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Tuesday, 26 February 1985
Page: 184

Senator TEAGUE(3.08) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the paper.

I welcome the report to the Parliament on the 1986 Census of Population and Housing. In particular, I welcome the inclusion of questions that relate to language use in Australia which I believe will be valuable for language planning purposes. Similarly, there are questions relating to the birthplace of the person filling in the form and the birthplaces of his or her parents. Both those questions have been included in all previous censuses. There are also questions in regard to year of arrival in Australia, citizenship and a quite new question relating to ancestry. When replies to these, together with other questions on language use and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander origins, are put together a very useful picture can be gained of the languages used in Australia, of the proficiency of Australians in the English language and of the need for educational and government planning to meet the needs of those populations. The replies to those questions will lead to a better understanding of the nature of the Australian community, which will add to the knowledge we have gained from the 1976 and 1981 censuses.

A book that particularly relates to languages is Professor Michael Clyne's book on community languages in Australia, which gives an analysis of the extent and particular proportions of ethnic communities in each of the States and even in each local government area in Australia. In addition, the recent report of the Senate Standing Committee on Education and the Arts titled 'A National Language Policy', which was tabled here last Thursday, updates that picture given by Professor Clyne's analysis of the 1976 census, and gives a very accurate profile that includes more recent material from the Bureau of Statistics.

I therefore welcome these questions relating to the ancestry and language use of Australians. I note that the question 'How well does the person speak English?' will be self-assessed and therefore, when all the questions are analysed, will be understood as being possibly defective because of the different subjective measure that each individual involved in the census will give to how well the person speaks English. It will nevertheless be of considerable value.

There is one area in which I wish to suggest an alternative approach. I fear it will be too late for consideration in the 1986 census but I give notice now that it might well be reviewed for all such similar purposes in the years ahead. I refer to the question relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander origin. I am not doubting the value of the question being asked, but the supplementary question that differentiates Aboriginal Australians from Torres Strait Islander Australians is a rather historic differentiation which is, I believe, no longer useful. Although we would need to listen to the Aboriginal communities, let us assert that Torres Strait Islanders are Aboriginal Australians. Of the 200 language groups of Australians why should we pick out two from the Torres Strait-the Kala Laga Ya speakers and the Merriam Mer speakers-and ask specific questions relating to those two when we do not ask those question of the other 200 language groups in Australia? I just make the suggestion that this should be the last time there is in a census a distinction made between Aboriginal Torres Strait Islanders and Aboriginal Australians. They are all Aboriginal Australians.