Tomorrow Labor MPs take to the seats on the government side of the House for the very first time since 1995. Everything old is new again, even though most political commentators are too wet behind the ears to have noticed.

Parliament is resuming and wedge politics has returned to Canberra. Very successful wedge politics.

The wedge, however, deals with a matter approved of by bien pensants and the chattering classes – an apology to Indigenous Australians – so it is not the cause of controversy even though it working brilliantly.

Inflation, interest rates, economic management, swinging spending cuts in the federal budget should all be causes for controversy this week. Rather than the neophyte government, though, the Coalition seems set to suffer.

Labor’s Aboriginal wedge politics have split the Liberals, embarrassed their leader and divided him from his numbers men and the former prime minister. It’s politics as usual, in other words. Divide and conquer was winning wars long before Sun Tzu wrote, let alone before anyone had coined a cute catchphrase like “wedge politics”.

That is all Labor is practising this week – divide and conquer politics that splits and weakens their opponents while making them look firmly in charge of a positive agenda.

It’s like “tipping points”. The phrase has been everywhere in politics since Malcolm Gladwell’s book of the same name appeared back in 2000. Its thesis – that there are levels at which the momentum for change becomes unstoppable – is a statement of the bleeding obvious.

At the end of July 1943, when von Manstein and the panzer commanders told Hitler they had lost the battle of Kursk, he didn’t say “Gott in Himmel! Ze var haz reached ein tipping point”, but if any one battle sealed the fate of Nazi Germany, that was it.

Tipping points are everywhere in politics, as are wedges. They stay while governments come and go.

Some prime ministers are just clever – and lucky enough – to be able to pretend they are above it all and say; “My job is to try and restore some respect to the place”.

Peter Fray

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