Australia has had a formal National Drought Policy for nearly three decades. Over that time, the policy has morphed, with the programs that make up the policy being revised and replaced as it has sought to address both the concerns of the farm business and the welfare needs of farm families. The stated principles underpinning the policy have remained relatively stable, focusing on farmer self-reliance and risk management. The most recent iteration, embodied in a December 2018 National Drought Agreement, is very similar in stated intent to the original 1992 policy. Despite attempts to focus on risk management, however, the policy remains to a large extent crisis driven, with changes to the policy, particularly big-ticket spending, frequently announced during severe drought. As a result of the tension between the political imperative to respond during drought events and the desire to promote self-reliance and drought preparedness among farmers, the original policy's ambition of avoiding ad hoc reactions has not been achieved, and the risk management/self-reliance theme is reflected more rhetorically than in policy substance. These tensions reflect the challenge of juggling the conflicting values around drought support, between broad community sympathy for farmers which is activated during drought, and aspirations of a risk management approach which requires longer term thinking and the avoidance of ad hoc policy making.