There is a media article out today accusing our PM of “sucking up to Americans” (i.e. Oprah) instead of helping Julian Assange*. Just so we are clear – Julian Assange is entitled to consular assistance while overseas, which I believe he has been receiving. Consular assistance is not and never has been provided in person by the Prime Minister of Australia. I don’t have any issue with the PM talking to Oprah, who could be worth millions if not billions in free advertising to Australian tourism. In fact I think it’s exactly what she should be doing. If one of the most powerful personalities in the world wants to highlight that Julia is the first female PM in Australia then good for her. There is nothing wrong with what our Prime Minister is doing.
Now, there seems to be some confusion over what consular assistance actually means. So here is a little bit of info from the DFAT website on consular assistance.
Examples of what we CAN DO to help Australians overseas include:
* visit or contact Australians who are arrested and arrange for their family to be informed (if they wish)
* contact relatives and friends on an Australian’s behalf and ask them to assist with money or tickets
There are limits to the levels of assistance consular officers can provide. Examples of what we CANNOT DO to help Australians overseas include:
*give legal advice, investigate crimes overseas or intervene in court proceedings
*get Australians out of prison or obtain special treatment for Australians in prison
Also from the website:
Helping Australians arrested or detained overseas
Approximately 750 Australians are arrested overseas each year. For Australians arrested overseas, operating within unfamiliar legal systems and procedures can be distressing and frightening.
Australian consular officers provide a range of assistance to Australians detained overseas to help ensure their welfare is protected, and that they are subject to a fair judicial process according to local legal procedures (emphasis added). This may include visiting the person regularly in detention, providing general information about the country’s legal system and local prison system, offering a list of local English-speaking lawyers, helping them to contact their family, and attending their trial as an observer (if approved by the local authorities).
Consular officers can approach local authorities to request that an Australian detainee’s basic needs are met and that humanitarian standards of treatment are respected. However, they cannot organise better treatment for an Australian than that provided to the host country’s own citizens.
Local laws and legal processes
Local laws and legal processes overseas can be very different to those in Australia and harsh penalties may apply (for example the death penalty for some drug offences). The Australian Government cannot intervene in another country’s legal system or seek to impose Australian standards on the judicial process of that country. Australians would not tolerate foreign government intervention in our legal processes, (emphasis added) and we cannot expect a different standard to apply in other countries.
Australian missions overseas do not have Australian lawyers to assist Australians who are arrested, detained or jailed overseas. It is the responsibility of each individual to organise their own legal representation. The mission can however provide Australians with a list of local lawyers with relevant experience and qualifications. Locally-trained lawyers, who are familiar with the laws and legal processes of the country, are best-placed to provide assistance.
The Australian Government as a general rule does not pay legal fees for arrested, detained or jailed Australians. A consular officer can however make arrangements for an individual’s family or friends to pay for lawyers.
Consular officers can also inform arrested Australians about how to apply to the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department under the Special Circumstances (Overseas) Scheme for financial assistance to cover overseas legal costs and related expenses. Assistance under this Scheme is provided only in the most exceptional circumstances and it is not intended to be used for hiring a private lawyer in place of a court-appointed lawyer or public defender.
No where does it say that the Australian Prime Minister is a part of the process. Also, and this is just my humble opinion, if you are setting out to deliberately embarrass the Australian Government, then it’s a bit bold to then turn around and demand that the Prime Minister intercede on your behalf because you are in trouble with foreign authorities.
*yes, it’s been said by his Mum. I can understand that his Mum is worried about him but it’s still no excuse for attacking the PM.