Last Thursday 25 March, during the Senate Estimates Hearing, Greens Senator for Victoria, Janet Rice (pictured left), asked Foreign Minister Marise Payne (pictured right) to explain her failure to act to free Australian journalist Julian Assange from his imprisonment in Belmarsh Prison in London.
Given the very short time allowed for Janet Rice to pursue this issue, she did remarkably well in cutting through Marise Payne's evasions and attempts to obfuscate the issue.
The from Twitter, is embedded below and the text of the exchange between Senators Janet Rice and Marise Payne is included below the video.
Exchange between Senator Janet Rice and Senator Marise Payne on Julian Assange
Janet Rice : So, on Julian Assange, Minister, have you personally requested to the Biden administration that they drop their appeal against the UK court finding to not extradite Julian Assange.
Marise Payne : Senator, I said in response to Senator Patrick, that I had not discussed this directly with the Biden administration at this stage, but I expect it to be discussed in meetings with the Secretary of State (the United States equivalent of Foreign Minister).
Janet Rice : OK, and when do you expect those meetings to occur?
Marise Payne : In the coming months.
Janet Rice : Months?
Marise Payne : Well, Senator, nothing is confirmed because we are making arrangements in relation to travel. If I am not able to do that in person, then I will be raising a number of issues in a virtual engagement that will be sooner.
Janet Rice : And this is despite the reporting that if you had actually raised the issue of Julian Assange with the Trump administration to drop the charges, that they were very likely to have done so?
Marise Payne : Well, I did raise the matter with the Trump administration, Senator. I raised the matter with the Secretary of State, myself directly at AUSMIN (Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations) in July 2020.
Janet Rice : Well, in the last month, the Trump administration - that secondary reporting - but I will move on. Were DFAT (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade) officials told that Julian Assange is on suicide watch from the time that of his arrival at Belmarsh Prison on 11 April 2019?
Marise Payne : Senator, while the [DFAT] officer is going to brief, I would remind you, Senator, as I have in the Senate, that the Australian Government has endeavoured to offer consular assistance …
Janet Rice : My time is short, Minister and I am aware that you …
Marise Payne : And I have two things to say, Senator. The consular assistance on 22 occasions, from 2019 to 2021, DFAT - consent was withdrawn for DFAT to consult about Mr Assange's personal circumstances, his health and his welfare in prison on the 13th of June 2019 by Mr Assange. So, given consent was withdrawn, Senator …
Janet Rice : I am asking you about the time between his arrival on the 11th of April until the 13th of June when DFAT had his consent.