Former foreign minister Alexander Downer says WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s publication of secret government documents was “a criminal offence and a terrible thing to do morally”.

Speaking to BBC Radio Four’s Today programme this afternoon (Australian time), the foreign minister under John Howard’s Coalition government said Assange released more information than just cables relating to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Former foreign minister Alexander Downer speaking in Canberra in 2019.

Former foreign minister Alexander Downer speaking in Canberra in 2019.Credit: Tracey Nearmy/Getty Images

“He released a huge amount of information, much of which was very embarrassing, and some of which endangered lives,” Downer said.

“Endangering people’s lives in that way is completely inappropriate. And I don’t think many Australians have sympathy for him – no. Just because he’s Australian doesn’t mean he’s a good bloke.”

In 2010, WikiLeaks began to release a trove of more than 700,000 sensitive government documents, including diplomatic cables and battlefield accounts, such as a 2007 video of a US Apache helicopter firing at suspected insurgents in Iraq, killing a dozen people, including two Reuters news staff.

Assange was indicted during the Trump administration over WikiLeaks’ mass release of secret US documents, which were leaked by Chelsea Manning, a former US military intelligence analyst who was also prosecuted under the Espionage Act.

Downer claimed “a tiny minority” in Australia thought Assange was a journalist and said “he has been found guilty of a much more serious offence than that”.

He told the BBC: “Government’s must have some degree of privacy in their communications.”

Labor senator Fatima Payman said she only made up her mind to vote against her party’s position on a Greens motion calling for recognition of a Palestinian statehood this afternoon while on the Senate floor.

She told reporters she hadn’t spoken to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese about her plans.

Asked at a snap press conference shortly after 5pm today if she expected to be expelled from Labor, Payman replied: “That is a prerogative for my party.”

Senator Fatima Payman addresses the media on Tuesday afternoon after she crossed the floor.

Senator Fatima Payman addresses the media on Tuesday afternoon after she crossed the floor.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen

“I believe that I have upheld the party ethos and called for what the party’s platform has stipulated,” she said.

“I still have the core values of the Labor Party and I hope to continue serving as a Labor Party senator.”

She said she had been indirectly warned crossing the floor could lead to her expulsion.

She said she’d received “mixed” treatment by her caucus colleagues.

“There’s been many comrades who feel the same way, but don’t agree with the method I’ve gone about conveying my message,” she said.

“Everyone who would ask me until today what I was going to do with this motion, I said ‘I will follow my conscience and … I’m in the hands of God and I will do what’s best for the people that I represent, and that I pledged to represent when I got elected two years ago’.”

The wife of Julian Assange says the WikiLeaks founder’s children still don’t know their father is expected to soon return home to Australia as a free man.

In an interview with the BBC, Stella Assange said a judge in the Northern Mariana Islands was still to formally sign-off on the plea deal struck with the US Justice Department that was revealed today, so she hadn’t fully disclosed the news to their children, aged 5 and 7.

Stella Assange, the wife of Julian Assange speaks to the media outside Doughty Street Chambers after a decision on Julian Assange’s extradition appeal in March.

Stella Assange, the wife of Julian Assange speaks to the media outside Doughty Street Chambers after a decision on Julian Assange’s extradition appeal in March.Credit: Leon Neal/Getty Images

Assange said she was “gradually, incrementally telling them information” and had only warned them “a big surprise” was coming.

She also told the BBC she was limited about what she can say about the in-principle plea deal. But she confirmed Assange would plead guilty to only one charge, relating to the Espionage Act.

“Once the judge signs off on it, then it is formally real,” she says.

Assange, a lawyer who married Julian while he was imprisoned, told the BBC’s Today programme she felt “elated – frankly it’s just incredible.”

“It feels like it’s not real,” she said.

The couple conceived two children in secret while Julian was in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, having claimed political asylum.

Stella Assange said the priority was for her husband to get healthy again, suggesting the pair would head to the Australian bush to be “in contact with nature” again once the WikiLeaks founder arrives home this week as expected, pending a judge’s approval of the plea deal.

“He’s been in a terrible state for five years,” she said.

At her press conference moments ago, Senator Fatima Payman went on to accuse the government of “watering down” the Greens’ motion to recognise Palestinian statehood that couched Labor’s support “as a part of a peace process in support of a two-state solution”.

She said the amendment was a distraction from “what is a prerequisite and essential to the same very peace process: to recognise Palestinian statehood.”

Senator Fatima Payman crosses the floor.

Senator Fatima Payman crosses the floor.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen

“Australia has long stood for a two- state solution. My own party, the Australian Labor Party’s policy platform recognises both Israel and Palestine. We cannot believe in two state solutions and only recognise one,” she said.

She said the party should be true to the legacy of former Labor prime minister Bob Hawke in 2017 said recognising Palestinian statehood was “the least we could do”.

“I was not elected as a token representative of diversity. I was elected to serve the people of Western Australia and uphold the values instilled in me by my late father. Today I have made a decision that would make him proud,” she said.

Labor senator Fatima Payman says she “upheld her convictions” when she crossed the floor of the Senate against the wishes of her party to support a Greens motion to recognise Palestinian statehood.

In a snap press conference after the vote, Payman said in doing so, she “walked with the people of Palestine” and was “bitterly disappointed” her caucus colleagues didn’t feel the same way.

Senator Fatima Payman as Prime Minister Anthony Albanese addresses a Labor caucus meeting in Canberra on Tuesday.

Senator Fatima Payman as Prime Minister Anthony Albanese addresses a Labor caucus meeting in Canberra on Tuesday.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen

The West Australian made a statement after the vote, which means she now could be expelled from the Labor Party:

Today in the Senate chamber I upheld my convictions and voted according to my conscience. Unfortunately, I was not joined by my fellow party members. What you just witnessed was the first Labor member to cross the floor in almost 30 years.

My decision to cross the floor was the most difficult decision I have had to make. And although each step I took across the Senate floor felt like a mile, I know I did not walk these steps by myself. And I know I did not walk them alone.

I walked with the West Australians who have stopped me in the streets and told me not to give up. I’ve walked with the rank and file Labor Party members who told me we must do more. I’ve walked with the core values of the Labor Party: equality, justice, fairness and advocacy for the voiceless and the oppressed. I walked with my Muslim brothers and sisters who told me they have felt unheard for far too long. And I walked with the people of Palestine – for the 40,000 killed, for the hungry and scared boys and girls who now walk alone without their parents, and for the brave men and women who have to walk alone without their children.

I walked for humanity. I am proud of what I did today. And I’m bitterly disappointed that my colleagues do not feel the same way.

Payman later said she believed she had upheld the party ethos in her vote, but added she had been told indirectly that she would be expelled for crossing the floor.

Labor senator Fatima Payman faces expulsion from the party after siding with the Greens in a failed parliamentary push to recognise Palestinian statehood.

Labor rules bind caucus members to the party’s collective decisions and MPs who vote against those risk being thrown out.

The moment Senator Fatima Payman (in grey) crossed the floor.

The moment Senator Fatima Payman (in grey) crossed the floor.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen

The Greens rejected an amended version of the motion that couched Labor’s support “as a part of a peace process in support of a two-state solution”, with party leader Adam Bandt accusing the government of a “cowardly delay tactic” in fulfilling its intention to recognise a Palestinian state.

“Labor wants to water down this simple motion so it no longer immediately recognises Palestine,” Bandt said in a statement ahead of the vote.

Meanwhile, the Coalition doomed the prospect of any motion succeeding by putting forward its own lengthy criteria involving security guarantees, the eradication of Hamas, and the reform of the Palestinian Authority governing the West Bank.

Payman, who has been outspoken over the conflict, stepped down from two parliamentary foreign affairs committees after Prime Minister Anthony Albanese rebuked her for using the controversial phrase “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”. She has also accused Israel of genocide in Gaza.

Jewish groups regard the “from the river to the sea” slogan as a coded call for the elimination of Israel, while others have insisted it is simply a call for freedom and equal rights for Palestinians.

In an opinion piece for Al Jazeera last week, Payman called on the Albanese government to recognise a Palestinian state, arguing the move would help bring to an end the bloody, months-long conflict on the Gaza strip.

Senator Fatima Payman (in back, in grey) sits at the back of the chamber during a division on amendments to a motion to recognise the State of Palestine.

Senator Fatima Payman (in back, in grey) sits at the back of the chamber during a division on amendments to a motion to recognise the State of Palestine.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen

In a direct challenge to Anthony Albanese, Payman said that “in opposition, our prime minister and the Labor Party were fierce champions of Palestine and passionate voices for justice. I ask that we summon that spirit of old and do the same in power”.

Following a series of divisions over Labor and Coalition amendments, the Senate then voted on the original Greens motion, with Payman accompanying independent senator David Pocock to sit with the Greens.

In breaking news, Jarryd Hayne will not face a fourth trial over the alleged sexual assault of a 26-year-old woman in her Newcastle home on the night of the 2018 NRL Grand Final.

In a statement on Tuesday evening, the NSW Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions said: “Having carefully considered the many competing factors that inform the assessment of the public interest in this case, the ODPP has determined not to proceed to a fourth trial against Hayne.

Jarryd Hayne outside the NSW District Court last year.

Jarryd Hayne outside the NSW District Court last year.Credit: Nikki Short

“The decision was made in accordance with the Prosecution Guidelines. As the reasons for the decision are legally privileged, they will not be disclosed and the ODPP will not comment further.”

Hayne’s sexual assault convictions were quashed by the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal on June 12 in a majority 2-1 decision which found a miscarriage of justice had occurred at his third trial.

Hayne was released on bail that afternoon from Mary Wade Correctional Centre in Lidcombe, after spending more than a year behind bars.

The court left the door open to a fourth trial, saying it was up to the state’s top prosecutor to decide, but it did not endorse that course.

Read the full report here.

In business news, the Australian sharemarket built steadily on its gains today despite a mixed result on Wall Street overnight, where losses of AI giant Nvidia weighed on the market.

Ahead of the end of the financial year and a key domestic inflation readout, the benchmark S&P/ASX200 index on Tuesday finished up 105.1 points, or 1.4 per cent, to 7,838.8 points.

The ASX rose on Tuesday.

The ASX rose on Tuesday.Credit: Louise Kennerley

Energy and real estate stocks led the way, although every sector was trading in the green or flat. Woodside rose 3.7 per cent and Santos lifted 1.7 per cent.

The gains come after the benchmark index lost 0.8 per cent on Monday.

Read the full market wrap here.

Young Australians may be able to enjoy more smashed avocado on toast without undermining their plans to buy a home.

Australia’s avocado crop this year is tipped to climb 20 per cent to a record 139,000 tonnes, according to industry and financial analysts at Rabobank. An extra 1500 hectares of avocado trees are expected to come into production this year, boosting supply for local consumption and the quickly expanding export market.

RaboResearch analyst Pia Piggott said the local market remained over-supplied, keeping prices at low levels. “And expansion in Australian avocado production is set to continue with more than 4,000 hectares of orchards maturing in the next five years,” she said.

Smashed avocado on toast may get a little cheaper thanks to an expected bumper crop.

Smashed avocado on toast may get a little cheaper thanks to an expected bumper crop.Credit: Rhett Wyman

The export market accounts for 13 per cent of Australia’s avocado production. Exports last climbed by 55 per cent. Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia are key markets.

Sales to Japan grew by 193 per cent last year while to the rest of the world they lifted by 621 per cent. But the average prices fell 9 per cent to $4.59 a kilogram.

Piggot said retail prices in Australian supermarkets sat around the same level as last year. “However, in the past year, there has been a lot of volatility in avocado prices, reflecting periods of fluctuating seasonal supply,” she said.

While Australian export sales are climbing, they’re’s still a long way short of the world’s largest exporter, Mexico, which is forecast to export 1.5 million tonnes this year. Most of its exports end up on American dinner plates, with the US importing 1.3 million tonnes.

A plane thought to be carrying Julian Assange has just landed in Bangkok.

The first photos of the aircraft have just been shared via newswire service Associated Press.

Assange was released from prison earlier today and flew out of the United Kingdom. He is heading to the Northern Mariana Islands, a US commonwealth in the Western Pacific where the WikiLeaks founder will appear tomorrow in a US federal court after a plea deal was struck with the US Justice Department.

The plane thought to be carrying WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange, on his way to enter a plea deal in U.S. court, lands in Bangkok, Thailand.

The plane thought to be carrying WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange, on his way to enter a plea deal in U.S. court, lands in Bangkok, Thailand.Credit: AP

The chartered plane VJT199 landed after noon (local time) at Don Mueang International Airport, north of the Thai capital. It is unclear if the plane is only refueling or how Assange will continue traveling to the Northern Mariana Islands.

With AP

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