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Tuesday, 18 September 2012
Page: 11138


Mr McCORMACK (Riverina) (17:16): Language is fundamental to any community and a way which we all use to communicate with each other, no matter what our ethnic background may be and no matter where and how we were raised. Most Indigenous people in Australia identify strongly with a traditional language identity. The tribe with which they identify is the language group, and in most cases the tribal name is the language name. Australia is a multicultural country, and a multitude of different languages are spoken throughout this wide brown land. It is, however, the Indigenous languages which are a key element to understanding Australia's history. At the time of European colonisation, there were about 250 Australian Indigenous languages spoken. Today there are only about 18.

The Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, in the course of preparing this report, focused on the following:

The benefits of giving attention and recognition to Indigenous languages

The contribution of Indigenous languages to Closing the Gap and strengthening Indigenous identity and culture

The potential benefits of including Indigenous languages in early education

Measures to improve education outcomes in those Indigenous communities where English is a second language

The educational and vocational benefits of ensuring English language competency amongst Indigenous communities

Measures to improve Indigenous language interpreting and translating services

The effectiveness of current maintenance and revitalisation programs for Indigenous languages, and

The effectiveness of the Commonwealth Government Indigenous languages policy in delivering its objectives and relevant policies of other Australian governments.

The committee has made 30 recommendations and acknowledges the importance of languages from both Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders in the history of Australia and, indeed, the history of their people. They are a proud people, as they ought to be. This report highlights the benefits the committee believes will result from having greater recognition of Indigenous languages. These range from having a positive impact on the rapid decline of the languages through to helping reconciliation outcomes for all Australians.

In my electorate of Riverina, my home town is Wagga Wagga, a name derived from the local Wiradjuri language. 'Wagga' means 'crow', and doubling it to 'Wagga Wagga' means 'place of many crows'. Wiradjuri is the largest language in New South Wales and the second largest in Australia, I am rather proud to say. One initiative which is working well to help promote the Wiradjuri language is taking place in Parkes. More than 1,000 people are learning Wiradjuri in Parkes every week. That is about 10 per cent of the population. It is taught at every primary school, high school, and technical and further education centre, TAFE. Former principal Bill Cox believes the classes are helping engender within Indigenous students a strong sense of self-respect and identity. Other Wiradjuri teachers have noticed truancy and behavioural issues amongst Indigenous students decreasing since the language program began.

I commend this program for the great work it is doing to help Wiradjuri remain a language that is spoken in Australia. Indigenous language has an important role in Australia's history and in modern-day Australia. It means different things to different people and, as the committee stated in the report:

… for some people it is their first language, and the language of their country. For others it is the language of the area and place in which they reside. For all Australians, Indigenous languages are about who we are as a nation, about the place we call home, the country we live in, and the land we call Australia.

I might also add a plaudit to Stan Grant, who is an Aboriginal elder of the Wiradjuri tribe who lives at Narrandera, who has been busy preserving and detailing the Aboriginal Wiradjuri language in two wonderful volumes—quite thick tomes. He is preserving the Aboriginal language of Wiradjuri not only for the present generation but also for future generations.

He is also a great teacher at a wonderful centre, Tirkandi Inaburra, which is between Coleambally and Darlington Point in the western region of the Riverina electorate. It provides wonderful educational outcomes for Aboriginal youth, giving them a vision and a wonderful future. That centre is managed by Anthony Paulson, whom, I am happy to say, was a Riverina delegate at the Nationals Conference in Canberra on the weekend. He made a great contribution. Well done to both Anthony Paulson and Stan Grant, and to all who want to further explore the Aboriginal languages and to make sure that they are preserved for future generations.