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Monday, 4 May 1987
Page: 2250


Senator VIGOR(6.18) —The report on a national policy on languages by Joseph Lo Bianco is indeed a significant document. However, it comes in the wake of the devastation caused by the Government cuts to English as a second language funding and its abolition of the multicultural education program in last year's Budget. This leads me to ask whether the fine words of the report will be translated into action. It will require much more than fine words from the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke), the Minister for Education (Senator Ryan) and the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr Young) to set in place a properly constituted national language strategy. The development of community languages is, I believe, an extremely important part of the program proposed here and proposed by the previous Senate Standing Committee on Education and the Arts, and forms part of our national infrastructure. As a matter of priority, we must ensure that we develop a language program which will teach Australians to speak the languages of the communities in which they live. In many cases that is not always English.

On page 189 of the report are listed the language problems which any policy must address, and I would like to remind the Senate of these. The problems include: Overcoming injustice, disadvantages and discrimination related to language; the enrichment of cultural and intellectual life within Australia; the integration of language teaching and learning with Australia's external economic and political needs and priorities; and the provision of clear expectations to the community about language in general and about language in education in particular. We also face the problem of supporting the component groups of Australian society-our ethnic communities, the deaf and the Aboriginal groups-for whom language issues are extremely important, with recognition, encouragement and guidance. We should also use every possible technology and language learning facility which can be made available.

On page 120 the `National Policy on Languages' report indicates:

Almost half of all Australian school students never study a language other than English at any time during their schooling. Fewer than 12 per cent of students matriculate with a language other than English.

Indeed, I am pleased to say that in South Australia we have a slightly better situation than is the case in Australia as a whole. My children attend Adelaide High School, which is a special language high school. They have the opportunity, and have taken up that opportunity, to study two or more languages during the course of their studies. However, the matriculation system does not allow them to carry this through for examination purposes.

In May 1985 South Australia announced a 10-year program for the development of language teaching. Its aim was to get each child in primary and secondary school exposed to another language; to establish co-ordinating networks; and to establish after hours South Australian secondary school of languages teaching facilities. Indeed, a number of communities as well as the Education Department itself have developed Saturday schools. The German community, the Polish community and a number of Slavonic communities in Adelaide have developed such schools. I know that they also exist in New South Wales and Canberra. The establishment of a centre for multicultural studies at Flinders University has, I believe, been a major advance in trying to integrate our language in South Australia. The consideration of a centre of excellence and tertiary institute of languages at that university would be, I believe, a very fitting part of any national language program development within my own State.

The South Australian Government has also maintained the Multicultural Education Co-ordinating Committee despite the closure of the Commonwealth's multicultural education program. It is unfortunate that the Commonwealth program closed down because this has resulted in the loss of a large number of resources and teaching positions throughout Australia. In South Australia the Government threw in some of its own resources, but this has not been the case in some other States. In New South Wales, in the Marrickville Council area alone 15 teaching positions have been lost as a result of the end of the multicultural education program, and a variety of resource centres have been closed down. It is very important that we have the right material available for teaching language and for holding the cultural message associated with language.

In New South Wales, 20 community liaison officers have lost their jobs in the metropolitan areas and 15 have lost their jobs in country areas. Activities under the ethnic aides program have been curtailed and the community outreach effort has been eroded as a result. The Commonwealth's commitment to a national language strategy is essential, but a national policy alone will not reverse the damage that has been done by the dismantling of the multicultural education program and all of its associated aids. The multicultural education program served a much wider purpose than just the teaching of language. The text books and materials were used in a much wider context than just in the individual language courses. It is very important that we do not lose these resources and that we develop language teaching material suitable to Australian conditions.

I must remind the Senate that Australia is the second most diverse society in the world after Israel in terms of the number of places where our citizens have been born. Many people have learnt other languages to start off with. This report tells us some of that story. We must not lose that resource because those people and their knowledge of language and their knowledge of the cultures of the various parts of the world that they came from are an important resource to Australian trade. We must not allow that expertise to be dissipated and frittered away. We must encourage parents to teach their children the cultural values of the countries from which they may have come. We must integrate and weave each one of these cultural habits and each one of these language habits into the Australian way of life. If we lose the opportunities of keeping up those language skills amongst our citizens and if we lose the opportunities to create wealth for Australia by having these people who can actually talk, trade and operate effectively in the world, we will lose a significant wealth creating capacity for Australia. I refer to a significant quote attributed to a German trade Minister on page 53 of the report: The Minister said:

If you wish to buy from us, there is no need to speak German. But if you wish to sell to us . . . that is a different matter.

I believe that to be a trading nation in a trading world, to be an effective partner in international affairs and to be able to stand proudly as an Australian nation, we should aim at having most of our citizens bilingual at least.

I would like to commend Mr Lo Bianco for the manner in which he has undertaken his task. He has thrown an enormous amount of energy into his work. I have some reservations only about some of the languages in the wider teaching languages section because I believe that by concentrating on specific languages for which we have teaching skills in our schools we may end up losing a lot of the resource. I was particularly disappointed to see that there were no Slavonic languages on the list of languages which are available. I believe that we should make certain that we target all of the significant ethnic groups within our community and make certain that their languages and cultures continue to be part of the Australian multicultural society. This will be the only way in which we can develop a strong, independent multicultural Australia.

Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 8 p.m.