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Tuesday, 9 March 1971


Senator LITTLE (Victoria) - The Democratic Labor Party supports this Bill. We have some reservations on it, but they do not go as far as the reservations expressed by the Australian Labor Party. Its reservations have been expressed in an amendment criticising the Government. The Bill tries to make the problem of communication between many new citizens and people who are here already simpler than they have been. I think the Bill has been forced upon the Commonwealth because of the growing deficiencies in State educational systems which have dealt with the problem of integrating new settlers into our community and with the problem of educating children who have a deficiency in the English language. In the great majority of cases that deficiency is overcome very rapidly when the young children concerned attend school. I know that in Fitzroy in Victoria, which State 1 represent, there is a school capable of giving crash courses in English. Chinese students have complained to me that because of their lack of knowledge of the English language, they were unable to absorb even the rudiments of the education that they came here to get.

Today in a country such as the United States of America it is possible to train a team of people to travel to the moon and to tramp upon it, but it seems that in our associations with other nations, through the United Nations, nothing practical has been done to rationalise this problem of lack of communication because of language barriers. It could well be that the people who were enthusiasts for Esperanto have changed their ideas. We have not heard as much of them as we used to hear. Individual national languages will not be replaced by some agreed upon international language that can be understood by all. The United Nations should be allowed to spend the money to be expended if this Bill is implemented and the money to be expended by the implementation of similar Bills in other countries to have one common language taught in all schools in the world so that this communication barrier will not exist. Tourists, travellers and people who migrate because of world upheavals such as those that have been occurring have a great need for international communication.

At the moment this lack of communication is a local problem brought about by the influx of a large number of migrants into Australia. The problem has been pushed right before us. Their integration into our community is much more difficult because of the communication barrier. So we say that we have to take extra steps to teach them English. The wheel may turn anil the grandchildren of the people whom we bring here and teach English with so much difficulty may migrate from this country.- because of a different set of world circumstances, and the process of breaking down the communication barrier has to start over again. The third or fourth generation, who have learnt the newly acquired language of their ancestors, for one purpose or another may migrate. In the United Nations an attempt should be made to get a common agreement that in all schools in all countries a common language, which everybody can understand, as well as the national language will be taught.

This is where we get the division between the ideal and the practical. If I may say so, Mr Acting Deputy President, some of your remarks were couched in terms which were the ideal rather than the practical. Senator Turnbull suggested that we should ban from coming to this country people who do not speak English. In the main, we do not bring people to this country as individuals: we bring them as families or as family units. It would have been a dreadful thing for our immigration programme if we had rejected many of the fine families which have come here and which are now successfully integrated because perhaps the mother - in most cases it would be the mother - did not have a knowledge of the English language when she came here and did not. in spite of the encouragement we offer, learn the language of her adopted country.

The problem is a passing one; it passed with a generation. Migration is bigger than the generation that comes here. Migration is planning the future of a nation, not the present generation. To some extent the people that are brought here ar? unimportant. Perhaps in the immediate post-war years we lost an opportunity to gather a large number of people who would have been very splendid migrants because the circumstances of war had driven them, in European countries that were under occupation, to ways of life which we, in our isolation from the tragedies that war can create, could not understand or condone. We said that they would not make suitable citizens. We had people examining their credentials most assiduously to ensure that we would not be contaminated by somebody who had been forced to live the type of life that most of us would prefer that neither we nor our children would have to live. But that is in the past. 1 made that point to indicate that we should not go to the extreme suggested by Senator Turnbull and impose on intending migrants a certain standard of the English language. We pride ourselves that we speak English, but in parts of England it is very difficult to make oneself understood because of the type of English that we in this country seem to have acquired.

We should not enforce a rule that would prevent adult migrants from coming here because they were not proficient in English. Let us pause to consider what being proficient in English means. It is easy to be able lo say 'cat, rat, mat' and things like that but more is needed to make oneself understood in any country. An educated programme of the language is seldom of very much assistance when it comes to conversing in the local jargon that is accepted by people in some countries. One has to live in a community before one can become fluent, able to understand and to be understood in that language. What is taught in schools covers a very limited field, ff we imposed rules that did not permit migrants because of their lack of knowledge of the language to come to this country, our migration programme would have suffered tremendously and this country would not have developed to the extent that it has today. Its future expansion would be seriously interfered with by a rule such as that. We would not agree with thinking along those lines.

I am certain that Senator Turnbull, in his profession, has to overcome this problem of lack of communication due to the language barrier. This is one of the difficulties brought about by immigration. Great stress is placed upon this lack of communication. The only person who can tell the doctor exactly where the pain is is the person who is experiencing the pain. It must be very difficult for a man in the profession in which Senator Turnbull was to communicate with a woman from a European country who has never been required to mingle outside her own family circle after migrating here. Most of her communications with our community have been through her children or her husband. He has to go out and work to earn a living. Although he might not pass a standard test in English, after mingling in the community he knows sufficient of the language to get by. But very often the woman is isolated in her own family circle. If she is ill and has to explain her symptoms to a doctor, it is very difficult for her to do that proficiently through an interpreter. She is the only person who can really explain her symptoms. T suppose that this is a problem with which we will have to live for this generation.

The Bill accepts what should be a Commonwealth responsibility, lt is the Commonwealth that has implemented the immigration programme and is responsible for it. As a representative of the State of Victoria, I suggest that too much of the responsibility for the subsidiary problems that emanate from the immigration programme has been placed upon the States as an added burden. It is true that the States have been compensated financially and helped to meet the expense. But one of the contentions of the leaders and elected governments of the States at the moment is that the provision has been inadequate for the actual expense in which the States have gradually become involved. I refer particularly to those States in which the rate of migration has been much higher than in others.

This Bill will not do everything. 1 do not suppose that the Minister would say that it was expected to do everything. But at least it represents the acceptance of a responsibility. 1 hope that the fears expressed by Senator Turnbull do not come to fruition and that the money will be spent in a practical way. In most instances the most practical way will probably be through the existing educational institutions, and particularly the State educational institutions. For those reasons, we support the Bill. We make the suggestion that the Australian Government be the first government in the world to make a move on an international basis - in these years of rapid expansion, perhaps we face the problem more than do other countries - for some international language to be agreed upon and taught in the schools of this country and every other country in an attempt to overcome this problem of communication which is so tremendously expensive and which limits our enjoyment of the facilities which are now available as they have never been available before and which will become increasingly available in the future.

As people travel from country io country they should not have this barrier of communication between them and the great majority of the people of the country that they happen to be visiting. We know that an education programme such as this will not reach everybody. But the education systems of the nations of the world are expanding and becoming more proficient. Instead of tourists or migrants going from country to country and being understood by very few members of the community in which they find themselves, they should be able to be understood by the majority. We make that suggestion as a practical proposition for the Government of our country to put to the governments of other countries.

It would not be our purpose to support the amendment. We doubt that there is justification for the Opposition, the corner party or the independent to condemn the Government on this matter on the basis that too little has been done. When rill is said and done, governments are subject to pressures by all people who are interested in public life and politics. In the 3 years I have been here I have not heard of any specific instance in which any of us have been condemning the Government because it has not taken sufficient action in this regard. Neither have we been moving urgency motions and endeavouring to get these things done by giving the Government the nudge that was necessary. Individuals have interested themselves in the problem. This is always the case within the framework of all political parties. I know that Senator Mulvihill would be the first to agree with me. He has interested himself in the protection of our flora and fauna. If the Government has been slow in soma respects in that field, he as an individual - quite apart from his Party - would have every justification for saying: 'I am in a situation in which I can condemn the Government for not listening to me over the years'.

Bui. whilst there has been criticism in this field - there always will be criticism of governments because that is what oppositions and corner parties are for - I do not know that any of us could claim that we are justified in expressing our approval of the Bill and then saying that we condemn the Government for the delay in providing a comprehensive programme. I believe that there has been a reasonable approach to the programme over the years. Perhaps it has not been enough to satisfy everybody. But there has been sufficient success to justify our saying in the international sphere that Australia as a whole has done a good job in this field and, having done a good job, we now seek to do a better one as other problems are beginning lo emerge and to become more obvious to all of us as a community.

One reason is that we now have more migrants here than ever before. Possibly a greater contributing factor is that we arc now bringing migrants from countries with which hitherto we as a country have had very little contact. This could be said in relation to the recent influx of Turkish migrants who are now coming to this country in greater numbers than ever before. Perhaps the only time when we have had a lot to do with Turkey as a nation was in the 1914-18 War, when we happened to be specific opponents of that country and for some time some Australians of that generation came into contact with Turks in that way. We have been drawing our migrants more from European centres in many of which English is taught in the schools. I refer to Holland its an example. That has been of great assistance to us. It probably makes for more easily assimilable migrants. They were better places from which to obtain migrants. But that source is drying up. If we want to persist with our immigration programme - there are those of us who feel that Australia has no future without an immigration programme - and if we are spreading our net much wider now, problems will certainly arise.

I believe that this Bill results from the problems becoming more obvious as a result of that and as a result of the financial starvation of the States which means that they arc not able to do as much over the whole field as they have been doing in the past. Perhaps the States were using funds that were meant for education in general to provide crash courses in English to enable people from other countries - particularly children - to cope more readily with the education system in this country. In our view, those are the reasons for the Bill. We have made some practical suggestions to the Government in an effort to achieve a bigger concept of what this problem means to future generations. If possible, we should achieve some international agreement. This must start somewhere, and Australia seems to be the country which more than any other has this problem. We support the Bill and hope that it passes.







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