How political, satirical cartoons illustrated Australia’s WorkChoices debate

Keith Townsend, Griffith University
Paula McDonald, Queensland University of Technology
Lin Esders, Queensland University of Technology


Political cartoons are a ubiquitous form of satire which assists the public to interpret political life. This study examined the tone and content of 107 political, satirical cartoon images published in mainstream Australian newspapers in 2005 and 2006. The cartoons illustrated the sweeping reforms of the industrial relations system at a turbulent time in Australia’s political history. We investigate two dimensions of a sample of widely published cartoons—tone and content—using an established typology. We find that the images were conveyed in a moderate tone in that they were more about poking fun at and questioning authority and power, rather than simply describing the issues on one hand, or demonstrating any revolutionary fervour on the other. The cartoons’ content represented many of the concerns and issues being voiced by employer groups, government, opposition, unions and the media at the time. The images were an important part of the wider political discourse and potentially a mechanism through which industrial relations was placed squarely in the minds of working Australians.

Dr Keith Townsend <> works in the Centre for Work, Employment and Wellbeing, and Department of Employment Relations at Griffith Business School, Griffith University. His research interests include employee misbehaviour and resistance, work-life balance and working time, and popular culture. Dr Paula McDonald <> is a senior lecturer in the School of Management at Queensland University of Technology. Her research interests include gender and work, youth employment, work-life balance, and work and popular culture. She works closely with several community organisations and public sector departments in Queensland on projects related to the quality of employment. Lin Esders is a currently completing her Masters Degree in Research in the School of Management at Queensland University of Technology. Lin has been employed as a school teacher and within the Queensland Teachers Union and has a keen research interest in the field of teacher workloads.

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