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Appendix 3 - Indigenous Languages - A National Approach: Social Justice Report 2009

Social Justice Report 2009

Appendix 3: Indigenous Languages - A National

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1 The importance of Australia's
Indigenous languages

The most recent report on Indigenous languages in Australia, the National
Indigenous Languages Survey (NILS) Report 2005, found that the situation of
Australia’s Indigenous languages is grave and requires urgent action. Of
the 145 Indigenous languages still spoken in Australia, 110 are critically
endangered. All of Australia’s Indigenous languages face an uncertain
future if immediate action and care are not taken.

The Australian Government is committed to addressing the serious problem of
language loss in Indigenous communities.

It requires coordinated action among the bodies involved in support of
Indigenous languages, including government, language organisations and
educational and research institutions.

The proposed approach draws on reports and consultation over many decades,
including the NILS report and feedback through the Maintenance of Indigenous
Languages and Records Program.


2 Objectives

  1. National Attention: To bring national attention to Indigenous languages
    – the oldest surviving languages in the world; and the pressures they
  2. Critically Endangered Languages: Reinforce use of critically endangered
    Indigenous languages that are being only partly spoken to help prevent decline
    in use and to maintain or extend their common, everyday use as much as possible.
  3. Working with Languages to Close the Gap: In areas where Indigenous languages
    are being spoken fully and passed on, making sure that government recognises and
    works with these languages in its agenda to Close the Gap.
  4. Strengthening Pride in Identity and Culture: To restore the use of rarely
    spoken or unspoken Indigenous languages to the extent that the current language
    environment allows.
  5. Supporting Indigenous Language Programs in Schools: To support and maintain
    the teaching and learning of Indigenous languages in Australian schools.


3 Actions

National Attention

  • Undertake a feasibility study for the National Indigenous Languages Centre
    recommended by the NILS Report.
  • Increase public recognition and appreciation of Indigenous languages by
    expanding the use of these languages across public and government functions.
  • Support greater coordination and assistance amongst Indigenous language
    centres to maximise their impact nationally and to reach languages not currently

Critically Endangered Languages

  • The Maintenance of Indigenous Languages and Records program, administered by
    the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, is investing
    $9.3 million in 2009-10 on 65 projects around Australia supporting the revival
    and maintenance of Indigenous languages.
  • Increase use of new technology to broaden the impact of language maintenance
    and revival activities by local community Indigenous language centres.
  • Pilot Early Childhood Language Nests and Mobile Language Teams to supplement
    the work of language centres, especially in more remote areas that are not
    within easy reach.
  • Consider Tax deductible status to Indigenous languages organisations through
    the Register of Cultural Organisations for maintaining and reviving Indigenous

Working with Languages to Close the Gap

  • Given the centrality of language to strong Indigenous culture, and the
    broader social benefits of functional and resilient families and communities,
    better targeting support for Indigenous languages as part of a broader national
    focus on Indigenous culture generally, will contribute to the overall well-being
    of Indigenous communities.
  • COAG has committed $38.6 million towards interpreting and translating
    services as part of the new Remote Service Delivery sites. The Remote Service
    Delivery National Partnership (RSD NP) provides for the strengthening of
    interpreting and translating services in response to local needs in each of the
    priority locations. In addition to the employment of interpreters in each
    location, the Commonwealth is responsible for working with the States and
    Northern Territory to introduce a national framework for the effective supply
    and use of Indigenous language interpreters and translators. It will include
    protocols for the use of interpreters and translators.
  • Components of the proposed national framework include:
    • development and strengthening of Indigenous interpreting services
      through establishing mentor/coordinator positions, providing base salary funding
      for interpreters and administrative support of interpreters;
    • training and accrediting Indigenous interpreters –
      development of nationally consistent curriculum material for training and
      provision of training leading to accreditation and expertise in particular
      subject areas;
    • increasing supply of Indigenous interpreters through development
      and establishment of a national recruitment and retention strategy, with
      localised flexibility;
    • increasing demand for interpreters through increased training for
      government and non-government employees working in relevant locations;
    • translation of government information products.
  • Consideration could be given to forming a National Reference Group of
    Experts to advise on future directions of policy on Indigenous interpreters.
    Each of the components would involve contributions from the Commonwealth and
    from each of the jurisdictions.

Strengthening Pride in Identity and Culture through Language

  • Support community-based Indigenous language centres by increasing links with
    major national, state and territory cultural institutions to ensure that
    Indigenous languages material is properly preserved and made accessible
  • Through the Indigenous Contemporary Music Action Plan, support music in
    Indigenous languages to increase the transmission of languages across
    generations to younger speakers, utilising festivals and multimedia to
    strengthen the focus on Indigenous languages and increasing broadcasting content
    in Indigenous languages.
  • Potential collaboration with the Songroom Project, Sing Australia,
    Australian Community Business Network and Foundation for Young Australians to
    work with communities where languages have been lost to promote language
  • Encouraging more grass-roots collaboration between language learning
    programs and Stolen Generation members and their organisations.

Supporting Indigenous Language Programs in Schools

  • The Government recently commissioned the Indigenous Language Programs in
    Australian Schools – A Way Forward report, which revealed that between
    2006 and 2007 over 16,000 Indigenous students and 13,000 non-Indigenous students
    located in 260 Australian schools were involved in Indigenous language programs,
    covering over 80 different Indigenous languages.
  • Significant funding for languages education is being provided to the states
    and territories through the National Education Agreement for languages, allowing
    jurisdictions flexibility to determine how funding is allocated. Funding can be
    used to support and maintain Indigenous language programs operating in
    government schools.
  • $56.4 million is also being provided over 2009 to 2012 through the Schools
    Assistance Act 2008 to support the teaching of languages, including Australian
    Indigenous languages, in non-government schools.
  • Several jurisdictions are currently establishing programs to strengthen the
    teaching and learning of Indigenous languages in schools, including a proposal
    by New South Wales to develop national senior secondary Indigenous languages


4 Indigenous languages and literacy and numeracy

  • The Government is committed to languages education and recognises the
    important role that Indigenous language learning plays in some schools,
    particularly bilingual schools.
  • The learning of English is also a fundamental skill that all Australians,
    including Indigenous Australians, must have in order to maximise their learning
    opportunities and life chances.
  • All Australian governments through the Council of Australian Governments
    (COAG) processes have committed to halving the gap in the reading, writing and
    numeracy achievements between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students within a
  • The Government is providing $56.4 million over four years to provide extra
    assistance to schools to enable them to expand intensive literacy and numeracy
    approaches that have been successful with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
    students and provide professional development support to assist teachers to
    prepare Individual Learning Plans for Indigenous students.

5 National curriculum

  • The National curriculum is being developed by the Australian Curriculum,
    Assessment and Reporting Authority, initially in English, mathematics, science
    and history. A second phase of subject areas will be developed in languages,
    geography and the arts.
  • Indigenous perspectives will be written into the National Curriculum to
    ensure that all young Australians have the opportunity to learn about,
    acknowledge and respect the language and culture of Aboriginal people and Torres
    Strait Islanders.


[1] Australian Government Department
of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, Indigenous Languages - A
National Approach. The importance of Australia's Indigenous languages
. At: (Viewed 3 September 2009)