religious discrimination bill
(Image: Gorkie/Private Media)

Politics is, among other things, the art of expecting and managing unintended consequences of action, and the great politician, as opposed to the theorist or the administrator, is one who can turn on a point, with a new plan and purpose.

Even so, what has come to pass with the handling of the religious discrimination bill has been an exemplar of the principle that if you try hard enough, you can make the very exact opposite of what you wanted to happen come to pass.

The top-level stuff-up was the stuff of future legend: a religiously devout, not to say obsessive, prime minister sought to extend the reach of religion in life, and wedge Labor with those uneasy at its strong orientation to secular progressivism. Instead, he split his government, made Labor look unified and focused, revived the long buried social-liberal wing of his party as openly defiant, supplied an organisational frame to them from without, and created such a disaster of the bill that after 24 hours its sponsors were urging cancellation. That is Night of the Long Prawns stuff.*