Book Review: Best Australian Political Cartoons 2023 edited by Russ Radcliffe wraps up bumper year of misdirection and contradiction

2023 was a big year in politics. The year started with unrest in the major party ranks, progressed into a cost-of-living crisis, a series of polarising court battles around corruption in parliament, and finished with the disastrous referendum on the Indigenous Voice to Parliament.

Along the way, there were of course all the ongoing political battles around climate change and mining, equal rights for women (this year in the form of equal pay and opportunities in women’s sports), international relations (particularly with the UK, USA and China), and endless questions about the conduct of former Prime Minster Scott Morrison.

All this is to say, it can be hard to keep up with politics, and with the busy stressful lives we all now lead (thanks cost-of-living crisis), there isn’t a whole lot of time to dedicate to the array of political columns and commentary that might help us make any sense of it all.

One could be forgiven for thinking that, with the decline of newspapers, political cartoons might not have the same relevance they once held on the inside of the first page right next to the editors column. But, if anything, this is the time where political cartoons really shine.

In an age where most people get their news from social media, largely visual platforms that prioritise image-based content, political cartoons are just as powerful and indeed accessible as ever. Which is why Russ Radcliffe‘s latest round up of the Best Australian Political Cartoons 2023 is a great way to catch up on what’s been happening in Australian politics with at least a few cartoons you’ve likely seen online and a few more cartoonists you’ll likely want to follow moving forward.

Featuring the likes of political cartoon big-hitters such as Cathy Wilcox, First Dog on the Moon, Matt Golding, David Pope, Dean Alston and John Shakespeare, among many many more, the collection brings together just a snapshot of the various ways in which the many issues of 2023 were covered by outlets around the nation.

Radcliffe opens the collection with a thoughtful and thorough introduction that helps frame his mindset in curating the collection, and gives readers a rundown of some of the major political considerations of the year. The collection then continues through a series of themes, with each double page spread consisting of up to three cartoons accompanied by several quotes from various political staffers.

The book covers a whole range of issues, broadly grouping them in terms of various themes such as the conflict within the Liberal party, the robodebt scandal, sexual assault and corruption in parliament, the referendum for the Voice and Inidgenous history and rights, climate change denialism, the cost of living crisis and international relations including the investigation of war crimes by Australian troops, obscenely expensive submarine purchases, relations with China, the war in Ukraine, Israel and Palestine, Trump, and King Charles. But even within these broad themes, there are a whole slew of smaller political and cultural commentaries that come into play.

If you’re not across the political discourse of some issues, this collection may prompt a few google searches here and there. And certainly it’s not always clear without the full context in which the cartoons were produced to understand exactly what some of them are trying to say. Similarly, if you’re not familiar with some cartoonists styles, you may not always recognise the political figures they’re depicting. But Radcliffe does a great job of providing as much context as possible through the careful collation of a range of cartoons and quotes that demonstrate the range of the discussion and people involved.

If you’re even vaguely interested in Australian politics, this book is a thoughtful, witty and well-rounded overview of 2023 and sits perfectly on any coffee table. Radcliffe’s experience in this field and with the Best Political Cartoons series results in a slick and seamless reading experience that allows you to simply bask in the wit, insight and charm of the cartoons, and shake your head at the baffling nature of Australian politics.


Best Political Cartoons 2023 edited by Russ Radcliffe is available now from Scribe. Grab your copy from Booktopia HERE.

Jess Gately

Jess Gately is a freelance editor and writer with a particular love for speculative fiction and graphic novels.