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Monday, 19 October 2015
Page: 11671


Mrs PRENTICE (Ryan) (11:07): It is great that we are all fighting to speak about this. It shows what a great topic it is! I rise to wholeheartedly support this motion from the member for Parramatta and the member for Reid regarding the National Week of Deaf People. Australia is recognised as being home to hundreds of native languages. Many Australians would be aware of the rich variety of Indigenous languages that existed in Australia prior to European settlement—with more than 100 of these languages still in use today. Fewer Australians would recognise that, much more recently, Australia has developed another native language. That language is Auslan, the sign language of the Australian deaf community.

I am pleased that people in my electorate of Ryan are leading the way in promoting the use of Auslan. Members will recall that last year I was privileged to give the first speech in the House in both English and Auslan, to mark my attendance at the Toowong state school Deaf Festival—although people listening on the radio thought that I had developed some speech difficulties; I was a bit slow. Toowong State School offers a bilingual and bicultural immersion program in Auslan and English. It is currently the only school in Queensland to offer such a program in Auslan. Auslan is taught to all children at the school, which is a wonderful way to encourage inclusiveness in children from an early age. The school has a bilingual resource room with a green screen, spotlights and a video camera to film lessons in Auslan. A native signer can then quickly and easily sign visual instructions for homework tasks and assessment instructions. It also allows for deaf students to have their assessments and tasks filmed. School assemblies are interpreted in Auslan, and all children sign the national anthem. There is a signing choir that is featured in television programs and special events throughout Queensland.

This motion reaffirms the need for deaf people to be fully included in the Australian community, as called on by the member for Parramatta. A broader understanding and proficiency in Auslan will go a long way towards building that inclusiveness. In conjunction with National Week of Deaf People 2015, Toowong State School will be holding a Hands and Hearts Fair this Saturday, 24 October. The event is sponsored by Deaf Services Queensland, who promise that the event will be a multicultural and multilingual extravaganza, with performances from the Hands Up Deaf Youth Theatre, the signing choir and a number of dance ensembles. Deaf Services Queensland advise me that the entire event will be Auslan-interpreted and that there will be Auslan students volunteering during the day to provide support and assistance to attendees. I encourage everyone who is interested in learning more about deaf culture to come along to this event. At secondary school level, Indooroopilly State High School has now developed its own support for Auslan in recent years. All classes with deaf students are delivered in Auslan and English and students are provided encouragement to develop and maintain their Auslan skills.

It is a common misconception that all sign language is the same. On the contrary; just like spoken languages, there are local variants of sign language all over the world. This was brought home to me very clearly when I was the manager for the international deaf congress with over 7,000 people from all over the world converging on Brisbane to learn sign language. Indeed, in America, they sign with just one hand. They explained that is so they can have a drink in the other hand!

Auslan has only gained prominence as a recognised community language in recent decades, and it is fair to say that some parts of government and society have been slow to catch up with providing appropriate resources in Auslan to cater for the deaf community. It is absolutely vital that learning Auslan is encouraged wherever possible. It is vital because it enables standardised communication within the Australia deaf community. But just as importantly, it acts as a language bridge between the Australian deaf community and the wider Australian community. National Week of Deaf People offers an opportunity to build upon these local initiatives and to celebrate deaf individuals and the deaf Australian community. The week offers a very important opportunity for deaf people to celebrate their community, their language, their culture and their history. It is a chance for the deaf community to recognise how far they have come but also to focus on the challenges ahead. This motion provides the House with the opportunity to recognise National Week of Deaf People and to celebrate the outstanding contribution that the Australian deaf community have made to our nation. I commend the motion to the House.