Media Release by Senator the Hon Kay Patterson

Who’s Right? Mr Latham Or Mr Swan?

The Minister for Family and Community Services, Senator Kay Patterson, said the Opposition Leader Mark Latham is at odds with his Family and Community Services spokesman, Wayne Swan, over support for local communities.

During today’s National Press Club address, Mr Latham, spoke about the importance of promoting stronger communities, devolving responsibility to the local level and talking with local people instead of “at them”.

The Howard Government has committed more than $200 million under the Stronger Families and Communities Strategy to help local communities to find local solutions to their problems and help them to increase their capacity by working at the grassroots level.

Mr Latham told the National Press Club today: “There is a very strong feeling in our society, a very strong feeling in our politics that too much power has slipped from the people’s grasp and it has been concentrated in the hands of big bureaucracies and big corporations. I very much share this concern and I want to see more of government power devolved to a community level. In many cases, government needs to act as a junior partner to community effort, backing local initiatives in civil society.”

Senator Patterson said Mr Latham’s views clashed with Mr Swan. Mr Swan last month told a Melbourne newspaper that he would scrap the successful Stronger Families and Communities Strategy and replace it with a “couple of strong national programs”.

Mr Swan, in the Age newspaper on January 8, 2004, was quoted about the Stronger Families and Communities Strategy:

“If the money had been all been put into a couple of strong national programs, we would have got a better bang for our buck.”

Senator Patterson called on Mr Latham to clarify the confusion in Opposition ranks over the importance of funding for local community grassroots projects that strengthen families and support local communities.

“Who is right? Mr Latham or Mr Swan?,” she said.

“Mr Swan thinks he knows best what local communities need. He wants to scrap the Stronger Families and Communities Strategy, which has committed more than $200 million to help local communities find local solutions to their problems and introduce a program where Mr Swan dictates what people need in their own community.

“Local communities are diverse and best placed to identify and respond to local problems. Lasting solutions are more likely to be found if governments work in partnership with communities.

“The Howard Government remains fully committed to supporting and strengthening family and community life by working at the grassroots, community level – unlike Labor.”