Dear Mr Rudd,
Since your triumphant ascention to the Prime Ministership, there seems have been some confusion about who, exactly, was elected. It’s true that I (and others of like mind) voted for the Labor Party under your erstwhile helmsmanship; but that does not mean, Mr Rudd, that we voted for you. You were merely the vehicle with which we ousted the long-loathed Howard. This is not to say we don’t appreciate your governance, or rather, the governance of your party. We do. We are really ecstatic at the prospect of a Labor federal government. But the honeymoon has ended, Mr Rudd – as, indeed, was inevitable – and the time has come for straight talkin’.
Let me be frank. We don’t like Kevin the Man. He is not who we voted for. He might share flesh with our PM, but as far as we’re concerned, he’s a totally different entity. We are interested in his opinions only insofar as they mirror those of Kevin the Prime Minister. We are extremely uninterested – not to say unimpressed – with any effort to make Kevin the Man a spokesman for our nation. Kevin the Man is entitled to his opinions, just like any other citizen. But he is not entitled to lend them Prime Ministerial authority.
Which brings me, Mr Rudd, to the subject of Olympia Papapetrou.
When you tell an 11-year-old girl that her naked self constitutes an abusive image, it is you – not the photographer and not her subject – who has brought abuse to the party. Consider her portrait as a Rorschach test for your psyche. Where it is possible to see beauty, innocence, fragility, youth, childhood, art, you see only naked sexuality, adult, abusive and paedophelic. This says nothing about Olympia Papapetrou, Mr Rudd, but considerably more about you. Personal opinions aside, you did not become Prime Minister through an inability to compromise, act tactfully or otherwise shut up on cue. Such evasions are your meat and drink, Mr Rudd, just as they are for all effective politicans: and you are very effective. Shaming Olympia Papapetrou was not your only option, because whatever morality is professed by Kevin the Man, Kevin the Prime Minister holds right of veto – or should, when it comes to public speaking.
Here is a photo a mother took of her child. Here is a photo that child loves – cherishes as an image of herself. If it comes to hold a taint for her, that taint is your doing, Mr Rudd. Because in your capacity as Prime Minister of Australia – which capacity you are in whenever the cameras are rolling – you told an eleven-year-old girl that her naked body is ugly, wrong, and a symbol for the most depraved act that could ever be perpetrated against it.
Child protection advocates seem curiously uninterested in Olympia’s right to defend her portrait, and for no better reason than her age. In another five or seven years, if she still loves the photo, will they listen then? Perhaps such advocates are, ultimately, used to speaking for children, not to them. There is condescention in the view that children cannot think for themselves, which assumption children’s rights advocates have spent the better part of a century trying to correct. To then turn around and claim the exact opposite – that Olympia cannot know her own mind, and is utterly unentitled to enjoy a photograph of herself, or to comment intelligently on it, because of her age – is deeply, insultingly hypocrtical.
Mr Rudd, the office of Prime Minister means more than a right to be heard or to make political judgements: it means the responsibility to do so with intelligence, forethought and a measure of objectivity. We ordinary citizens may complain on blogs or at the pub, in the street or to friends with more freedom than you now possess: because we are ordinary. When you stepped into the top job, you did so at the expense of your right to free and public opinion, because although the Prime Minister is a person, their office is not. Australia cannot speak with the voice of Kevin the Man, but only with that of Kevin the Prime Minister, his government and their people.
In that sense, Olympia Papapetrou – naked or clothed and regardless of age – has more entitlement to her public opinion than you. Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings, Mr Rudd. And you are neither.