Julian Assange has done us a huge favour, and we owe him a debt of thanks.
Not just because he’s lifted up the rock of international diplomacy and made the diplomats and politicians writhe and squirm in the light of global scrutiny – though he has certainly done that.
Not just because he has revealed some of the secrets and deceit behind our own foreign policy, and demonstrated the gap between what our leaders tell us and what they really believe.
And not because he has revealed the often corrosive role of U.S. policy in its relentless drive to shore up American interests. By letting the world’s people know how the U.S. is pressuring or driving the actions of their own governments behind the scenes, they have forever weakened that power.
These things Wikileaks have done are of massive importance. But perhaps they are equally powerful as a demonstration of, a case study in, or even a fable of free speech.
These current disclosures by Wikileaks has been a clear demonstration of the power information can have. Every person in Australia – and indeed the world – who has read or watched the news in the last few weeks has had a lesson in journalism and in whistleblowing. The actions of the our own government have made sure the lesson was driven home in an unforgettable way.
By piling on Assange, by accusing him of criminality, our Prime Minister sought to talk tough on a supposed threat to our security. But it has backfired. We have seen through it. Assange has become David to a Government Goliath. He’s nothing short of a national hero.
That’s because the people know. They know that embarrassing the government is not a crime. Forcing transparency on our elected representatives is not terrorism. Reporting the truth is not, and must never be, against the law.
A mature government, a confident government, could have weathered the storm, explained the embarrassing leaks as grist for the mill of global politics, and defended Assange’s rights without endorsing his actions. But they chose the cowardly way. We noticed, and we were disgusted.
What this means that the next time our government try to tighten their control over information, people will sit up. People will ask questions. When the government tries to censor the free flow of information on the internet, they will talk about protecting children. They will talk about violence, and predators. They will scare us with talk of terrorists and security, telling us that censorship is for our own protection.
But we will think of Assange. We will think of our right to know what our leaders really think of the wars we are embroiled in, or that members of our own government are sources of information for a foreign embassy. We will think of politicians scrambling to protect their own image, and their own jobs. And we will say: No. We will not let you censor, suppress, expunge. Because you work for us, and free speech is the only safeguard we have to hold you accountable.
Wikileaks has demonstrated this beyond a doubt. For this, we owe Julian Assange our support.