Julian Assange's bid for Australian Senate gathers pace

Julian AssangeWikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has spent the last nine months a fugitive, holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, but that hasn't stopped his bid for a seat in the Australian Senate in this year's election.

Former Australian Republican Movement head and barrister Greg Barns has been appointed to head the WikiLeaks Party, whose campaign is gathering momentum.

Barn said on Monday he would be campaign director for the WikiLeaks Party spearheading Assange's rare absentee bid for a seat in Australia's upper house in the 14 September election.

Even if the bid is successful it would not bring Assange any legal protection from extradition to Sweden, where he faces questioning over sexual assault allegations.

"It's most definitely a serious campaign," Barns told Australian radio. "He does attract support from across the political spectrum. The party will offer a refreshing change from the Australian government culture of secrecy."

Assange, 41, has raised the hackles of several governments, particularly the US, after leaking secret documents online.

The former computer hacker, an Australian citizen, announced last year he would run for the 76-seat Senate and would use the protection of parliament to champion free speech and break court suppression orders.

Assange is considered a long shot to win a Senate seat as he would need to attract about 15 per cent of votes in the state of Victoria. If he wins, he would be able to take his seat from 1 July 2014, but would need to return to Australia to be sworn in.

If he wins a seat, he would be covered by Australia's parliamentary privilege rules, which protect politicians against legal action over comments made in parliament.

Barns, a high-profile political campaigner in Australia, said Assange's party had already secured backing from a prominent Melbourne philanthropist - former Citibank executive Philip Wollen - and needed 500 members to fulfil party registration norms.

Assange struck a defiant tone in a recent interview, telling Australian academic website The Conversation that he felt "no fear" about the legal accusations against him.

"The truth is I love a good fight. Many people are counting on me to be strong. I want my freedom, of course. But confinement gives me time to think," he said.

The silver-haired Assange burst into global prominence in 2010 when Wikileaks released secret footage, military files and diplomatic cables about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, prompting a furious response from the United States.