Maternity Ward, St Catherine of the Bleeding Wheel Hospital, 4.30am. Ms X wakes up after a long post-labour sleep to see that wide-eyed innocent face beaming up at her. Yes, it’s Kevin Rudd.
”Hi. Just wondering if you were depressed yet,” he says. ”Some people may have told you that birth is an occasion for joy and happiness. We’re going to assume that post-natal depression is the norm, and check you weekly.”
”Yes,” a voice booms from the other side of the bed, from Jeff Kennett. ”Would you like some pills now, you’re looking pretty crap to me …”
Krudd’s announcement that ”screening” women twice for natal depression is now official Labor doctrine is bad policy and bad politics. Bad politics because it misses the wood for the trees in the same way Latham did. Yes, early child development and literacy was good; but having the future potential commander-in-chief of the Australian army reading to every individual child wasn’t, it was downright creepy.
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Some new Labor policy wonk has come up with this idea, not realising that Rudd has succeeded in the polls in part – sorry, Mark – cos he’s the anti-Latham, focused on the big picture and on being an older style leader taking care of the big issues like the IR framework and a real response to climate change.
The more of these loopy micropolicies that reach uninvited into people’s private lives he comes out with, the more Labor will look like a coercive party, treating society as ”one huge hospital”.
And of course that is what we’ll get from Rudd Labor – the whole British New Labour ticket, mixing authoritarian social policy with a substantially neoliberal economic framework. Most of it it political kitsch that goes nowhere, but taken as a whole – CCTVs with microphones attached, anti-social behaviour orders, monitoring of ”future criminals” from birth, paedophile panics, ”happiness” clinics – it simply corrodes the sense of a free polity and citizenship within a public sphere.
From an emancipatory left point of view, a Rudd government will be in many ways worse than a Howard one, since there will no clear line in the sand – drongo pollies channeling their troglodyte fears of black people into policy for example – on which to base an argument about freedom.
It’s in Rudd’s own interest to have the nous to downplay this sort of stuff, but it’s unlikely to happen. The team around him now draw their ideas from right wing elitism so automatically that they would be incapable of seeing why people might find having Hevvie Kevvie there for the dilation a bit off.