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Australia’s most senior diplomat in UK flying with Julian Assange to Saipan | Julian Assange

PoliticsAustralia’s most senior diplomat in UK flying with Julian Assange to Saipan | Julian Assange

Australia’s most senior diplomat in the United Kingdom is accompanying the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, as he flies to a US territory in the Pacific to formalise a plea deal.

The prime minister, Anthony Albanese, confirmed the high-level consular support for Assange while telling parliament on Tuesday: “We want him brought home to Australia.”

The high commissioner to the UK, Stephen Smith, had travelled with Assange out of the country, Albanese said, adding that Australia’s ambassador to the US, Kevin Rudd, was “also providing important assistance”.

Australian politicians have reacted cautiously to reports of a plea deal to end the US pursuit of Assange in connection with the publication of hundreds of thousands of leaked documents about the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, as well as diplomatic cables.

The WikiLeaks X account tweeted that on Tuesday “Julian Assange is free”, stating that he left Belmarsh prison in London on Monday and posting footage of him boarding a plane.

US prosecutors said in court papers that Assange, 52, has agreed to plead guilty to a single criminal count of conspiring to obtain and disclose classified US national defence documents.

He is due to be sentenced at a hearing on the island of Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands in the Pacific on Wednesday.

The Labor MP Julian Hill said: “No one should judge Julian for accepting a deal to get the hell out of there and come home. His health is fragile.”

Hill said he hoped “for the best now” and credited Albanese with pursuing the matter relentlessly.

“Whatever you think of Assange, he is an Australian and enough is enough,” Hill said.

“The prime minister deserves enormous personal credit for his judgment and determination, never giving up in pursuing resolution of this case.”

Anthony Albanese tells parliament he wants Julian Assange ‘brought home to Australia’ – video

But the former US vice-president Mike Pence condemned the Biden administration over the reported deal, writing on X: “There should be no plea deals to avoid prison for anyone that endangers the security of our military or the national security of the United States. Ever.”

The independent MP Monique Ryan, who was a member of a cross-parliament delegation that travelled to Washington to lobby on behalf of Assange late last year, raised the matter in parliament on Tuesday.

Ryan asked Albanese whether the Australian citizen was “finally coming home”.

In response, Albanese welcomed the looming court hearing scheduled for Wednesday, but avoided direct comment because “we recognise these proceedings are crucial and delicate”.

“I have been very clear, as both the Labor leader in opposition but also as prime minister, that regardless of the views that people have about Julian Assange and his activities, the case has dragged on for too long, there is nothing to be gained by his continued incarceration and we want him brought home to Australia,” he said.

Albanese said his government had used “all appropriate channels to support a positive outcome” and he would have “more to say when these legal proceedings have concluded, which I hope will be very soon”.

The foreign affairs minister, Penny Wong, told the Senate: “We want to see Mr Assange reunited with his family in Australia.”

The shadow foreign minister, Simon Birmingham, said the Coalition had “consistently said that the US and UK justice systems should be respected”.

“We welcome the fact that Mr Assange’s decision to plead guilty will bring this long-running saga to an end,” Birmingham said.

The Greens said Assange “should never have been charged with espionage in the first place or had to make this deal”.

The party’s justice spokesperson, David Shoebridge, said: “Julian Assange has spent years in jail for the crime of showing the world the horrors of the US war in Iraq and the complicity of governments like Australia and that is why he has been punished.”

The Greens senator Peter Whish-Wilson said Assange was targeted “for telling an awful, inconvenient truth about war crimes”.

There had been growing consensus within the Australian parliament, across party political lines, that it was time to find a way to secure Assange’s return to Australia.

Albanese has said he raised the matter directly with the US, including with the president, Joe Biden, during his visit to Washington in October 2023.

The attorney general, Mark Dreyfus, said he also raised the matter with his US counterpart, Merrick Garland, during a meeting in January this year.

In February this year, Albanese and cabinet members supported a parliamentary motion put forward by the independent MP Andrew Wilkie urging the UK and US to allow Assange to return to Australia.

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