NSW Deputy Premier and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Dr Andrew addressing State Parliament PDF Print E-mail

Today I am pleased to announce, we are coordinating the development of a 'whole of Government' NSW Aboriginal Languages Policy. This is an  Australian first.

Across the world, nations are passing legislation and drawing up policies and programs to preserve the languages of their Indigenous peoples.

THE NSW Government is developing Australia's first comprehensive Aboriginal Languages Policy to help maintain and restore Aboriginal culture across the State.

In a process that has involved consultation with FATS1L as well as other Peak Indigenous groups in NSW, the Government has drafted the NSW Aboriginal Language Policy to take effect in all key portfolios.

FATSIL Chairperson Lester Coyne says the move by the NSW Government is the result of cooperation between Government, communities and their representative bodies, and has established a precedent for similar action in all States and Territories. Mr Coyne said "There will always be one Government prepared to display vision and lead the way, and others who will take longer than necessary to respond to what will be inevitable change. FATS1L commends the NSW Government for taking the initiative in this case for others to follow."

Mr Coyne said the announcement gave great encouragement to FATS1L and its members, who have been calling for Government at all levels to give due recognition to Indigenous Languages through legislation. Announcing the development of the new policy, the Deputy Premier and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Dr Andrew Refshauge acknowledged the impact of white settlement on the use of language.

"Two hundred and twenty years ago there would have been 50 or more Aboriginal languages across the area that was to become NSW, but over the past two centuries, Aboriginal people have been discouraged and, at times, forbidden from using or teaching their languages." he said.

"As a result, some NSW Aboriginal languages have fallen into disuse while others have few surviving fluent speakers.

But many are not yet lost, and in partnership with Aboriginal people, they can be revived." NSW FATS1L shadow delegate and Chief Education Officer with the Aboriginal Curriculum Unit at the Board of Studies, Kevin Lowe, has been actively involved in the development of the policy. Kevin is supportive of the processes involved in its construction and is optimistic that it will represent concrete change.

"This policy looks like having some teeth. It incorporates long- term strategic planning and should provide an effective grounding to assist Government agencies in their interactions with community organisations. On the basis of this we are also seeing a workable framework for use in other States and the Territory."

Dr Refshauge said the idea of the policy came from the Aboriginal people themselves and is supported by the findings and recommendations of:

  • The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.
  • The National Commitment to Improved Outcomes in the Delivery of Services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People.
  • And the Bringing Them Home Report.

"The importance of preserving NSW Aboriginal languages is reinforced by the rapid rate at which the world's language diversity is shrinking. Half the world's 6800 languages are likely to vanish within two generations.

"Across the world, nations are passing legislation and drawing up policies and programs to preserve the languages of their Indigenous peoples?' The Minister cited the New Zealand Maori Language Strategic Plan as an effective example of Government formulating policy to support language preservation.

The NSW Government will be working closely with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATS1C), Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (A1ATS1S), the Federation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Languages (FATS1L) the Aboriginal Educational Consultative Group (AECG), and elders groups to develop this policy.

While there are a number of Aboriginal language programs in NSW, more needs to be done to ensure the revival and long-term survival of the languages. "Under consideration will be existing funding, and whether we are getting the best value for the expenditure. Also the policy is likely to develop protocols addressing the issues involved in the teaching of Aboriginal languages, and providing appropriate training for Aboriginal people who want to teach their language.

"By working with Aboriginal people to maintain their languages, we are also working to maintain the pride and dignity of their culture," said Dr Refshauge.

"Under consideration will be existing funding, and whether we are getting the best value for the expenditure. Also the policy is likely to develop protocols addressing the issues involved in the teaching of Aboriginal languages, and providing appropriate training for Aboriginal people who want to teach their language."