The Mighty Eucalyptus has fallen.

Russel Norman's decision to step down from the co-leadership of the Greens is a crushing blow for a party still in recovery following its disappointing result in last September's general election. That was written across the faces of Green MPs gathered in the party's caucus room for the announcement. Their demeanour registered all the emotions between glum and glummer.

But his departure - the ex-Queenslander may yet quit Parliament altogether - should have surprised no-one.

Alongside the pressures of political life and demands on his time as leader, he and his partner have three children under the age of four. Something had to give.

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There were signs after the election that all was not right. He took very badly the Greens' failure to lift their vote at a time when Labour was in a very weak state.

Interviewed by Willie Jackson after the election, Norman was bitter, reserving special venom for Internet-Mana and blaming that party's behaviour for the centre-left's poor showing. It was an unusual departure from Norman's normally polite and relaxed self.

Smart, quick-witted and thoughtful, Parliament will be much the poorer if it loses him completely.

Norman's major achievement in his near decade-long stint as the Greens' male co-leader was to drag the party out of its Opposition mindset and prod it towards the mainstream and ultimately the levers of power. Not an easy task in a party where principles are not a disposable commodity or something to be watered down by pragmatism.

He also turned the party's biggest weakness - its utterly unelectable away-with-the-fairies economic policy - into one of its strengths by arguing "Green economics" was "smart economics". That almost became his catch-cry.

There is little question that he desperately craved the chance to put elements of that policy into practice through securing a seat at the Cabinet table.

It was his very bad luck that his time as co-leader corresponded with Labour slipping from power.

His legacy is thus his crucial rebranding of his party's image away from the stereotypical view of its members as a bunch of lentil-munching Morris dancers. By donning a suit for the television cameras, he changed perceptions of the party overnight.

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Norman may be going. Thanks to him, though, those who loved ridiculing the Greens as wacko and loony had long been silenced.