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The Victorian Bushfires of 2002-03 and the Politics of Blame: a Discourse Analysis

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This paper identifies contrasting environmental discourses on bushfire from the public debate that followed the Victorian fires of 2002-03. Submissions to the inquiry into the 2002-03 Victorian bushfires provide a particularly rich source of documentation. It is argued that environmental events such as bushfire only become political issues, or problems, when they are constituted as such through environmental discourse. Through the analysis, three contrasting discourses on bushfire are identified--here labelled the 'conservationist', 'ruralist' and 'wise use' discourses. In examining how different 'constructions' of bushfire have led to conflict, each discourse is shown to consist of a range of actors who draw on shared storylines. Having established a better understanding of the different attitudes, beliefs, interests and values that underpin debates about bushfire, the paper concludes with a brief discussion of the prospects for compromise among the discourses and the potential for improved land and fire management outcomes.

Keywords: Bushfire; Victoria; discourse analysis; environmental conflict; environmental policy; natural hazards

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: RMIT University Australia

Publication date: November 1, 2004

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