The Australian and Sunday Telegraph political commentator Glenn Milne has uncovered a “wedge” that the federal Opposition is about to drive into the Rudd Government. (Liberals aim to wedge Labor on bill of rights, August 11, 2008).

In today’s “world scoop”, Milne revealed that shadow attorney-general Senator George Brandis (the guy with the voice that is pitched somewhere between Alexander Downer’s and Christopher Pyne’s) is planning a speech in Townsville on Thursday to “wedge” Labor on its bill of rights.

But in order to construct a wedge, you need to have the government in support of the proposal and the Opposition causing maximum embarrassment by upping the ante.

In this case, Milne and Brandis are tilting at a lifeless windmill. As far as the Rudd Government is concerned the bill of rights is dead and buried. It’s a straw man, a non-event, a fast disappearing mirage, an idea whose time didn’t come, it passed.

If there was any lingering life in the plan (and there wasn’t), the arrival of Roger Wilkins as permanent head of the federal Attorney-General’s Department on September 1 will see it euthanaised.

Wilkins, the former director-general of the NSW Cabinet Office, is a vehement opponent of the bill of rights. When former NSW Attorney-General Jeff Shaw attempted to inflate the idea during the 1990s he was broadsided by Premier Bob Carr and Wilkins who argued that it would undermine the sovereignty of parliament and create judicial mayhem.

Shaw shuffled off the idea to a parliamentary committee headed by upper house Labor MP Ron “Dolly” Dyer who found no support for the bill among the committee’s members.

Instead, Dyer argued for a watchdog to review all the state’s legislation to ensure that human rights and civil rights were not menaced, but even that minor oversight role has fallen by the wayside.

None of this appears to have had the slightest impact on Milne and Brandis. Milne intones gravely: “The issue has the potential to cleave Labor.” No it doesn’t because Labor has junked the idea.

Milne is undeterred: “Brandis’s challenge to Rudd is extant: ‘What proponents of a bill or charter of rights in Australia have, to date, failed to establish, is why Australia needs a bill of rights?’ … In the view of the Opposition there is no case for the enactment of a bill or charter of rights in the absence of any demonstrated need for one.”

Good, now we are all clear — Labor doesn’t see the need for a bill of rights and won’t propose one and the Opposition is opposed to the idea as well. No scoop, no story and no wedge, except in Milne’s underpants.

Peter Fray

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