Julian Assange spent last Christmas in the Ecuadorian embassy in London where he had been confined since June. His father, John Shipton, visited and the pair pored over the final preparations to set up the WikiLeaks Party in Australia. After more than a year of work, the draft constitution was signed off, possible candidates discussed, and Assange gave the go-ahead to proceed.
Shipton, 68, has had an interrupted relationship with his son, not seeing him at all after he separated from Assange's mother, Christine, when the boy was a toddler until Julian turned 25. But the two are now close and this was something Shipton could do to support him.
''When children are little at Christmas time, they get a lolly and fairybread sandwich and they're over the moon,'' says Shipton with a droll smile. ''When they get a bit older, they ask for a political party for Christmas. Just a bit more work.''
Shipton has worked all his life as a self-taught designer and builder - he spent two weeks studying architecture at university before dropping out, he says. Now the WikiLeaks Party secretary, he has applied for party registration and assembled a national council of 10 to run it. Most signed up only a few months ago. Many are political novices; barrister and former Liberal Party candidate Greg Barns is a paid campaign manager, but the rest are volunteers.
It is this group that will need to persuade Australians that this is more than a quixotic campaign to highlight Assange's personal plight at a time when WikiLeaks is undoubtedly weakened and when some former supporters have abandoned him. Because of Assange's profile and predicament, the party is certain to receive more scrutiny than the sideshow parties that pop up before every election. These are not the heady days of 2010, when WikiLeaks was showered with accolades after the biggest military and government leaks in history.
Still, there is adrenalin in the WikiLeaks Party, a determination to run Senate candidates in Victoria, New South Wales and Western Australia, and an optimism that they have a chance to win a seat or two. Some council members hadn't met each other before joining the party early this year, but are now developing policies, choosing candidates and raising $700,000 to run a campaign. The party would be ''incorruptible and idealistically united," Assange said in an interview earlier this year, a "small, centralised leadership with maximum grass roots involvement and support''.
Shipton says his son approached him with the task because ''in Julian's position, there's one thing that's foremost above all - trust''. The council members are, above all, trusted. They believe WikiLeaks is a global game changer that upended ideas of transparency and government accountability to its citizens. But each came to WikiLeaks in his or her own way.
The party hopes to draw support from all side of politics in September. Two members of the council are old university friends of Assange: Monash University maths lecturer Daniel Mathews and a postdoctoral fellow in solar energy at the Australian National University, Niraj Lal. Two were once members of the Greens - Lal and peace activist Gail Malone. Omar Todd, the technical director for anti-whaling activist group Sea Shepherd, considers himself an entrepreneur and was a Liberal Party member in his youth. Some, like NSW digital archivist Cassie Findlay, have never been involved in politics before; others, such as Melbourne operations co-ordinator for the Friends of the Earth, Samantha Castro, have been political activists all their adult lives. All admit to feeling their way.
Assange has called himself a ''libertarian'', drawing inspiration from Democrats founder leader Don Chipp and former Liberal prime minister Malcolm Fraser. He is in daily contact with the council, involved in all major decisions.
As for Shipton, he says he has never been a member of a political party before the WikiLeaks Party. "I always felt that the right had no sense of the meaning of blight … and the left had no sense of their own authoritarianism … I've just examined issues for what quality I can find in them.''
The national council may be an eclectic bunch, but members believe the phenomenon of WikiLeaks is of historic significance. How much government and corporate secrecy is necessary, and how much of it is self-serving? Who decides? How could the internet's potential to spread information globally in an instant upend government's instinct to hide? And how does anyone maintain personal privacy now, with governments intent on collecting and holding information in the name of national security?
The party's policies will spell out its position on these issues. Council member and lawyer Kellie Tranter says a "transparency platform" would include reviewing constraints on free speech and civil liberties of Australia's anti-terrorism laws, strengthening freedom of information and scrutiny of lobbyists, and stronger standards for ministerial accountability.
The party's first official policy was for comprehensive shield laws to protect journalists from being forced to reveal their sources. That is not a theoretical threat - five journalists are facing legal action in Australia to reveal their sources.
The tussle between openness and secrecy is intense - and global. This month, the US Justice Department, searching for leakers and claiming that American lives were at risk, seized the records of 21 phone lines at Associated Press after its story about a foiled terror plot in Yemen. This ''massive and unprecedented intrusion" into their news-gathering operation was already deterring sources from speaking to journalists, according to AP. The New Yorker magazine last week launched Strongbox, a system to protect sources from being identified by allowing them to leak anonymously. It was inspired by WikiLeaks, and uses similar technology.
How the internet has changed everything is at the heart of Cassie Findlay's support for WikiLeaks. An archivist in the NSW public service, Findlay's light bulb moment happened when she began to compare what she was doing to WikiLeaks' release of military documents from Afghanistan and Iraq, and more than 250,000 US diplomatic cables in 2010.
A few weeks after the cables were published, she recalls the National Archives of Australia releasing cabinet papers from 1981, in accordance with the 30-year-rule that prohibits release of such documents for three decades. It all seemed ''so last century'', she says, a legacy of the paper era when it was impossible to process swaths of information quickly.
''Not only were we getting 30-year-old cabinet papers, the way the National Archives and the media reported on those was very folksy - there were funny photos of bad fashions from the time - and we weren't even seeing all of them, a lot of them were still being held back.''
Findlay, 42, doesn't believe everything should be thrown on the internet instantly, but ''we now have the tools [to] manage digital information to make stuff available as it is appropriate to do so, in a much more timely way. Plus I think expectations around government secrecy have completely changed.''
Niraj Lal, 29, met Assange at the Physics Student Society at Melbourne University, and forged a friendship during a 2002 road trip to outback South Australia to witness a solar eclipse. The war in Afghanistan was under way and the build-up to the invasion of Iraq had begun - the pair attended anti-war rallies in Melbourne. Lal has always been politically involved; he was a member of the ALP from the age of 17 until three years ago, when he quit to join the Greens. Like Findlay, he is fearful of government attempts to control what citizens can see on the internet.
The ''final straw'' for him was Communications Minister Stephen Conroy's proposed internet filter. It would have blocked Australians from viewing blacklisted sites. The intent was to block child abuse and terrorist sites but it raised fears that edgy political sites would be censored, too. It was WikiLeaks that leaked the purported blacklist in 2009.
Kaz Cochrane, 42, ''deeply political'' since her 20s, followed WikiLeaks after discovering it on the internet in the organisation's early days. There were stories on corruption in Kenya, published via The Guardian, leaked internal documents from the Church of Scientology, then the leaked US diplomatic dispatches published by news organisations such as The Guardian and The New York Times. They revealed myriad secrets from around the world, including that US officials had been instructed to collect intelligence on the leadership of the United Nations.
White House fury was directed more to WikiLeaks than established media. Vice-President Joe Biden called Assange a ''high-tech terrorist'' and the White House condemned the disclosure for ''[putting] at risk our diplomats, intelligence professionals, and people around the world who come to the US for assistance in promoting democracy and open government''.
But Cochrane and her friend Samantha Castro, 42, were most angered about the Australian reaction. Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the release was ''an illegal thing to do''.
''We understood that [WikiLeaks] was going to be fed to the sharks,'' says Cochrane. ''Within a day, we had a very impassioned conversation … and when I hung up I went online and registered WikiLeaks Australian Citizens Alliance.''
Gillard later acknowledged that while the leaking of the material to WikiLeaks was potentially illegal, there had been no breach of Australian law by WikiLeaks itself.
One member of the council has been involved with WikiLeaks from the beginning. Daniel Mathews, 33, a self-confessed maths ''nerd'' - he topped the state in the VCE in 1997 - met Assange at the University of Melbourne's maths society around 2003. He was one of the first to hear of the revolutionary idea to set up a website to enable people who wanted to leak information to do so without risking exposure. He was a co-founder of WikiLeaks in 2006.
He has felt the pressure of working for an organisation with powerful enemies. Studying for his PhD in the US, Mathews worked on a number of leaked documents for WikiLeaks, including the operating manual for the detention camps at Guantanamo Bay. But in 2008, WikiLeaks published documents alleging illegal activities at the Cayman Islands branch of the Swiss bank Julius Baer. The bank sued in California and, as Mathews was living in the US at the time, he was named as a defendant although he had never seen the documents. The first court decision was to shut down the WikiLeaks site entirely. The American Civil Liberties Union and media organisations became involved, citing the First Amendment's protection of freedom of speech, and the decision was reversed.
''I think that I am the only person who has been a defendant in court on behalf of WikiLeaks,'' Mathews says. "It was harrowing. It was just me.'' After the case, Mathews told Assange he had had enough, and that he wanted to concentrate on maths. After that, he had no formal involvement with WikiLeaks until he joined the WikiLeaks Party early this year.
''It's a great strategy to take now,'' he says of the new party. ''WikiLeaks has struck a great blow for justice in the world, all the things that are now available, various cables, the "collateral murder" video (which revealed Americans killing civilians and two journalists in Iraq), the war logs, it changed something, some balance in the world.''
Launching a party with a star candidate holed up in an embassy overseas unable to campaign in person could appear surprising to some, even foolhardy.
Assange has fallen out with former allies including media partners The Guardian and The New York Times, and some former supporters of WikiLeaks are now critical of Assange's methods and personality.
The organisation is seriously hampered by an ongoing financial blockade from banks and credit companies including Visa, MasterCard and PayPal, which refuse to process donations, and by Assange's battle to avoid extradition to Sweden to answer questions over alleged sexual assault. Meanwhile, Bradley Manning, who has admitted he leaked 700,000 classified documents to WikiLeaks while working as an intelligence analyst in Iraq, faces trial next month on more than 20 charges, including aiding the enemy.
Assange has said that he believes his circumstances would change if he were elected as senator, because the UK and US governments would want to avoid a diplomatic row by pursuing an elected member of Parliament. The party itself has a broader purpose beyond Assange's travails, although it hopes the campaign will pressure the Australian government to seek assurances from the US and Sweden that Assange won't be sent on to America to face charges if he agrees to surrender to Sweden.
The council speaks as one about raising the issue of excessive secrecy and the need for maximum transparency for governments, and maximum privacy for individuals.
But where the balance lies between governments' requirements for secrecy and the public's right to know is less clear. Some council members acknowledge that WikiLeaks was wrong in 2011 to release all the US diplomatic files without removing the names of informants or others who could be targeted. Some files identified Australians who were alleged to have al-Qaeda links, prompting then attorney-general Robert McClelland to call it "incredibly irresponsible".
There is a back and forth argument on who was to blame - WikiLeaks said that two Guardian journalists had published the password in a book and that it had no alternative because the files were already on the internet; The Guardian denied it was responsible. Wherever the truth lies, the result was a wavering of support for WikiLeaks and accusations that it was too cavalier about harming the innocent.
''It was a mistake and an error that unredacted cables were let loose,'' says Niraj Lal. ''From what I understand, I think a large proportion of the blame is attributed to … The Guardian.''
But another council member, Omar Todd, sees no error on WikiLeaks' part. ''The critics say the soldiers have [had] their lives put in danger because of the releases of these cables - well, that is true, but it's the politicians who have put them there in the first place under questionable circumstances.''
Then there is Assange himself. Castro admits it will be ''an unusual campaign'', with Assange preparing a ''technology bunker" from London to communicate to potential voters in ways such as ''virtual'' town hall meetings. They want to use innovative methods to do everything from soliciting donations and organising events to seeking ideas. Todd, who stresses it's his personal view, would like to ''crowd source'' policies, allowing supporters to vote for policies they would like adopted.
Polls have shown considerable support for Assange and if he wins a Senate quota - possible, although a long shot according to most observers - and if there is no successful constitutional challenge to his election, he is unlikely to be free to take up his seat next year. The party has said it would then nominate his Victorian running mate - as yet unnamed - as his replacement.
It is messy to say the least. In the UK in particular, Assange has become a figure of scorn in parts of the media. His avoiding a return to Sweden to answer questions about allegations he sexually assaulted two women was a sign that he's an ''insufferable narcissist'', according to Marina Hyde in The Guardian. Professor George Williams of the University of NSW acknowledges that WikiLeaks has brought to light significant issues of public importance, but he wrote recently that to seek asylum to avoid extradition was a ''serious error of judgment''.
''No one should be above the law, even Assange.''
Assange's strongest supporters in Australia don't accept the argument that the stand-off over Assange's personal problems has damaged the work of WikiLeaks. None is scornful of the claims of the two women who allege Assange assaulted them and all point out that he has consistently said he would return to Sweden if he were assured he would not be extradited to the United States. Sweden has refused to give any such guarantee, saying it can't do so because there is no application for extradition, which would need to be dealt with on its merits.
''I don't think for a minute that Julian is trying to bypass the allegations that have been raised against him,'' says Kellie Tranter. ''It is very naive not to see the political element in his case.
''It has to be resolved politically because we're at a stalemate. Sweden can and should interview him in the Ecuadorian embassy and has not provided any reasonable explanation as to why they're not prepared to do that.
''[The Australian government] is not publicly prepared or privately prepared to seek assurances from Sweden or the US in relation to extradition issues. So it's up in the air.''
John Shipton has more personal reasons to worry. There is strong evidence that the US opened a Grand Jury investigation into WikiLeaks and Assange to determine what charges could be laid. The result of that investigation is not known and one view is that the US's free speech guarantee would protect a publisher such as Assange. Fairfax Media revealed in late 2011 that Australian diplomatic cables confirmed WikiLeaks was the target of a US Justice Department probe ''unprecedented both in its scale and nature'' and suggested that reports of a grand jury were ''likely true''.
''The evaluation of that situation is that we seek assurances,'' says Shipton, sitting in a Carlton house he has rented for the campaign's duration. ''It's 20 years of Julian's life if those assurances aren't met, so you don't move without that.''
Shipton will acknowledge that his son has made one mistake.
''[WikiLeaks] could have had better staff selection procedures,'' he says, referring to a handful of supporters who have fallen out with Assange. ''Julian is of a trusting nature and so am I, what can you do?''
Shipton thinks his son would make a fine senator, ''carrying the great traditions established by Don Chipp and senator [John] Faulkner''.
The father of ''the most dangerous man in the world'', as critics have called him, has no idea what Australians will make of his son come September.
''I hope they treasure him as an Australian who's taken very special Australian characteristics and qualities into the world and made something of himself,'' he says.