Social Impacts of a National Drought Policy in Australia

Authored by: Tamara Sysak , Ruth Beilin

Handbook of Drought and Water Scarcity

Print publication date:  July  2017
Online publication date:  September  2017

Print ISBN: 9781498731003
eBook ISBN: 9781315226774
Adobe ISBN:


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Australia’s drought policy history demonstrates how governments have attempted to accommodate different needs resulting in mixed political messages that fluctuate between a risk management approach demanding farmers to be self-reliant and an approach where financial support is provided during drought. These financial provisions undermine the risk management aspect where policy impact and rhetoric are constantly misaligned. We draw on previous research on national drought policy to focus on the local social impact of a national policy. A case study is used based on an irrigated agricultural production region in northern Victoria, Australia, to illustrate how drought is context specific, and particularly in rural areas where irrigation is used drought policy needs to be viewed with water policy. Tensions around the national policy translate to confusion at the local scale. The government is reliant on irrigated agriculture for export and farmers are being told they are valued as producers for the nation but the drought and water policy implications do not support this. Smaller-scale farmers are exiting agriculture as changes in policies compound the effects of climatic extremes. With Australia-wide evidence on the complexities of a national policy at local scales, the drought policy has been reformed to include welfare payments and self-reliance instruments in the same policy. Whether this will be the solution to manage drought in a vast country where climate change is predicted to increase the intensity and duration of drought is yet to be seen.

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