday, Mr Albanese defended Industry Minister Ed Husic for refusing to reveal details of the government’s plan to combat spiralling energy costs.
Federal cabinet is mulling a proposal to intervene in the gas market to bring down runaway wholesale energy prices, with the government promising to unveil a policy by Christmas.
The government is believed to be considering capping the wholesale price of gas and enforcing a mandatory code of conduct for gas producers which would include shoring up a guaranteed domestic supply from them.
Deputy Liberal leader Sussan Ley used question time on Wednesday to seize on an interview given by Mr Husic on ABC Radio National that morning, in which he deflected questions about the government’s policy.
“When he was asked what would happen if Queensland rejected Labor’s half-baked plan on power prices, the minister could only say, ‘Let’s wait and see’,” Ms Ley began her question to the Prime Minister.
“The minister could only say, ‘I could love Queensland.’ Because when pushed on the actual details, the minister said, ‘I was hoping you would not ask for details.’”
Ms Ley has often used question time to attack the Albanese government over power prices and Labor’s pre-election promise to reduce power bills by $275 on average from 2025.
Mr Albanese responded to her question on Wednesday by saying he thought Mr Husic had done very well in his interview, adding that he loved Queensland as well.
“The third point is that the minister is quite right, there is this thing called cabinet and when asked what cabinet discussions were about, it is appropriate to say something like, ‘I hoped you wouldn’t ask that question,” Mr Albanese said.
“Because you don’t reveal cabinet discussions. I know that would seem bizarre to those opposite.”
Mr Albanese said the government intended to stick to its self-imposed timeline of releasing its power prices policy by Christmas.