Of droughts and fleeting rains: Drought, agriculture and media discourse in Australia

Serrin Rutledge-Prior, Richard Beggs

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


    Drought is a normal part of the variable Australian climate, occurring on average every thirteen years since 1870. Changes in agricultural policy since the 1980s have attempted to shift more of the drought risk from the state to the producer. During drought, however, governments feel political pressure to support the industry financially. The iconography of rural hardship and representation of drought as crisis in media discourse are key factors in forcing government intervention and ensuring public support. We analysed the content of eighty news articles during six months of the drought which began in 2018. In line with previous research, we found that drought was represented primarily through its effects on the agricultural industry. Implicit disaster narratives persisted, but in contrast to past studies, a recognition of drought as normal was more salient than drought as exceptional. Agrarian narratives emphasising the exceptional cultural value of the agricultural industry persisted and were presented as justification for continued government support. Scientifically informed discourses, recognising the effects of climate change on future drought risk and acknowledging the role of the agricultural industry in current and historical environmental degradation, were scarce or absent.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)106-129
    JournalAustralian Journal of Politics and History
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2021


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