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Wednesday, 27 February 1985
Page: 282


Senator COLSTON(6.24) —On 21 February I moved that the Senate take note of the report of the Senate Standing Committee on Education and the Arts on a national language policy. The Committee's report was presented to the President of the Senate on 11 December 1984 pursuant to a resolution of the Senate of 9 October 1984. The Senate originally referred the question 'The Development and Implementation of a National Language Policy' to the Standing Committee on 25 May 1982. The reference lapsed when the Parliament was dissolved on 4 February 1983. The new Committee decided to continue the inquiry and I informed the Senate of this decision on 10 May 1983. Public hearings on the reference were resumed on 20 May 1983 and completed on 31 October 1983. Public hearings were held in all States, in Canberra, Darwin and Alice Springs.

The Committee's unanimous and comprehensive report covers several broad and complex areas of inquiry. The terms of the Senate's reference list 12 different areas, ranging from the use of English in Australia to the special language needs of the deaf and other persons with disabilities. The Committee has reported on all of these areas. In all, the report contains 117 recommendations which, taken together, provide a sound basis for the development of language policies in Australia.

The first of the Committee's two major findings is that language policies in Australia should be developed on the basis of four guiding principles. These are: Competence in English; maintenance and development of languages other than English; provision of services in languages other than English; and opportunities for learning second languages. The second major finding is that language policies should be co-ordinated at the national level. National co-ordination should be the responsibility of a national advisory council conferred with advisory, co-ordination and policy research functions.

I shall now describe the structure of the Committee's report and mention briefly some of its specific recommendations. Naturally, these recommendations are consistent with the major findings I have just outlined. The report consists of 15 chapters. The major philosophies underpinning the report's recommendations may be found in chapter 1. The second chapter sets out statistics on language use in Australia. Then follow five chapters which deal with English language issues. A further seven chapters deal with the other matters for inquiry which were identified in the reference. The final chapter is a summary of the Committee's recommendations. I consider a detailed exposition of all of the report's findings is not a practical proposition because of the scope of the report. I intend, however, to present a brief resume of the report, chapter by chapter, highlighting some of its most significant recommendations.

Chapter 2 of the report sets out statistics on language use in Australia. The figures show that 2.4 million Australians first spoke a language other than English. In addition, about 80 of what could be termed immigrant languages and 150 Aboriginal languages are spoken in Australia. The statistics, however, must be used with care. One significant reason is that comparable figures have not been collected on a regular basis. It is impossible, therefore, to determine how language use has changed over time. The Committee has found, therefore, that more detailed statistics on language use should be collected on a regular basis. It has recommended that questions on language use should be included in future population censuses.

Chapter 3 is concerned with the use of English as a national language. The Committee has made five recommendations in this chapter, including one for the establishment of a task force to recommend on the reform of the language of the law. The Committee considers that reform in this area is urgent and important because the communication of legal rights and obligations is adversely affected by the use of what could be termed 'legal English'.

Chapters 4, 5 and 7 respectively, deal with the teaching of English as a mother tongue, as second language and as a foreign language. The Committee has made a total of 25 recommendations in these chapters. One of its main findings is that the teaching of English to native speakers of English should be improved. The Committee has proposed that all teachers, not just teachers of English, should undertake special courses in English language skills either in their pre-service training or in service, The current training of English specialists, which often produces good critics but indifferent English teachers, is not appropriate.

The Committee supports current Commonwealth programs for the teaching of English to new settlers. It found, however, that there are several matters of detail relating both to the adult migrant education program and English as a second language programs which are in need of reform. Its 16 recommendations in this area should, if implemented, extend the coverage and improve the outcomes of these programs. The Committee's investigation of the teaching of English as a second language indicated that there is scope for further development in the teaching of English to private overseas students. Such development would be to the mutual advantage of Australia and of developing countries in the Asian-Pacific region. The Committee's recommendations for the streamlined granting of student visas and the maintenance of English teaching standards in Australian institutions would help achieve further national development of the Australian EFL industry.

The Committee also investigated adult illiteracy in Australia. Although statistics on illiteracy are not altogether reliable, it appears that there are about 430,000 adults who are native speakers of English, who are functionally illiterate. The Committee has recommended that the Commonwealth Government mount a campaign to promote adult literacy. A national committee should be established for this purpose, consisting of representatives of the Commonwealth and State governments, professional bodies and voluntary organisations concerned about illiteracy.

In chapter 8 of the report, the Committee has dealt with Aboriginal language issues. The Committee has found that of the original 260 Aboriginal languages spoken in Australia, 50 have died out and another 100 are dying. Only about 50 are in a relatively healthy state. The Committee considers that Australia has a special obligation to foster and develop its unique, indigenous linguistic heritage. The 17 recommendations in this chapter are directed at the urgent need for recording and describing endangered languages and at ways to preserve and develop the use of living languages. The Committee has recommended, therefore, that there be a continued and expanded support for bilingual education programs in schools. The study of Aboriginal languages in schools and tertiary institutions should also be promoted. The Committee has also recommended that appropriate English tuition be provided for Aborigines who want to learn that language. Increased translator and interpreter services for Aborigines are also needed.

In chapter 9 the Committee discusses the language needs of persons with communication handicaps. Topics covered include language support for the education of the deaf, the blind, the physically and intellectually handicapped and those with speech and language deficiencies. The provision of communication aids, the need for early intervention and remediation are discussed. One major recommendation in this area is that special support services for the language disabled should be established within at least one Australian university or college of advanced education.

The Committee also inquired into Australia's language needs for diplomacy, trade and defence. In this area, the Committee found that there are serious language deficiencies in Australia's foreign service. It has recommended changes to departments' recruiting policies which should put more emphasis on candidates' language abilities. The Committee has also recommended that more resources be made available for language tuition for officers already employed in the foreign service.

The time left at my disposal does not allow me to go through the remaining chapters. I would, however, suggest that the end of a good book is always worth reading. I hope that those who are interested in this report will follow the other chapters through. At this stage I wish to thank other members of the Committee for their work during the long and complex inquiry. I also express my appreciation of the work done by members of the previous Committee. I am sure that members of the Committee join with me in thanking our staff and our advisers for their assistance during the inquiry and in the drafting of the report. The assistance of the Committee Secretary, Mr Terry Brown, was invaluable. I commend the report to the Senate.