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

So far, as with much of the reporting in the U.S. and Europe, the first “Canberra Cables” have not been earth-shattering. Rather, they have been revealing of how diplomacy is done and the frank language in which that happens.

What’s most interesting about the Australian media’s reaction to WikiLeaks is the difference a citizen makes. Assange is one of their own. Thus when those on the U.S. right call for his neutralization, Australians ask just what a government has to do to protect one of its citizens from such calls. And many have expressed displeasure at the government’s failure to condemn them. They have also questioned the government’s calling Assange’s actions illegal, threatening to cancel his passport, and generally toeing the U.S. line. (Assange is contemplating a defamation action against Gillard for having accused him of “illegal” conduct, a statement she has since walked back.)

Take this from author and blogger John Birmingham. (*“Vegemiters” is a colloquialism for Australians).

But in the end Assange remains an Australian citizen and he is due the protection we offer to all our citizens when they are threatened by rogue actors, even states, because their actions have upset somebody in power somewhere. It doesn’t mean he gets a free pass on the allegations against him in Sweden, but it should mean that at the very least those moronic politicians and media celebretards in the US who’ve been calling for his murder should be getting a visit from one of our consular officials, preferably an ex-SAS or Commando Regiment old boy, to have a quiet word in their shell—like about how seriously we take incitement to murder our fellow little Vegemiters.

Even Malcolm Turnbull, a former lawyer, opposition leader, and current shadow minister for the conservative Liberal Party, has come out on the point of Assange’s rights as an Australian citizen. In a blog post mostly critical of Assange (and designed to score political points against Gillard), Turnbull writes:

I cannot see how he could be said to have breached any Australian law and I understand that it is not alleged he has broken any American law.

Mr Assange is free to return to Australia and if he is charged with a crime overseas then he would be entitled to consular assistance.

So his claims of being “abandoned” by Australia seem rather melodramatic. On the other hand the Prime Minister’s clumsy accusations of criminal activity on the part of Mr Assange just reinforce the impression that in this, as in so many other areas, she is way out of her depth.

Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor.