THE Government has elaborated on its position on WikiLeaks, saying both the initial leaking of classified documents and their subsequent distribution by the controversial website is likely to be illegal.
“The unauthorised obtaining of the information may well be an offence,” Attorney-General Robert McClelland said today.
“The distribution of that information I would think would have a solid argument, again without knowing the United States law, would be an offence.
“Certainly to release that sort of information by an officer of the commonwealth, if it were Australian material, would in my view certainly involve criminality.”
Mr McClelland was speaking in Sydney after launching a new guide for businesses entitled The Insider Threat to Business – A Personnel Security Handbook.
“It is clearly topical,” Mr McClelland said.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard was on Monday unable to name any Australian laws broken by WikiLeaks or its founder Julian Assange, but claimed the “foundation stone of it is an illegal act”.
There has been anger throughout the community that the Australian Government appeared to be pre-judging Mr Assange and the activities of WikiLeaks without any charge or trial.
The internet-based activist group GetUp announced it would advertise in major newspapers in Australia and the US calling for fair treatment of Mr Assange.
GetUp director of campaigns Sam Mclean announced in Brisbane today its members were shocked at Ms Gillard’s stance.
Mr McClelland said there was a reasonable hypothesis that the source of the WikiLeaks information was illegally obtained and that its distribution was largely a matter for US authorities to investigate.
Australia would provide “every assistance” to those investigations, he said.
Mr McClelland said “nobody was overly concerned” about the leaking of “embarrassing, perhaps salacious” information, alluding to the series of diplomatic cables which have reportedly contained blunt assessments of politicians.
Details of cables sent by the US embassy in Canberra to US secretaries of state Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton have emerged, labelling Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd as an abrasive and impulsive “control freak”.
But Mr McClelland said the sort of information that prejudiced the safety and security of countries, or caused damage to military operations or put individuals at risk, was “certainly in a second category of documentation”.
The attorney-general said WikiLeaks had not caused damage to the Labor Party.
Aside from the Rudd cables, a second series of communications obtained by Fairfax newspapers, published today, reportedly fingered Senator Mark Arbib as a provider of information about the government and the ALP to US diplomats.
“I don’t think these events are damaging to the Labor Party in any way, shape or form,” Mr McLelland said.
He said diplomats regularly held meetings with politicians as part of an “open and healthy dialogue”.