The idea of community development has been evoked by Australian governments over many decades. The expressions of community have differed widely, often as a result of politics rather than informed policy. In 1999, after seven years of radical neo-liberal restructuring in Victoria, the Bracks government found itself unexpectedly elected to power. They faced new challenges such as a diminished public sector, growing social inequality and climate change. The first two terms of Victorian Labor were a seminal period in terms of the role they would invoke for ‘community’. Did grass roots participation take a central place, or did rhetoric rule over substance? The evidence points to a government maintaining a neo-liberal trajectory, and thereby losing an opportunity to enable an active citizenry.