Make way for Assange, the political stuntman
There is no more reliable indicator of mainstream opinion in Australia than the ABC program Q&A. Here’s how it works. You take any issue that receives wild and spontaneous applause from the Q&A crowd, reverse it, and then you know exactly what mainstream Australia is thinking.
So it was when Julian Assange popped up in March last year with a surprise question to Prime Minister Julia Gillard during one of her solo appearances on Q&A.
The crowd went bananas as their boy asked Ms Gillard was it true her Government had exchanged intelligence with foreign powers about the conduct of Australian WikiLeaks activists and, if so, whether she should be charged with treason.
It’s the kind of question which is almost unhinged enough to prompt a quick phone call to the local sanatorium to see if Jules could check in for a lie-down.
Yet on Q&A, it almost got him a standing ovation.
“What Australian citizens want to know is which country do you represent?” Assange began, deigning to speak on behalf all 22 million of us who, despite having some gripes about the manner of Ms Gillard’s election victory, are still reasonably clear on the fact that she is the Prime Minister of Australia.
He culminated with the suggestion that Ms Gillard, as a de facto war criminal who had endangered the lives of his comrades, should be charged with treason.
At least Tony Jones had enough a wry sense of humour to tell the PM: “You can take the treason part first if you like.”
In reality, the chances of the Prime Minister being charged with treason are about as likely as Julian Assange becoming Senator Assange at next year’s election.
The WikiLeaks founder confirmed yesterday that he intends to run for the Federal Parliament at next year’s election, and is close to having the 500 signed-up supporters he requires to form a party.
He will probably have to come out of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London at some stage as well if he intends to hit the campaign trail in earnest.
Assange’s oracle-like propensity to speak on behalf of the entire nation might go down well with the Q&A audience but I would very much doubt that it will endear him to the wider community.
If anything, the perception of Assange and his organisation has cooled as he has looked more and more like an egotist and a narcissist who is more interested in cultivating his profile than being a genuine force for good.
That’s not to say his organisation did not do some good things.
As a journalist I would argue that some of the information released by WikiLeaks was wholly in the public interest, such as the gruesome footage of US Marines shooting upon Iraqi civilians. But the fact that makes WikiLeaks different from a media organisation is its total and consistent disregard for, first, checking the veracity of the material it publishes, and then considering the results of that publication.
Hence the release of files which compromised the safety of US State Department officials and identified dissidents in China and Iran, resulting in their harassment by their repressive governments.
WikiLeaks also forced an African journalist to flee his home, escaping from Ethiopia to Uganda, after being the subject of government threats once his identity and activities were revealed.
Given Assange’s hostility to the establishment and his clear belief that long-standing institutions should be challenged if not destroyed, it is difficult to fathom what he intends to achieve as a Member of Parliament anyway - perhaps call up bureaucrats from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, or the Office of National Assessments, so that he can reveal their identities in Parliament.
Who knows, the absence of any stated policy agenda makes it look more like a pretty transparent case of self-promotion.
It’s almost as though with every passing month Assange feels the need to keep himself in the headlines and pops up with a self-aggrandising statement or publicity stunt, of which this is merely the latest.
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