As WikiLeaks founder and frontman Julian Assange waits in custody, the press in his home country is going into WikiLeaks overdrive. A look at the Australian media shows that WikiLeaks latest dump is playing out quite differently Down Under, where cables are just now starting to implicate leaders and where prominent voices are calling for the government to defend the country’s most (currently) infamous and imperiled citizen.

The week’s first big news came yesterday with the release of the first WikiCable focused on Australia, which reported on a lunch last March between then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. It was first published on The Guardian’s website, and all major outlets in Australia are running stories. The lede? Rudd, the Mandarin-speaking friend of China, told Clinton the world might need to “deploy force” against Australia’s northern ally and trade partner should it fail to integrate into the international community.

Secondly, a stirring debate has erupted about the government’s treatment of Assange, with many in the nation’s community of lawyers, activists, and academics calling for Prime Minister Julia Gillard to tone down her condemnatory rhetoric and speak out against the likes of Sarah Palin labeling the Australian citizen a terrorist and calling for his execution.

Thirdly, Assange himself has stepped into the fray, writing an op-ed published in the Murdoch-owned national daily, The Australian, in which he describes Gillard’s pandering to the U.S. as “disgraceful” and compares WikiLeaks’s revelations to Keith Murdoch’s (Rupert’s dad) exposé of British commanders needlessly sacrificing Australian troops at Gallipoli, Turkey, during WWI. The incident is the stuff of national legend and cause for an annual national holiday in Australia.

The Canberra Cables

The Sydney Morning Herald reported yesterday that it “has secured access to hundreds of WikiLeaks documents that reveal US embassy assessments of Australia on a range of important issues. We begin publishing today.” It is murky on how it obtained the documents. This comes days after the first Australia-focused cable was released on The Guardian’s website and embarrassed former PM and current Foreign Minister Rudd, revealing he had warned of a potential need to “deploy force” against China “if anything goes wrong,” and described Beijing as “paranoid” about Taiwan and Tibet. Clinton had opened the conversation asking, “How do you deal toughly with your banker?” Rudd responded by saying he was a “brutal realist on China.” Australia’s most prominent WikiCable cameo prior to this had been in a report about Zimbabwean president Mugabe: “Rock-solid partners like Australia don’t pack enough punch to step out front and the United Nations is a non-player.”

As more documents have become available, it’s more embarrassment for Rudd. And the style of the reporting on the new documents is remarkably similar to some of the more gossipy reports pulled from the cables in the U.S. and Europe over the last nine days. Take this lede from the Herald:

THE US regards the Foreign Affairs Minister, Kevin Rudd, as an abrasive, impulsive ”control freak” who presided over a series of foreign policy blunders during his time as prime minister, according to a series of secret diplomatic cables.

And there was this reference to an incident in which Rudd was suspected to have leaked what was essentially a Bush joke back in 2008, a leak which embarrassed the U.S.—to the extent that they care—and which the Australian press ate up at the time.

Mr McCallum also criticised Mr Rudd’s behaviour following a newspaper report detailing a private conversation with the president. The article made Mr Bush appear foolish, reporting Mr Rudd was ”stunned to hear Bush say, ‘What’s the G20?’,” in reference to a planned meeting of world leaders.

”Rudd’s refusal to deny that his office was the source of the leak has confirmed to most Canberra observers that he showed exceptionally poor judgment in trying to aggrandize himself at the expense of Australia’s most important relationship,” Mr McCallum said.

Oh, no he didn’t! Etc.

The focus so far in the Herald’s reporting, and in much of the Australian press, has been on Rudd and others’ comments on China, the nation’s life support during the recession—its lust for Australian resources has kept the economy in decent shape—but also the closest thing the island continent has to a threat. Reports have homed in on comments that could prove problematic for Rudd in his dealings with China—even if Rudd wasn’t the one making the comments.

AUSTRALIA’s ambassador to the US and former opposition leader, Kim Beazley, assured American officials that Australia would always side with the US in the event of a war with China, a confidential diplomatic cable reveals.

A Citizen Named Assange

Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor.