On Saturday 20th July 2013 I received a phone call from Julian Assange's father, John Shipton. I was in Rockhampton for the Yeppoon Peace March at the time, protesting against US military exercises which saw four bombs dropped on the Great Barrier Reef that same day. John was wondering if I could pick up a load of printed material on my way back to Brisbane. He explained that “the WikiLeaks Party printer" was based on the Sunshine Coast. Then he told me the printer's name:
"James Ashby, you may have heard of him".
It took a moment for the penny to drop, but when it did I was gob-smacked. Ashby? Seriously? Assuming I might have missed something about the scandalous #Ashbygate affair, I waited for an opportunity to research the whole story more closely. But no, there it was: James Ashby, a 33 year old gay staffer who made sexual abuse allegations against the parliamentary Speaker, Peter Slipper, in a move which could have brought down the Gillard government. Of course much more about #Ashbygate was yet to be revealed (none of it good), but a Federal Court Justice had already dismissed Ashby's claims as politically motivated. Why the hell was the WikiLeaks Party associating itself with such a person? If this got out before the election, I thought, it would be a catastrophe.
In the end I did not pick up the printed material because I was back home before John contacted me again with Ashby's address. I wondered if I should discuss my concerns with others in the party, but by then I was already "out of the loop". @WikiLeaksParty had quietly unfollowed me. My email address was getting dropped off discussion threads. And of course my phone and laptop were being targeted, so there was a good chance I could make things worse by talking about this before the election (such are the Orwellian constraints under the WikiLeaks Party was forced to operate). So I crossed my fingers and hoped that John Shipton knew more about the Ashby case than I did. But I seriously doubted it.
I first met John Shipton when he was contacting National Council members prior to the formal registration of the WikiLeaks Party. As a long-time vocal supporter of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, I was honoured to have been invited to join the Council. But given that the party would soon be under huge public scrutiny, there was something I needed to explain: I had gone bankrupt a few years earlier (after the failure of Kevin Rudd's Green Loans scheme, ironically) and I was still not formally discharged, so I was not sure if I was legally allowed to be on the Council.
John made a quick phone call to lawyer Kellie Tranter, later the party's NSW candidate, and then told me I would not be able to join the Council. After years of dedicated support for WikiLeaks, I felt gutted. But I accepted the decision in the best interests of the party.
"Never mind," smiled John with a sly wink, "we all have a few skeletons in our closets, don't we?"
John did not seem too unhappy at all about my situation, and I couldn't help wondering if that had something to do with
my friendship with Julian's mum
Christine. It was never going to be easy for the two of them to work together. [removed at request of Christine Assange - Gary]. My
original understanding was that John would help set up the WikiLeaks Party and
then step away from the day to day running of it. It’s a pity this did not
Months later, as the divisions within the party became more obvious, I contacted the Australian Electoral Commission myself, and learned that bankruptcy did NOT in fact prohibit me from being on the National Council (it only made me ineligible to run as a Candidate in the election, an option which was also discussed).
In retrospect, sharing my financial situation with John Shipton may have been one of the biggest mistakes of my life. I do not regret it because I did what I thought was right for the party and the values WikiLeaks represents. But given the WikiLeaks Party's own subsequent lack of honesty and transparency, my voluntary personal disclosure seems bitterly ironic.
When the WikiLeaks Party preferences were announced, I was again gob-smacked.
For two years I had been pressuring Australian MPs and Senators to support Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, and painstakingly documenting their responses at ozwikiwatch.blogspot.com - the Greens were clearly the only major party doing anything to help. Why on earth would we slap them in the face? It was madness.
In New South Wales, the White Nationalists from Australia First and the militant Shooters and Fishers party were preferenced above the Greens. In Western Australia, Julian Assange's staunchest parliamentary supporter, Greens Senator Scott Ludlam, was preferenced below his strongest rival, the National Party. Even in Victoria, the Greens were well down the list behind minor parties. By contrast, the Greens had preferenced the WikiLeaks Party (WLP) extremely highly in every state.
I had just spent a week on Twitter trying to suppress rumours that the Greens would be preferenced well down the WLP list, and now it turned out the rumours were true. Worse yet, the source of those rumours was a WLP National Council member, Cassie Findlay, who helped submit the NSW preferences. And after helping me and others look like fools, Cassie conveniently disappeared off Twitter and ignored my DMs (thanks for that, Cassie).
The WikiLeaks Party issued a statement blaming an "admin error" for the preferencing debacle and promising a review AFTER the election. That was never going to be good enough. Social media was going off. The mainstream media was all over it. Our biggest detractors were rubbing our noses in it and there was nothing we could say in reply.
We clearly needed a proper public response from the party ASAP. But all the WikiLeaks Party insiders were suddenly - and very strangely - silent. This was not OK.
I spoke with the only National Council members I knew personally, Sam Castro and Kaz Cochrane. They were both in tears on the phone. I urged them to be patient and give things time to work out, but they explained that others were already walking out the door. When Leslie Cannold's resignation prompted a wave of departures the next day, I started publicly demanding answers from @WikiLeaksParty on Twitter.
John Shipton rang me three times that day, and three times I refused to take his call.
"I do not want phone calls and excuses," I texted him. "Don't tell me. Tell the world."
I continued demanding answers on Twitter for several days, until it became absolutely bloody obvious that the "admin error" in NSW was really no mistake at all (as WA candidate Gerry Georgatos belatedly admitted, while still defending his foolish decision to preference the Nationals ahead of the Greens in WA).
The WikiLeaks Party had promised a full inquiry AFTER the election. But Julian's August 30th appearance on ABC The Drum suggested that no inquiry would be necessary. Mistakes were made but nobody would be held accountable, the people who resigned over these errors were somehow out of order, even if Julian accepted responsibility, and in any case he agreed pretty much with everything that was done anyway.
Was her serious? Or just trying to bluff his way through?
I write this now because the election is over and it is time for the truth. I believe WikiLeaks Party can still play a vital role bringing transparency and justice to governments around the world, but only if it addresses the mistakes of the past few months, apologizes to disenfranchised staff and supporters, and commits to less ruthlessly cynical politics in future.
Lessons must be learned. Mistakes must be acknowledged. If we demand transparency and accountability from others, we must provide it ourselves.
Julian has previously hinted at a some absurd left-wing conspiracy:
"There were some views that the WikiLeaks Party should be a front for the Greens but it was never meant to be a front."
I do not know anyone within the party who wanted it to be “a front for the Greens”. If there is evidence of this, it should be presented. Let’s not just smear people with innuendo.
For example, a Greens supporter offered to donate $3,000 to help the WikiLeaks Party field a Queensland candidate, an offer which I passed on to John Shipton, who rejected it. Perhaps that Greens supporter was hoping that WikiLeaks Party preferences would help get the Greens candidate across the line, but that was never my intention. If Julian really thinks such things then he has either been badly misinformed by party leaders, or he is getting paranoid with all the pressure he faces daily.
Many of us within the party assumed we would be able to work with the Greens (and the Pirate Party and others) even if we were in competition with them for Senate places, because we shared many common goals (see Scott Ludlam’s work on Internet freedom, for example). We believed the party could still appeal to people on both the Left and Right side of politics, because as Julian himself said:
"We are a party of the Senate. We are not a party of Government. We are a party of accountability and oversight. Our role is independent precisely because we are not in the government."
In fact it was critically important to stay above that Right-Left divide if we wanted to maintain our independence and credibility. So how did we become so internally divided?
I am deeply concerned that the WikiLeaks Party was unnecessarily politicised, not by Greens supporters, but by people with a hidden right-wing agenda, including John Shipton, Greg Barns (campaign manager, former Liberal Party candidate and advisor to former PM John Howard) and Julian Assange himself.
I assume this was either:
a. An unfortunate consequence of people at the top imposing their personal politics on the party without concern for due process, other staff or party members; or
b. A deliberate attempt to differentiate the party from their closest competition, the Greens, make the party more appealing to right-wing voters, and embrace a "win at all costs" attitude, whatever the consequences.
It may be both of the above. But it was also incredibly foolish and deeply disappointing. It not only alienated countless loyal members and supporters, it has also potentially terminated ongoing political support from the Greens. More importantly, perhaps, it has damaged the global public perception of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.
I suspect there was a deliberate attempt to marginalise people in the party who were deemed by the leadership to be "left wing Greenies" (myself included) even though these people were in fact the most dedicated WikiLeaks supporters in Australia. People like ostracized Social Media manager Sean Bedlam, who was arrested after multiple sit-in demonstrations at the US Embassy. How many of the candidates have even helped organise such a demonstration?
I am writing this now because I believe the explanations for what went wrong need to be public, and because (sadly) I do not trust the WikiLeaks Party to conduct a proper inquiry on their own. As a supporter who was not privy to all the inside conversations, I want answers. If I do not get them, I will cancel my membership.
For example: whose brilliant idea was it to use James Ashby’s services? What other links exist with major political parties? What really happened with the NSW preferences? Who came up with the “admin error” explanation? Did Julian seriously endorse Gerry Georgatos’s decision to preference the Nationals indigenous candidate David Wirrpanda ahead of Scott Ludlum, or did he just publicly pretend to understand it as a way to limit the damage?
The Australian election is now over and the damage has been done. On election day, #PirateParty was trending on Twitter and my timeline was full of people voting Pirates or Greens. Many of these people would have been willing to put a "1" next to WikiLeaks Party if not for the preferences debacle. Julian's public embrace of right-wing US politician Ron Paul, in the final weeks of the campaign, did not help either.
The Australian WikiLeaks Party could have and should have been the model for other WikiLeaks Parties around the world, including the USA and Britain, where people desperate for change have been jealously following our progress. It still can be, if it learns from these mistakes. If not, I am done with it.
How to understand this mess? And why does Julian Assange keep getting into these massive fuckup situations with people? Personally, based on my own family’s experiences, I think Julian Assange shows many symptoms of high functioning Aspergers Syndrome, and I think that might help explain (but not excuse) what has happened with the WikiLeaks Party.
What is #Aspergers? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asperger_syndrome
Online test: http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/9.12/aqtest.html
Like I say, that does not excuse all the lies and bullshit, and it certainly does not absolve Greg or John or others for their part in all this. But for me it helps explain why Julian might have been mislead by them, failed to see whom he should have trusted best, and may still find it difficult to admit he was wrong about anything.
Of course it was never going to be easy running a political campaign from detention in a foreign embassy on the far side of the world, while under surveillance by history's most extensive spy network, with all major domestic parties and the corporate media actively hostile to your efforts. But we could have and should have done better.
I am willing to acknowledge that many good people did their best under difficult circumstances. I hope we can take something positive from the ruins, and overcome these divisions. But we need to be guided by the core principles of transparency and justice. And that means accountability. Carrying on as if nothing happened is simply unacceptable.
Sam Castro, Sean Bedlam and Leslie Cannold explain why they had to resign: http://t.co/oNOWvGcolU
Dan Matthews' letter of resignation: http://danielmathews.info/blog/2013/08/statement-of-resignation-from-wikileaks-party-national-council/
Leslie Cannold letter of resignation: http://cannold.com/articles/article/leslie-resignation-statement-of-fact-on-candidacy-re-the-wikileaks-party/