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Monday, 4 May 1987
Page: 2240

Senator GIETZELT (Minister for Veterans' Affairs) —I table the report `National Policy on Languages' and seek leave to have a statement by the Minister for Education (Senator Ryan) relating to the report incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The statement read as follows-


Statement by the Minister for Education Senator The Hon. Susan Ryan

I am pleased to table the report `National Policy on Languages'. This report has been long-awaited and long regarded as a most important element in government policy development on a wide range of issues.

I believe that all groups interested in this issue will be impressed by the comprehensive, thoughtful and practical approach adopted in the report. The report was written by one of my Ministerial consultants, Mr Joseph Lo Bianco. Mr Lo Bianco's consultations were exhaustive and his treatment of the issues is consistently intelligent and penetrating. His conclusions and recommendations would carry government policies forward across a broad front. Mr Lo Bianco deserves the highest commendation for his work. The Government will be closely examining his specific recommendations over the coming months in the lead-up to the Budget.

Honourable senators will be aware that, in a speech on 26 April, the Prime Minister stated that the Government endorsed the national language policy. The Prime Minister stated further that the Government is committed to funding an integrated package in the August budget to implement a national policy on languages. The Prime Minister has asked the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs and me to develop a detailed submission on the shape which that package should take.

`National Policy on Languages' starts from the premise that English is the national language. The report examines in detail ways to improve the teaching of English and to ensure that all groups in the community have effective command of the English language, including adults who need literacy programs. This reiteration of the basic importance of proper teaching and learning of English is welcomed and endorsed by the Government.

The report also rightly emphasises that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages are an irreplaceable part of Australia's national heritage. We do not intend to allow them to die out. My portfolio already has under way a major project on Aboriginal pedagogy, and we will now examine the recommendations in the language report to determine how our programs might best be developed in the field of Aboriginal languages.

Our language policy stresses the importance to Australia of our developing the opportunities for students to learn at least one language other than English. That task matters to us for two particular reasons. The first is that we all have an interest in the maintenance of the community languages of the groups in our ethnic communities. Their languages are part of their heritage and part of our general Australian heritage. They enrich Australia and are an essential dimension of our multicultural society.

The second reason is the importance to the national interest in improving our capacities in languages of national economic interest. Learning Asian languages, especially Japanese and Chinese, is a way of helping guarantee our economic and our trading future. The learning of Asian languages is an indispensable first step to improving our understanding of the region, our trade prospects there and the integration of segments of our economy with economic developments in Asia.

When we develop proposals for discussions with the States on programs for teaching languages other than English, we will naturally seek to ensure that the States prepare balanced and integrated programs which take appropriate account of our two guiding concerns.

I commend this report. All Australians have a direct, personal interest in how we handle the language issue. No question of national importance is unaffected by what we do in our language policies. A narrow or rigid approach to language policy could hobble our policies in many other fields. An imaginative, thoughtful and constructive approach-our approach-will help develop our programs and our potential for years to come.

I wish also to remind honourable senators that we have recently appointed Joseph Lo Bianco, the author of this report, as a full-time Commissioner of the Commonwealth Schools Commission. Mr Lo Bianco will therefore be in the happy position of being charged with the implementation of the report which he himself drafted. Mr Lo Bianco has my full confidence, he enjoys the trust and respect of our ethnic communities, his reputation in the field of education is undisputed. His appointment should therefore be seen as another demonstration of the seriousness of the Government's commitment in this most important area of national policy.

Senator GIETZELT —I move:

That the Senate take note of the paper.