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Thursday, 12 May 1994
Page: 779

Senator KNOWLES (4.32 p.m.) —The Australian national report on population for the United Nations International Conference on Population and Development refers to issues which are fundamental to multiculturalism in Australia including the importance of access to English language services by people from non-English speaking backgrounds.

  Under the heading of `Integration and Multiculturalism', the report talks about the provision of English language tuition under settlement programs and services. It also says English language courses are part of the services which are critical to the needs of immigrants in realising the same rights as longstanding residents and participating fully in the economic and social life of the country. Those observations are particularly critical. In all my consultations around Australia I find that that is one of the factors which people from ethnic communities believe is not being addressed adequately by this government.

  However, the report raises the important issue that some people in the community consider that 510 hours granted to migrants under the adult migrant English program are insufficient to get a proper grasp of the English language. In addition, the criticism has always been, and continues to be, that there is inadequate opportunity to learn conversational English. While people might be taught to recognise one word from another, and some have a better grounding and background to learn more easily than others, there are major problems in conversational English.

  Job-related English tuition is now delivered through the labour market programs. But it is the adult migrant English program which takes care of incoming migrants who have been assessed as not having functional English. In those consultations around Australia, to which I referred earlier, the message is very much the same. The message is that 510 hours of English tuition is not enough. I cannot emphasise that enough because that is having a huge impact on the ability of those communities to be able to get in there and feel part of Australia so that individuals can access jobs.

  Recently at a meeting with senior members of Western Australia's Vietnamese community the issue of the unacceptably high rate of unemployment among Vietnamese people in Australia was raised. The Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show that 16.9 per cent of the Vietnamese community in Australia are long-term unemployed. Once again, that community cites the lack of English as directly linked to that problem.

  This report says a major goal of Australia's multicultural policies is to improve the competitiveness and productivity of the economy through the proper management and utilisation of diverse work force skills. The fact is, often through no fault of their own, many migrants are joining the ranks of the unemployed and long-term unemployed. Their diverse skills are often not being utilised because they do not have adequate command of the English language.

  Many of those people have been brought to Australia because of their abilities, background and expertise in any given field. It is important for Australia to ensure that they be allowed to contribute the expertise that they have brought with them to Australia. An ABS profile on Australia's long-term unemployed showed that nearly half of those ethnic people who were unemployed were long-term unemployed. The long-term unemployment rate for people from non-English speaking backgrounds is double that of people born in Australia and those from English speaking background countries.

  It is commonly accepted that the lack of familiarity with English as a spoken and written language is one of the main influences on whether migrants find jobs. It is nothing short of shameful that, under the past 10 years of federal Labor government, migrants from non-English speaking countries have consistently had the highest long-term unemployment rates.   After 10 years of government, last year the then Minister for Employment, Education and Training, Mr Beazley, announced that his government was going to remove some of the additional barriers faced by migrant job seekers by setting up a network of migrant liaison offices to act as a link between the Department of Employment, Education and Training, the Commonwealth Employment Service and ethnic communities. While this is commendable, even if it is 10 years late, I make the point that the ethnic communities are still saying there is a need to look at increasing the number of hours of English tuition given to migrants in this country.

  The federal government has to make the solution of the problem of ethnic unemployment one of its most important priorities. If it is to do this, it must fully review the hours of English training available to migrants in and outside the workplace.

  Debate (on motion by Senator Panizza, adjourned.