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Monday, 27 June 1994
Page: 1996

Senator COONEY —I address my question to the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. As Australia is accepted internationally as an outstanding example of a multicultural society and given that tourism into this country contributes greatly to Australia's economy, is the government taking any action to utilise the community's multicultural assets?

Senator BOLKUS —Senator Cooney goes very much to the heart of government policies in this area—policies which have been placed firmly in the mainstream with the release just a few weeks ago of Working Nation. At that time a whole range of measures were announced, all designed to make the best possible use of Australia's multicultural work force.

  The philosophy underlying our direction and the emphasis of Senator Cooney's question is that as we continue to expand our export industry performance, we cannot afford to overlook the fact that one in four Australians today comes from a non-English speaking background and may well have both language and cultural skills which are currently going to waste.

  Tourism is an important part of the process and that aspect has been raised by Senator Cooney. One growth industry in which Australia's culturally diverse work force is an obvious asset is, of course, tourism. Tourism contributed some 5.5 per cent to our gross domestic product in 1991-92, and was estimated in that year to have employed more than 450,000 people, or six per cent of the work force. Last year tourism accounted for almost three million international visitors to Australia.

  When one looks at the profile of tourists coming to Australia, one can see that it is changing enormously. We are attracting to Australia more and more tourists who do not speak English. Research by the Bureau of Tourism Research found that the number of visitors whose first language is English had dropped from 52.3 per cent in 1990 to 48 per cent in 1992. This means that the majority of visitors to Australia do not have English as their first language.

  When one looks behind these figures one sees, for example, that the number of Chinese-speaking visitors between 1991 and 1992 increased by 47 per cent. We had 18 per cent more Japanese speakers in 1992 than in 1990, and German-speaking visitors increased by nine per cent from 1990 to 1992. Visits by Indonesian and Malaysian language speakers are also showing signs of increasing.

  By the year 2001, the Inbound Tourism Association of Australia predicts, at least 60 per cent of international visitors will come from non-English speaking countries. Australia is very well placed to accommodate the needs of tourists, particularly in the lead-up to the 2000 Olympics. Visitors always want to feel secure in the knowledge that Australians understand them—not only in terms of language but in the more subtle areas of cultural needs and preferences.

  To maximise our return on our human assets and human resources, I am pleased to announce funding of $30,000 for a pilot project run by ITOA. A consultant will be employed to identify issues relating to the existing and potential use of the linguistic and cultural skills of non-English speaking background Australians by the tourism industry in catering for non-English speaking overseas visitors and in tapping new international tourism markets.

  The consultant will also be asked to document best practice examples of such usage in the tourism industry. The consultant will seek to identify available human resources within the community that could be better coordinated to help the industry improve its service to non-English speaking visitors as well as to exploit new market opportunities. Furthermore, the consultant will be asked to make recommendations on how the tourism industry and the government could overcome impediments to the effective use of the skills in our community.

  The project, which will use Sydney as a demonstration model, should be completed by November this year and will have a major impact in the lead-up to the Olympics as well as in the lead-up to the year 2000 or so when we expect some nine million tourists to come to Australia.