Australia: Calls for national indigenous languages policy

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Tue Sep 30 14:57:34 UTC 2008

Calls for national indigenous languages policy

The Alice Springs-based group who created Ngapartji Ngapartji (a play
which has sold out to national audiences and is a 2008 nominee for a
prestigious Deadly Award), are calling on the Federal Government to
urgently introduce a National Indigenous Languages policy. The group
released a discussion paper to Government in late July and are
concerned that they haven't yet heard a response.

"The establishment of a National Indigenous Languages policy is
crucial if Australia hopes to close the gap between indigenous and
non-indigenous health and education; it is as crucial as building
hospitals and classrooms", says Ngapartji Ngapartji creative producer
Alex Kelly.

"Knowledge of language and culture can have flow on benefits into
broader educational, employment, health and environmental outcomes,
but rarely are they included in indigenous strategy and policy
decisions, and more over, not enough is known about the economic costs
and benefits of Australian Indigenous languages."

The group recommendations the following actions:

• a whole of government approach with a National Indigenous Languages policy;

• a National Council on Indigenous Languages and a National Indigenous
Languages Centre to advise government on policy direction;

• a nationally coordinated approach to research and data collection on
Australian languages;

• a national Languages database;

• and to support states and territories in the development of
statewide language policies and indigenous language curricula in

Only 145 of the 300 languages existing at the time of colonisation are
still spoken today, with 110 of these critically endangered.
Alarmingly, only 17 of these are regarded as viable enough to survive
for another generation.

"In the past 15 years Federal parliamentary committees have recognised
the importance of protecting and promoting Indigenous languages and
culture through supporting various state and territory based

"But despite these efforts there is currently no national policy on
Indigenous languages, no consistent approach to funding allocations
and research, or national body enabled to advise on policy
development," Kelly said.

The Federal Government currently invests $8.8M in 2008-09 in language
programs. Mr Kelly said that while they applaud the recent increase in
funding "it needs to be backed up by a national policy".

"The costs to both revive a lost language and support the survival of
an existing one are more than just economic. I don't think this is a
cost that Australians are willing to bear," he said.

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