Barns (pictured), whose political exploits include leading the unsuccessful Australian Republican Movement’s referendum campaign in 1999, has accepted the role of national campaign director for the WikiLeaks Party.
He told Lawyers Weekly that if Julian Assange wins a Senate seat, it may “force the Australian Government’s hand” to allow the controversial activist safe passage to Australia. Assange, an Australian citizen, has been holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since June 2012 in a bid to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he faces questioning over rape allegations.
“It would be an absurd situation to have someone who’s been elected by people in Victoria, who they want to be their senator, and the Australian Government says we’re not going to use any political capital ... on ensuring that person has a safe passage home,” he said.
Barns denied that the WikiLeaks’ Senate bid is a publicity stunt or a money-making exercise, even though it could potentially earn the party around $2.50 per vote.
“I don’t think anybody goes into politics to make money ... you still have to pay for advertising and those who’ve worked on the campaign,” he added.
Motivations aside, Assange faces a number of hurdles in his bid for an upper-house seat, according to an academic and former advisor to Assange’s legal team.
Graeme Orr, a professor who specialises in the law of politics at the University of Queensland, told Lawyers Weekly earlier this year that even if Assange qualifies to be an electoral candidate, he may be disqualified from running for parliament under s44 of the Constitution if it is determined that he is under the “acknowledgement of allegiance, obedience or adherence to a foreign power”.
Assange’s decision to seek political asylum from the Ecuadorian government could demonstrate an allegiance to a foreign power, explained Orr. “There is a very strong argument that a man who runs into the arms of another country saying the Australian Government is not protecting him has demonstrated an allegiance to the other country.”
Another hurdle is Assange’s inability to be sworn in, said Orr. WikiLeaks has claimed that if Assange is unable to take his place in the Senate it would be filled by a running mate, but Orr claimed that Assange can’t resign a seat he hasn’t officially taken.
Barns admitted the party has considered these challenges. “Let’s see what happens after the election,” he said. “These are issues that have been thought about by the party and Julian no doubt.”
Point of prejudice
Today (3 April), Swedish Supreme Court judge Stefan Lindskog is delivering a lecture on ‘The Assange affair, and freedom of speech, from the Swedish perspective’ at the University of Adelaide.
Barns condemned Lindskog’s lecture, claiming it could demonstrate prejudice in a case that hasn’t yet come before the Swedish courts.
“It’s inappropriate,” he said. “This wouldn’t happen in Australia ... a judge wouldn’t want to be seen as prejudging someone’s case if there was an opportunity that judge might hear the matter.”
Lindskog is chairman of the Supreme Court of Sweden, the highest court of appeal.