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Strengthening our communities can offer a more secure future

By Mark Latham - posted Monday, 2 June 2003

Until now, law and order has been thought of as a state and territory issue. Federal Labor wants to change this perception. We believe that the national government has a responsibility for the safety of its citizens, in all parts of the nation.

It's time for politicians in Canberra to stand up for the victims of crime and take an interest in crime prevention. We should be tough on crime, but even tougher on the social causes of crime.

Too often at a state level, this issue is seen solely as a matter of punishment: a bidding war as to which side of politics can build the most prisons and put the most number of people in gaol. Crime, of course, is a problem of personal responsibility - but it is more than that. Crime is also a social problem that demands a social solution.


People do not turn to crime because they are inherently bad. Rather, crime is part of anti-social behaviour, where the relationship between people has broken down and they start turning on each other. This is where the federal government has a role to play: addressing the social causes of crime.

Labor's community security policy is not designed to replicate the punishment and policing powers of the states and territories. We have no intention of reinventing the wheel.

Instead, we want to change the nature of the debate, to recognise that law and order has a social and community dimension. Punishment and policing are important but the best solution to crime is a social solution.

Research in the United States, for instance, has shown that the best predictor of a safe community is not the number of police on the beat or the strength of sentencing laws but rather, the number of people in a neighbourhood who know the name of their next-door neighbours. I am sure the same is true in Australia: that strong communities - where people know each other and look out for each other - these are the safe communities.

We also need to recognise the close connection between poverty and crime. As the problems of inequality and long-term unemployment have become more entrenched in Australia over the past 30 years, the problem of lawlessness has also grown. All of us have an interest in solving poverty, not just for a better society but to protect our property and personal safety.

These are two big strategies for a safer society: solving poverty and building stronger communities. They are whole-of-government tasks for which Labor is developing major policy statements.


We are already in a position to outline two specific initiatives for community security.

The first is the creation of Community Safety Zones. Just as criminals target certain neighbourhoods, the federal government should be targetting extra resources to solve this problem. We know that postcodes reflect the pattern of wealth distribution in society. They also reflect the concentration of crime in certain areas.

Where these problems are identified, Labor will establish a Community Safety Zone and invite local organisations to apply for funding. Priority will be given to strategies that:

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Article edited by John Carrigan.
If you'd like to be a volunteer editor too, click here.

This is an edited extract from an address to the Northern Territory Press Club in Darwin on 20 May 2003.

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About the Author

Mark Latham is the former Leader of the Opposition and former federal Labor Member for Werriwa (NSW).

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