The way Australia's going through prime ministers is like the chaotic last years of the Roman Empire, when emperors came and went in quick succession. Australia's ex-prime ministers can at least be thankful they're removed by vote, not gutted with a sword.

Weapons may not have been used, but the faction fighting in the Liberal Party has been brutal. This isn't solely about individuals wanting the top job, the Liberals have major internal policy disagreements reflecting deep divisions in Australia over two issues: climate change and China.

Firstly, climate change. Publicly expressed scepticism about global warming is still spouted by a significant number of politicians.

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This looks perverse, given that if any country is going to suffer from global warming its Australia. The problem, however, is the coal industry. It's big, and its lobbyists powerful.
Australia is the world's largest exporter of coal. Most of the country's electricity comes from coal-fired power stations.

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A coal train leaving Dawson Mine, Moura Coal System Queensland. Australia is the world's largest exporter of coal. Most of the country's electricity comes from coal-fired power stations. Photo/AP
A coal train leaving Dawson Mine, Moura Coal System Queensland. Australia is the world's largest exporter of coal. Most of the country's electricity comes from coal-fired power stations. Photo/AP

So much is dependent on digging the black stuff out of the ground that it's proving a hard habit to kick. At stake, mining company profits, jobs for many Australians, significant government revenue, and the power to air-condition Australia's overheating homes.

The conservative faction behind the dumping of Malcolm Turnbull, led by the scarily unnerving Peter Dutton, wants to pull Australia out of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

A Turnbull-backed bill to reduce carbon emissions to 26 per cent below 2005 levels was abandoned because MPs in his own party refused to vote for it, precipitating the leadership challenge. Though it was Treasurer Scott Morrison, a moderate compared to Dutton, who triumphed.

The same faction that's blocking legislation to reduce carbon emissions has been vocal on the other divisive issue, Australia's relationship with China.

This has come in the wake of accusations Beijing has been engaged in cyber espionage and directing money to individuals and organisations in Australia in the hope of influencing foreign policy.

Real or exaggerated, the issue has allowed a minority of politicians to engage in some ugly xenophobia.

This hasn't gone down well with China, who Australia only two years ago signed a free trade agreement with. China is Australia's largest export destination, with trade worth A$175 billion in 2016/17.

What's fueling tensions is Australia's military alliance with the United States. The Trump administration is putting pressure on Canberra to talk tough against China and build up military forces in the region.

From China's point of view, this looks duplicitous. Your economy benefits from extensive trade with us, yet your warships are training with American ships in the South China Sea?
Unsurprisingly, China has reacted by holding up Australian wine at Chinese ports.

This awoke Australia's business community to the potential cost of getting offside with China. And yet the close alliance with the United States is ingrained in the major political parties.

The juggling act involved in appeasing both Beijing and Washington is getting unworkable, tearing the Liberal Party apart.

Odds on there'll be a change of government come election time, and another prime minister, inspiring more jokes and internet memes.

For New Zealanders, it's insightful to understand the issues involved, to perhaps better inform our own political choices.

■ Vaughan Gunson is a writer and poet interested in social justice and big issues facing the planet.