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Media Release by Senator the Hon Kay Patterson

Swan – a policy-free zone with 48-hour used-by date

Labor’s call for poverty summits and setting targets is no substitute for strong economic growth and programs targeted at tackling the causes of hardship, the Minister for Family and Community Services said today.

She said Opposition Family and Community Services Spokesman, Wayne Swan, had proved his was a policy-free zone after his address today at the National Press Club.

“Mr Swan – almost as one of his glib throw away lines – said the best thing that can be done to help the poor is to provide jobs. The Howard Government’s record on job creation towers over Mr Swan’s,” she said.

“Under the Howard Government, more full-time jobs have been created in the past six months than in the last six years of the previous Labor Government.”

Senator Patterson said Mr Swan had concentrated on the broad term of poverty and had failed to identify the causes of hardship, such as family breakdown, poor educational attainment, drugs, illiteracy, gambling and mental health.

“Calling for a poverty summit, setting targets and calling for broad national schemes does nothing to tackle the hardship people suffer,” she said.

Senator Patterson said the Howard Government had a new approach to tackling hardship in the community. It was focused on early intervention, prevention and individual help.

“There is a need to have a better understanding of the issues that lead to disadvantage and to develop more early intervention programs to address the causes, not the symptoms of hardship,” she said.

Personal Advisers were introduced as a part of the Australians Working Together package. More than 100,000 income support recipients have been able to sit down with an adviser to develop a personalised participation plan to find a solution that works for them.

Senator Patterson said a new project – the Family Homelessness Prevention Pilot – works with people whose history includes domestic violence, uncontrolled debt, previous homelessness and poor social networks.

“Yet through partnerships with Centrelink and community organisations 90% of people involved in the pilot were able to stay in their home or obtain alternative housing and there was a 50% rise in employment and education activities,” she said.

“Homelessness programs need to be focused on the causes of homelessness not just the resulting problems.”

Senator Patterson said the Government would receive a final evaluation of the program this year and the results could have the potential to change the way policy, planning and practice address homelessness and hardship in the future.

“Nowhere did we see anything innovative or designed to tackle the problem at its source from Mr Swan today,” she said.

“When in doubt, he has resorted to setting a poverty target, although that is not clear.

“This would be cold comfort for people suffering hardship in the community who may remember the last Labor target: ‘By 1990 no child will live in poverty'”.

Senator Patterson said Mr Swan’s no-ideas approach is summed up by his attacks on the Government’s Family Tax Benefit system, which has delivered record assistance to Australian families of around $6000 on average per family.

“The Opposition Spokesman on Family and Community Services, Wayne Swan, is quick to criticise, but he has no policies or ideas of his own. He is a policy-free zone, as he once again graphically proved at the National Press Club today.

“His last idea lasted all of 48 hours. On Sunday on Meet the Press he said quarterly reporting requiring families to reconcile their FTB payments every three months was a ‘lasting solution’.

“When I pointed out that under such a heavy-handed system, Australian families would have to put in a tax return four times a year, making them Mr Swan’s tax agents, he did a backflip.

“Mr Swan’s one policy idea lasted just 48 hours!”