This Chapter describes recent events in the development and application of a national drought policy in Australia. Prior to the 1990s, Government assistance to drought-affected farmers and pastoralists was based on the assumption that drought was an unpredictable natural disaster. A paradigm shift towards the present policy of “self reliance” occurred in the early 1990s. Under this policy, farmers were expected to be able to manage through most droughts, with Government assistance only available in the event of droughts of unusual length or severity — so-called “exceptional circumstances.” Details of the policy, and its application in, and following, drought situations, are briefly outlined.
Illustrated by the experience of 2002–03, one of Australia’s worst-ever droughts, we show that the development of drought policy in Australia is an ongoing process, in which attempts to apply aspects of the policy in practice generally reveal deficiencies, leading to subsequent modification of the policy. Areview of National Drought Policy conducted by the Australian Government after the 2002–03 drought generated a number of recommendations. Among these were: the nearly universal endorsement by stakeholders that proactive drought preparedness measures should be encouraged by Governments; and that improvements were needed to the reliability of seasonal predictions, with calls for better-coordinated research into climate variability, and better presentation of prediction information.
The Chapter also describes changes in water management policy in Australia, which also underwent a fundamental change during the early 1990s. Case studies are provided of certain aspects of the policy, including the application of water entitlements in rural areas, and water restrictions in urban areas.
The Chapter discusses some likely future developments, including discussion of the possible implications for drought policy posed by future climate change.