A neoliberal quickstep: contradictions in Australian maternity policy

Reiger, Kerreen
October 2006
Health Sociology Review;Oct2006, Vol. 15 Issue 4, p330
Academic Journal
Current Australian maternity policy, while fragmented and uneven, is moving in new directions. Alliances between consumers, sympathetic health professionals and bureaucrats have placed the objectives of improving women's choices, increasing their control over decision-making and providing continuity of care firmly on the agenda. The state arena is a central space for articulating such demands and policy support has been critical to implementing changes in service delivery. Along with steps forward, though, steps sideways and backwards indicate the contingent character of the late modern state as it responds to social changes at the same time as advancing particular political goals. This paper argues that impediments towards making services more 'women-friendly' lie not only in the historical location of childbirth management in the medically-driven acute sector but in contemporary neoliberal political and economic pressures that both promote and yet constrain change. Research in selected Victorian hospitals suggests that desirable goals are compromised by working realities in contemporary public hospitals. Political mobilisation in the community and around the state remain necessary to encourage further change in childbirth management, but continuing critical assessment of the structural context and human challenges of maternity reform is also essential.


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