Page 3605 - Week 10 - Wednesday, 13 September 2017

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their workplaces with their families and loved ones and colleagues truly contributes to and enhances our multilingual, multicultural, diverse way of life in this city.

MR RATTENBURY (Kurrajong) (11.24): I am pleased to rise to speak on the importance of cultural and linguistic diversity, including through the preservation and promotion of mother languages. The ACT Greens believe that cultural and linguistic diversity in the ACT population greatly enriches our community and should be embraced and celebrated. Our diversity is a source of our strength and a key part of what makes the ACT such a vibrant place to live.

I am proud that the ACT was the first jurisdiction in Australia to enact a Human Rights Act, providing an explicit statutory basis for the human rights which are universal and enjoyed by everyone in our community regardless of gender, religious belief, nationality, race or any other point of difference. These rights include freedom of expression and the rights of minorities to enjoy their culture.

Under the Human Rights Act, anyone who belongs to an ethnic, religious or linguistic minority must not be denied the right, with other members of the minority, to enjoy his or her culture, to declare and practise his or her religion, or to use his or her language. Additionally, we recognise that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples hold distinct cultural rights and must not be denied the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their languages and knowledge.

According to the latest census data, around 24 per cent of ACT households speak a language other than English at home. The languages most commonly spoken include Mandarin, Vietnamese, Cantonese, Hindi and Spanish, with these representing just a fraction of the diversity that exists in our community. As the motion notes, there are around 170 languages spoken across Canberra. This is hardly surprising, noting that 32 per cent of people in the ACT were born overseas. But it does reinforce that there is a need for governments to support people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds to fully participate in our society and actively engage in our democracy.

As the motion notes, UNESCO celebrates International Mother Language Day on 21 February each year. This year’s theme focused on the importance of multilingual education, ensuring that learners have access to education in their mother tongue and in other languages. It is through our mother language that most people acquire the essential skills of reading, writing and numeracy. In addition, local languages, especially minority and Indigenous languages, transmit cultures, values and traditional knowledge.

In 1788, at the time of European settlement of this continent, over 250 Indigenous Australian language groups existed across the nation. Today only around 120 of those languages are still spoken and many are at risk of being lost as elders pass away. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in particular, language is more than just a way to communicate. It plays a central role in a person’s sense of identity and is also the vehicle within which much cultural knowledge, such as songs, bush tucker and traditional medicine, is stored.

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