Since late 2006 the international, online, not-for-profit organisation known as WikiLeaks has been shining the torch of transparency and accountability on the governments of the world.
Founded and led by Australian journalist and dissident Julian Assange, WikiLeaks has released hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables, documents, emails, transcripts and letters pertaining to all facets of governance worldwide.
The killing of innocent civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan (“collateral damage”), secret operating procedures at Guantanamo Bay, US plots to topple democratically elected South American governments, extrajudicial executions by Kenyan police, Australia’s proposed internet censorship blacklist – these and many more state secrets have been revealed by what’s been described as “the world’s most dangerous website”.
But WikiLeaks is far more than a website – it’s a movement. And in Australia, at least, that movement is sailing into previously unchartered territory: WikiLeaks is now also a political party. At the September 14 Federal Election, Australian citizens will become the first people in the world who can vote for WikiLeaks at the polling booth.
“The work’s been going for over a year, assembling ideas and people,” explains John Shipton, the softly spoken Newtown-based architect who is Secretary and Treasurer of the WikiLeaks Party – as well as being Mr Assange’s father.
“Our policies – or objectives, they’re better called – are the same as WikiLeaks: transparency and accountability,” he says.
“Accountability is the arrow fired by the bow of transparency, and from that you get the possibility of justice. And where there’s justice, you have a productive society.”
Hearing Shipton speak is to hear echoes of Julian Assange from faraway London, where he is holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy, taking refuge from spurious Swedish sexual assault allegations many believe have been cooked up by the US Government.
The father-and-son similarities extend to their looks and even their mannerisms.
Shipton speaks with his son daily by email and phone, and spent a month with him last December in the small refuge within the embassy.
“He’s doing alright,” reports Shipton. “He keeps himself busy with his work, and the staff at the embassy are very kind.
“But it does get difficult for him because it’s a tiny space. There’s a round table, a set of bookshelves, a bed and a window. He can’t look out the window because if well-wishers know it’s your room they might throw, who knows, a leg of lamb or something through. And then there are people who aren’t well-wishers…”
Assange has been receiving political asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy since August last year, but Shipton believes his son’s confinement in London poses no obstacle to being elected to parliament here.
“Earl Grey, of Earl Grey tea fame, was elected to an Australian parliament [the parliament of NSW, in 1848] and went on to help establish the state of Victoria, despite living in London – so there is some precedent,” he says.
“Our legal advice is that Julian being in London is no barrier.”
But Shipton is confident his son will be able to return home to take up the position in person.
“He’s Australian and he wants to come home,” says Shipton. “It would be a great way for Julian to make a structural contribution to this country.”
He adds: “I don’t want to say too much, but we have good reason to believe the Swedish case is on the verge of disintegrating and being withdrawn altogether, so we’re hoping he might even be back in Australia in time for the election.
“There would be some issues to be sorted out in Britain, to do with breaching bail conditions, but we’re hopeful they can be worked out.”
Either way, Assange isn’t the only WikiLeaks representative standing for the Senate in September.
Assange, who is running for the Senate in Victoria, will be joined by a running mate, who would attend parliament if he wins but has to remain in London.
In NSW, lawyer and human rights activist Kellie Tranter will stand for the Senate, and will also have a running mate.
The WikiLeaks Party may also field candidates in Queensland and Western Australia, says Shipton.
Purveyors of the dominant two-party political system in Australia will no doubt do all they can to derail WikiLeaks’ first foray into parliament, with the rhetoric of Prime Minister Julia Gillard – who has previously branded Mr Assange a “criminal” – instructive of attitudes in Canberra.
But if Shipton is concerned, he’s not showing it.
“Julian and WikiLeaks has stared down the might of the United States, Sweden, and the British Government. So a few American toadies in Canberra aren’t going to give us much trouble.
“The heft of the Australian people holds great sway, and we believe that if Julian or other WikiLeaks representatives are elected, the will of the people will prevail.”