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Leslie Cannold: the woman who makes Assange palatable

By Evelyn Tsitas - posted Wednesday, 31 July 2013

In an election campaign where our only female Prime Minister was removed so that two almost indistinguishable middle aged men can fight for the top job, Julian Assange's master stroke in running for Senate has been to place Dr Leslie Cannold as his running mate.

Assange told RN Drive that he planned to appoint the Melbourne bioethicist as his proxy in the Senate if he is elected and can't return to Canberra.

In choosing Cannold, Assange has proven himself a shrewd media player. This is an election where misogyny, always lurking under the surface like a tetanus spore, has erupted. Both political parties are overwhelmingly choosing men to replace outgoing MPs in safe seats, and former PM Julia Gillard told The Monthly magazine that some of the contempt that she was shown as prime minister was about being the first woman in the job.


So, for Assange, what better way to distinguish his party from an undistinguished pack than by placing a strong, intelligent and highly qualified woman in front of the fledgling WikiLeaks Party?

The Australian voting public is desperate for a female voice in politics.

For many, Cannold may be that voice. Young enough to inspire younger women and a mother to boot, she has written extensively on women's reproductive rights and was awarded Australian Humanist of the Year in 2011 for her advocacy for abortion rights for women - take that, Tony Abbott.

As one of the many tweets following the announcement attested: "provides that party with a much needed infusion of gravitas. Nice."

An academic, author, and a skillful media player herself (nearly 10,000 twitter followers), Cannold also says a lot of things a lot of people don't like. And stands by them. If anyone can take a hit for the party, it is this woman.

Just as well, because as soon as her position on the WikiLeaks Party ticket was announced on 25 July, the Tweets started – specifically - how can WikiLeaks Party supporters disavow rape culture considering that the leader Julian Assange is hiding out in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London while facing rape allegations?


On Twitter, she was challenged: "How about speaking up for women and asking Julian Assange to stop lying about his sexual-assault charges?"

Cannold replied: "I've been doing that my whole life & don't intend to stop now. I'll just be more effective in the Senate."

In an interview on the day her Senate bid was announced, Cannold told that "Julian has said repeatedly, and to me personally, that he would answer questions about the case and get it all cleared up, but that can't happen without a promise that he isn't being put at risk of extradition to the US."

As the days progressed, the comments on Twitter about Assange and rape-culture would not go away, but Cannold did not flinch. Instead, she announced that she agreed 100% with the following statement about the rape allegations "as do all the many, strong feminist women in the WikiLeaks Party":

"We recognise that Assange has been alleged to have assaulted two women. These allegations should be taken seriously, because we as a community must make sure that all activists within the community are safe….Assange is entitled to an assumption of innocence (regarding the allegations), and the women concerned are also entitled to an assumption of innocence (regarding claims that they have lied)."

And then Cannold Tweeted that she would write and publish her own article on the subject, which she has done (, July 29) "Why I'm Running For Senate with WikiLeaks Alongside Julian Assange."

Here she argues that: "My view is that I wasn't bedside when the events that have given rise to the allegations against Assange took place. No one was, except him and the women involved. This means that I don't know what happened, and neither does anyone else. Because none of us knows what happened, no one has grounds to judge him or the two women as either guilty or innocent. Such judgments are for the courts."

However, a year ago, Cannold revealed in a piece on ABC Religion and Ethics that "some of the commentary around the Assange case is both illogical and contradicted by the evidence. Just because Assange is an admirable public figure doesn't mean he necessarily behaves morally in public life."

Still, Cannold optimistically writes that she wants to bring "the WikiLeaks disinfectant of transparency and accountability to the Australian Senate."

The question remains as to whether voters will opt for the disinfectant or be repelled by Assange. One thing is certain - once Prime Minister Rudd finally calls the election date, Assange's rape allegations will be dragged front and centre. Politics is after all, pig wrestling.

No amount of comments, by Cannold or others, on the complexity of human behavior and the grey areas that we inhabit in relationships, will stop that tide. Despite this, having Cannold as his running mate makes Assange palatable, and for many, worthy of a second look.

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About the Author

Dr Evelyn Tsitas works at RMIT University and has an extensive background in journalism (10 years at the Herald Sun) and communications. As well as crime fiction and horror, she writes about media, popular culture, parenting and Gothic horror and the arts and society in general. She likes to take her academic research to the mass media and to provoke debate.

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