Page 153 - Week 01 - Wednesday, 13 February 2008

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We in the Liberal Party here in the ACT value this completely. We absolutely value the contribution of our ethnic communities that have come here and part of that, which this motion is broadly about, is in relation to their language. We endorse the ability of various ethnic groups to hold on to their language. It is an important thing and we absolutely endorse that part of the motion.

While I am on the importance of the contribution of various ethnic groups, I note what the minister has said about meeting with ethnic schools. I guess I will just say that there is a lot of division in the Labor Party on ethnic schools; there is no doubt about it. We know that four out of nine Labor members voted in support of a motion at their conference, which narrowly failed but included the following: the growth of private education is facilitating the fragmentation of Australia’s children along ethnic, cultural and particularly religious lines.

Obviously that is not a strong endorsement of the ability of ethnic schools to exist. It is unfortunate that there is that division in the Labor Party. I do not think the minister was one of those who voted for that, but there must be mixed feelings within the Labor Party, as there clearly is within the caucus, about the ability of these schools to exist. We support their right to exist. We support the right of religious schools to exist. We believe they form an important part of our community and make a great contribution to our educational system.

In relation to other aspects of the motion, it does need to be said that the ability to speak a language other than English is an important skill that should not be underestimated. I think sometimes in Australia we do forget just how useful the ability to speak another language can be, not just from a personal development point but also from an educational and indeed professional viewpoint. Studies show that exposure to another language early on in the lives of children greatly enhances their ability to learn not just that language but other languages. It also helps children better understand and comprehend their own language and that can only reflect on their overall educational standards.

We should be encouraging more and more students to learn another language, and Dr Foskey touched on this. We do have great opportunities here in the ACT, not just because of our very diverse city but also because we have access to embassies and high commissions in Canberra that other places simply do not have. I think there is an opportunity to build on language studies here. I know that in Victoria the Liberal Party took a very strong policy to the election in relation to compulsory language training in schools. At this stage we need to take a closer look.

I think it is fair to say that we would like to see language studies more available in our schools, at both a government and a non-government level. My experience of learning languages at school was very patchy and this was in the non-government sector. I think it was a semester of Italian, a semester of German and that was about it, and that is not enough. We should be looking to enhance that. We should be looking to find ways of making it a more accepted part of the mainstream curriculum. Exactly how that is done is a discussion that we need to have.

When you go to Europe you find that not only do people learn their own language and normally English but they tend to learn at least one or two other languages, whether it

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