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Wednesday, 27 February 1985
Page: 285


Senator MACKLIN(6.44) — On behalf of the Australian Democrats, I congratulate the Senate Standing Committee on Education and the Arts on a report that is both comprehensive and useful. The elements contained in the report cover each of the areas which have been of concern to those, including the Democrats, who have been seeking a comprehensive national language policy. It is often thought that such a policy may have little impact on most people's lives, but a reading of the report will show the attention directed by the Committee at the economic and social importance of language in terms of Australia's internal operations and our relationship with other countries in our region. I do not wish to canvass any of the conclusions in the Committee's report because I hope that later this year-after the various groups in the community have had a chance to read and digest the report and to comment upon it, as the Committee requested-the Senate will have a comprehensive debate on the Government's response to the report.

The Government should be congratulated on its efforts in the last Parliament to bring forward its response to reports as rapidly as possible. I think that in almost every case the Government managed to produce responses to reports within a very short space of time. That is vitally important in the interests of the reports themselves and of senators who devote so much time, energy and effort to their compilation. It is probably even more important from the point of view of those groups in the community who make detailed and comprehensive submissions to Senate committees. Such groups would not wish their efforts, time and energy to be wasted. Only when government responds rapidly to those reports can we maintain our bona fides with the wider community and convince people that we are engaged on an important task rather than a mere fill-in.

I found of particular interest in the report the Committee's concern about the Aboriginal languages of Australia. It is interesting to speak of a national language and of the fact that that language is English. However, one must remember that our native languages, of which many still exist, have been in use for hundreds of thousands of years and are still used as the language of the home and everyday activities. Those languages are immensely important to linguists and to our heritage. They are also important in the preservation of many Aboriginal cultures embedded in those languages. I was pleased at the attention directed by the Committee at those matters in seeking to ensure that the Government's attention, and it is hoped some resources, are directed to that area.

The other point I wish to mention relates to teachers of English as a second language. This is a matter not for Commonwealth action but for State action. Many States, particularly New South Wales, face difficulties in getting ESL teachers to be seen as permanent operating employees of the education departments. All too often the provision of such teachers in this country is seen as a luxury. If it is to remain our strong policy-I hope it is-to welcome people from various countries around the world to come to Australia, to make their homes here, to bring their families here and to develop Australia as a truly multicultural country, we shall have to have concomitant policies in other areas. One of the most important of those must be to provide adequate language teachers in our schools for the children of those families that come here from non-English speaking countries.

I am particularly aware of this factor because my children attend a school the dominant population of which comprises migrants who do not have English as their first language. I know that that particular school in my home State of Queensland is now under pressure. It has lost a number of teachers and is facing difficulties. For example, in my daughter's class eight children out of 30-odd do not speak a word of English, and there are no assistant teachers to support the ESL teacher in her task. I believe that situation should not be countenanced in Australia in 1985. The ESL teachers are vital because without their support-let it be understood that that support can be provided only if we provide security for those teachers-the normal classroom teachers will find their task overwhelmingly difficult in dealing with the educational needs of not only those migrant children but also of the children who have English as their first language. The situation is enormously difficult. The teachers' attention is divided, their resources are depleted and, indeed, their energies are sapped.

I believe the Committee's report in this area should be closely looked at by the Government. I believe that those problems have been raised clearly by the Committee in its report and that the Government has to pay close attention to them-not only this Government, which ultimately does not have the responsibility for many of those decisions, but also State governments. I will be very interested in the responses of the State education departments to this Committee's report, because I believe that in those responses we will see the bona fides of State governments to undertake their fair share of the work that has to be done in this area.

Question resolved in the affirmative.