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Speech to National Language Policy conference October 22, 1982

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OCTOBER 22, 1982 . -

By Senator Don Chipp, Parliamentary Leader of the

Australian Democrats .

Australia has come a long way towards accepting multi- ;

culturalism in the last decade. A 1981 Australian

National Opinion Poll showed that 62% of people under 25

favoured a mixture of races and cultures, and that 88%

of the population did not regard immigration or racial

problems as a major cause for concern in Australia's


Although there are still some ugly, pockets of Anglo-Saxon

xenophobia in this great nation - as was demonstrated

in many of our major cities during Professor Ziibrzycki' s

recent lecture tour on multi-culturalism - the genuine

progress we have made should not be clouded by the puerile

outbursts of that small, misguided and often disgusting

minority. ;

The National Opinion Poll's indication that our young

people in particular are receptive to Australia's multi­

cultural future gives me great hope that my prediction in 1972

(for which I was soundly castigated) that Australia would emerge

as "the only true multi-racial country in the world" in the 1980's . ·>% .

will come to pass.

Approximately 20% of our present population was born

overseas; only Israel has more overseas born. .

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Eleven per cent of our people were born in non-English .

speaking countries. In fact, almost one-fourth of our

population was either born in or descended from countries

where English was not the native tongue. .

More than 130 languages are spoken in Australia. One and

!one-half million Australians know English only as a second '


Since the Galbally report emerged in the late 701s , Australians

have shown much greater receptiveness to cultural diversity.

. All the major political parties - the Australian Democrats,

the A.L.P. and the Liberal-NCP coalition - support the

right of all Australians to maintain their languages and

cultures. And since 1978, the Government - to its credit -

has promoted multi-culturalism through a variety of

initiatives, from new arrival programs to "ethnic" radio ·

and television to migrant resource centres to multicultural

education in government and non-government schools. · .

Having cited indicia of the multicultural reality in Australia

today, and having patted our society on its back for its

steady progress in the direction of cultural diversity,it

may come as somewhat of a shock to realize that the hard part

has only just begun. .

This National Language Policy Conference - a landmark

development in the history of multiqulturalism in Australia -ή ' ■

f a c e s u s s q u a r e l y w i t h t h e i s s u e o f p u t t i n g r h e t o r i c a n d

p r i n c i p l e i n t o a c t i o n . .

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As far back as 1968, in his paper to the Australian

Citizenship Council, Professor Zubrzycki foreshadowed

the need for a language policy to promote group and ' .

individual interests "not in conflict with national


What is "multiculturalism"? And what is the logical

consequence for language of a multi-cultural Australia?

I would submit that it is beyond controversy that

multi-culturalism implies more than a wide choice of

international cuisine of "foreign" films on SBS or in

our cinemas. Perhaps the best definition has been

offered in the booklet Multiculturalism for all Australians,

compiled by the Australian Council on Population and

Ethnic Affairs earlier this year. Four aspects of

multiculturalism are cited: (1) social cohesion;:

(2) cultural identity; (3) equality of opportunity and

access; and (4) equal responsibility for, commitment to

and participation in society. 1

(1) "Social cohesion", does not imply monoculturalism

or monolingualism. But it does suggest a "core structure"

of institutions and conveyors of cultural concepts.

In Australia our political, economic and judicial .

systems, as well as our^language, reflect our predominantly

English traditions over the past two hundred years. That

is an aspect of our present reality. $ ■ ■

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But "social cohesion" also mandates that our central - ­

institutions be flexible enough to reflect the cultural .

diversity in our society. A rigid clinging to our English .

institutions and language, to the exclusion of another

vital aspect of our present reality - multiculturalism -

can only tear at the fabric of our society rather than .

bring us together. '

2. A principle familiar to linguists and anthropologists

holds that, in any society, language is the key symbolic

expression and conveyor of cultural concepts. Take away

. a people's language, and you have gone a long way towards

destroying their culture, towards ethnocide.

It is sad to recall that a callous attitude of language

dissipation was part and parcel of Australia's "assimilationist"

policies of the post-war era. It was assumed, even advocated

that non-English speaking arrivals to Australia would not

retain their native languages, certainly not past the

second or third generations.

Today we must be aware that "cultural identity" depends, in .

large part, on language retention. While it is essential that

migrants and their descendants acquire some degree of written

and spoken proficiency with English, our nation's primary

language,.it is equally essential that multi-lingualism

be encouraged.

Since our very beginnings, the Australian Democrats have $ ■ ■

r e c o g n i z e d the n e e d f o r n o n - E n g l i s h s p e a k i n g c h i l d r e n , u p o n

t h e i r e n t r y i n t o the s c h o o l s y s t e m , to b e t a u g h t f i r s t in t h e i r

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dominant language, with gradual transfer to the second

language after basic literary skills are mastered.

In this respect, we have a largely untapped national

resource, in that nearly two million Australians are

bilingual. Our schools and our other institutions

must build upon that resource so that we have a

truly multilingual Australia, in which at least a second

language is accepted as an integral part of the learning

of every Australian.

3. "Equality of opportunity and access", the third aspect

of the definition of multi-culturalism I cited above,

requires that - as a base minimum - 6ur essential

services (such as health care and legal processes) be

available in languages other than English, by means of

adequate interpreter services. As recently as 1977, the

woeful inadequacy of our interpreter services was .

dramatically demonstrated when the Queensland Government

was forced to throw out several thousand dollars worth of

posters because of fundamental errors by the Commonwealth's

Migrant Interpreter Service. "

Simple human compassion mandates that the benefits of our

society be available on an equal basis to those whom we

have welcomed here from non-English speaking countries.

Our society is not satisfactorily meeting even that modest

and humanitarian goal. At the present time I am.exploring

legislation which would require interpreter services in legal

proceedings. Hopefully, such initiatives will eventually

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spread throughout our society so that "equality of ^

opportunity and access" becomes a reality.

4. The fourth branch of multiculturalism - equal

commitment to and participation in our society - places a

responsibility squarely on the shoulders of those of us

Anglo-Irish Australians who take our institutional

structure and language for granted. Too often discussions

of multi-culturalism and multi-lingualism boil down to

what "they" will have to do to get along in our society,

or what "we" can do to help "them". We are proud to dwell

on the many advantages we have to offer as an incentive to

migration, and tend to think that adjustment to our way of .

life is a. "price" to be paid in order, to get all these benefits

But in the 19801s we must complete the task of discarding our .

monoculture! myopia and recognise the enormous benefits -

tangible and intangible - which people from different .

backgrounds have brought to Australia. We must reflect

upon the price that "we" must pay for the benefits that

they have brought to us.

In doing so, we will find that that price is hardly a

burden at all - that rather than feel overwrought with the

"tasks" of coming to appreciate different cultural values

and learning new languages, we will find boundless joys

in discovering the rich mosaic which is now available in

Australia, in contrast to the stagnation which plagued $ our society in the days when the abhorrent phrase "White

Australia" was still in vogue.


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Finally, let me direct your attention to the specific ■

question before us, the need for a national language .

policy. You will recall Galbally Recommendation 14:

"the language learning efforts of isolated individuals

or even groups is not capable of sustaining a policy

of multilingualism or of changing established practices

of monolingualism."

Although I have praised the Government for many of its

efforts in promoting multi-culturalism, I must register

the caveat that far too many of the Government's

language planning efforts are proceeding on an ad hoc,

hit-and-miss basis. , . . .

We need a considered policy commitment from our Federal

Government, charting just where we are going with our

multilingualism and coordinating the many branches of

a language policy: -the education system, international

trade, translator and interpreter services, community

language programs, the arts and international communications


The efforts of an individual solicitor or nurse or

politican or businessperson to master a. second language in

order to better serve the community are not to be

discounted; but without a national language policy to

provide a direction and a framework for such individual

efforts, our nation will not overcome the cautionary

dictum of Galbally Recommendation 14.

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In a time of difficult economic fortunes, it is perhaps .

appropriate to remind the Government that multilingualism

is not a luxury, stealing scarce resources from other

areas of public life; rather, multilingualism goes to the

core of Australia and its destiny, as fundamental to

our nation as health care and housing, defence and

commerce. I hope and pray that the singular opportunity

offered by this landmark conference is not lost by

our Government or by our people.