The opening crackled and sparkled in the old reading room of the Fitzroy Library in Melbourne, with Julian Assange beaming in via Skype at a time he has become use to – 3 in the morning. In a space where work and insomnia are firm friends, grabbing some shut-eye is often out of the question. There is much to be done.
There was anticipation, and a sense of sheer curiosity. The WikiLeaks Party was being formally launched before the set pack of traditional journalists, running seven senate candidates in three states (Victoria, New South Wales and Western Australia).
The journalists who were gathered were ravenous, a drooling sampling of media wanting to have a crack at the man himself. Few had had a chance to cross examine Assange in person. But he meant business and here, he recounted the line of contrarian Australian politician Don Chipp: Keep the bastards honest. This was a fine statement till the Democrats, the party he founded, got into bed with establishment politics and promptly imploded. The spirit of Chipp’s message, however, remains indomitable.
A nice contrast to this statement would be that of former Australian Greens leader Bob Brown: “we’re not there to keep the bastards honest – we’re there to replace them.” As Assange himself noted in the video link, the Greens, while packing some valuable punch as a significant minor party, risk moving to an inflexible, pragmatic centre of politics. Retreating from such a position is nigh impossible.
The WikiLeaks Party, which should be noted is distinct as an entity from the WikiLeaks organisation, has some wonderful lessons to teach. And to learn in humble reflection. History suggests that the part of the watchdog, the well versed monitor, has rich potential. Guard against error – notably the errors of others – and you shall go far. This is a party like no other, a mixture of experts, enthusiasts and those who would have otherwise preferred to avoid politics altogether. In Assange’s words, “Wikileaks Party is a party of accountability, it’s not a party of government.”
This is the perfect recipe. The mission here is that politics is justice. It is accountability to uphold the contract citizens have with their government. If we cannot discharge the provisions of that arrangement, we might as well become desk clerks and amoral pen pushers who find fault in compassion and problems with humanity.
Even worse, we might decide that in politics there can be no difference between major political blocs, something so apparent in the recent blows between the governing Australian Labor Party and the opposition Liberal-National coalition. An ironic outcome of bipartisan pragmatism is often permitted extremism.
The WikiLeaks Party also rolled out a few policy statements: that on asylum seekers and climate change. The former involved a promise to searchingly question the very viability of placing asylum seekers on PNG’s Manus Island. Judicial review mechanisms would have to be in place. Health facilities would have to be of the highest order.
The policy on climate change would have to involve a serious challenge to the effectiveness of any emissions trading scheme, noting gaping faults and the tendency of such arrangements to fall into corruption.
Then came the questions. The journalists for The Australian have to sing, however poorly, for their Murdoch supper, and the coverage of the event by the country’s foremost reactionary rag could only focus on technical deficiencies in reception over Skype. “You would think a bunch of computer hackers would be able to launch a political party via Skype without it crashing, but Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks Party proved otherwise in Melbourne yesterday” (Jul 26).
Move over whistleblowing, and the difference between party and organisation, incorrect spelling of the candidates’ names, and we have the perfect hack journalist aping an unimaginative agenda. Habits in the Murdoch imperium do die terribly hard.
Others were one trick ponies, tediously obsessed by questions about whether Assange was “committed” in attempting to run for a Senate seat from the Ecuadorean embassy in London. As Australia’s most prominent asylum seeker, one had to have little doubt: Assange is in it to win. We face an age where detainees are the true reminders of an insolvent political system, be it Edward Snowden’s prolonged transit in Moscow’s Sheremetevo airport, or Assange in London.
Other battles were also, and are currently, being waged outside the reading room. The party’s website has been flattered by a string of denial of service (DDos) attacks from an American “hactivist”. “The Jester” shows his worth by his facile assertion that the political party was “grooming US gov employees and contractors into treason.”
The watchdogs are here to bite their way to transparency and accountability. They have arrived to make some effort to regain something long lost in the political experiment: dignity. If not now, then when?
Binoy Kampmark was as Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org