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Tuesday, 30 October 2012
Page: 12543

Asian Century

Ms SMYTH (La Trobe) (14:38): My question is to the Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth. Minister, how will deeper engagement with Asia benefit our schools, our school children and our economy? Is the minister aware of other views on the importance of building these people-to-people links with Asia and what is the government's response?

Mr GARRETT (Kingsford SmithMinister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth) (14:38): I thank the member for La Trobe for her question. The government is getting on with the plan to build a modern Australia, and the Australia in the Asian Century White Paper is the plan to make sure that, as the Prime Minister said, we are a winner in the Asian century. Central to us achieving those objectives set by this government is to make sure that every student in every school is getting the best possible education they can and has the foundation of Asian languages and Asian literacy in place.

The fact is, and I think most people know it, the growth in economies like China, India and Indonesia provide fantastic opportunities for businesses and fantastic opportunities for young Australians when they come out of school and start work—high-skilled, high-wage jobs. In equipping young Australians with Asian language literacy, we know that the earlier you start a language the better. That is why we want to work with state and territory authorities to see basic language instruction starting at the very early years of school.

We also know that it is important that once a student starts they can continue on a learning path that is not interrupted. That is why we want our education stakeholders to see that students have these opportunities through their entire schooling. I am pleased to see that teachers understand this. A teacher from Corrimal High School, John Matthes, was reported in the Illawarra Mercury as saying:

We should focus on these opportunities with Mandarin and Hindi, and Indonesian because Indonesia is our northern neighbour and has the fourth-largest population in the world.

He went on to say:

Learning a second language helps you to understand your first language by helping you understand your grammar structures and how language works.

He is right about that. Business too understands how important this is. The recent Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry release noted that education is the key to unlocking the Asian century. They say, very simply, that a strong education and training system will lay the foundations for the future.

This government knows it, teachers know it and business knows it. Despite some opportunistic comments by the Victorian education minister, the states know it as well. Premier O'Farrell has said that New South Wales needs to focus on Asian language development, 'as much as we need to focus on industry development.' Premier Baillieu aims to have the country's most Asia-capable workforce, including compulsory Chinese language classes, for all government school students by 2025.

That is why we have said that we will talk to the states and territories about how we can fully implement our objectives in the Asian century white paper as part of our national plan for school improvement. Unlike the shadow Treasurer we do not see focusing on improving the opportunities for students in the Asian century as a waste of time. We are committed to doing this work and we know that Australia and Australian states understand that.