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Eucalypt politics

By Anica Niepraschk - posted Thursday, 22 December 2016

The faded blue of the Eucalypt trees is a distinct feature of the Australian landscape. It's not a full colour, it's unlike the green of countless shades and density in the northern hemisphere, or the rainforests in South America and Asia, strongly expressing fertility, generosity, life. It is as if the leaves of the gum trees have been slowly bleached by the sun, which burns onto this continent like nowhere else. It is a dry continent, rough, all about survival in the most unlikely circumstances.

These days I cannot shake the thought of how much this faded, burnt blue is a metaphor for the Australian political character. Just a couple of weeks ago Donald Trump was elected American president. Before the election political leaders from all major Australian parties expressed their concern in case of this event as they believed Trump to be unsuitable for the presidency. The Liberal party leadership, including Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull, repeatedly distanced itself from Trump's actions and plans.

As soon as the election result became public though, Malcom Turnbull jumped at the opportunity to call the President elect, being only the second international leader to congratulate him on his victory. While Turnbull reassured Trump of Australia's strong alliance with America, he needed another enemy to point public attention to and now accuses opposition leader Bill Shorten of being a bigger threat to world trade than Donald Trump.


It didn't take much for the Liberal party to fall into line with Trump and try to cover up their previous antipathy. This is just a symptom of a prevalent phenomenon of Australian politics: it is rarely about values but often about power.

Party policies mostly seem a mere necessity which must be ticked off. Mostly it is not values or ideology driving political processes, it is just power. Surely, power is an essential part of politics: in any democracy parties compete for it to be able to implement their policies. In Australia, however, seeking power all too often has nothing to do with trying to change the country for the better, it is just about holding power.

This was clearly exemplified by this year's federal election where the Liberal and Labor party both engaged in campaigns aimed at discrediting the other, rather than emphasising their vision for the nation.

It is further shown in the power struggles dominating the two major parties. Even within their own ranks an inability to cooperate to work on common objectives prevails. This concentration on their own power ambitions renders political leaders incapable of serving their constituents. Australia has been wasting time on ousting Prime Ministers and staging early elections for so long that no one even believes that any government can still last the three years in power which it is elected to. And less so, that it will actually implement its vision.

The truth is: there is no vision. Australia, throughout its young life, has not managed to find a political identity of its own. It is ripped between the strong economic and military influences of America and Asia. It tries to deal with its European settler past, and still doesn't know how to connect to its Aboriginal people and the oldest culture on earth. It can't seem to choose one or the other, or to create its own.

There is no inspiration in its political identity, no thinking of its own, no strong colour. It is the Eucalypt leaves trapped between the blue and the green, not being either, but fading away between the two.


Australia is a young nation. It didn't have much time to establish a political system, to learn from the mistakes made and find its true identity. But youth bears potential: there is the opportunity to create something new, to do things differently, to think outside the box.

Eucalyptus oil is highly flammable and gum trees thereby contribute highly to devastating fires. But they also have the ability to regenerate after fires and use the very force that brought them down to create new life – like the phoenix rising from the ashes. To have any chance of playing a role on the world stage, Australian politics should learn from these millions of years old trees - learn how to recreate itself - or it will continue spreading the fire that will eventually destroy it.

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About the Author

Anica Niepraschk is a political scientist specialised on governance issues and civil society participation in democracies. She is based in Melbourne.

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