The Hon. LYNDA VOLTZ
[11.39 p.m.]: We would all like to think that each generation brings better opportunities than the one that preceded it. My children are bilingual—they are able to read, write and speak Greek—and they are fortunate to live in a community that offers them the opportunity to do this. However, their second language schooling occurs at a community language school. For my children the study of a language represents more than a subject learned at school; it equates with their identity and cultural heritage. Studies show that time spent studying foreign languages strongly reinforces the core subject areas of reading, English language literacy, social studies and mathematics.
It is well-known that foreign language learners consistently outperform control groups in core subject areas on standardised tests, often significantly. Students fluent in two languages score higher in both verbal and non-verbal intelligence, and are superior in divergent thinking tasks and memory ability and attention span. Second language students have higher test scores in reading, language and mathematics. Each additional year of second language training creates a greater positive differential compared with students not receiving a second language. It significantly strengthens first language skills in areas of reading, English vocabulary, grammar and communication skills, and the earlier the start the greater is its positive effect on the first language. Students studying a second language have superior cross-cultural skills and adapt better to varying cultural contexts. Finally, students studying a second language display greater cultural sensitivity.
In the face of globalisation, the study of a second language not only improves the academic performance and cultural sensitivity of a student, it also allows for greater opportunities for cross-border trade and economic growth. We were taught Bahasa Indonesian during the 1970s, when I attended high school, for that very reason. I must say that I found it the most enjoyable of the three languages taught and I have used it on rare occasions in some of the strangest places in the world. For example, in Palestine where locals assumed aid workers from Australia and Indonesia had knowledge of our respective languages. I think the Indonesians were both impressed and amused at my attempts of Bahasa Indonesian more than 30 years after leaving school.
As my children have moved to high school, I have noticed that Bahasa Indonesian rarely appears on the high school curriculums. That loss of Bahasa Indonesian from New South Wales high schools is consistent with the findings of a recent Federal Government report into the study of Indonesian. In that report it was found that fewer year 12 students studied Indonesian in 2009 than in 1972 and between 2001 and 2010 the number of university enrolments in Indonesian language fell national1y by 40 per cent. In 2009 only 1,167 students in Australian high schools were enrolled in Bahasa Indonesian classes by year 12, and the number studying in New South Wales in particular has plummeted. That is a great disappointment as Indonesia plays a significant role in our region.
The report also noted that Indonesia, with a population of 240 million, is the world's third largest democracy, fourth most populous nation and home to a rapidly expanding middle class. Its economy is growing by more than 6 per cent per annum. The International Monetary Fund projects that its nominal gross domestic product growth rate between 2009 to 2015 will be 15.1 per cent higher than Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Korea, Japan or the rest of South-East Asia. The relationship between Australia and Indonesia is strong. Jakarta hosts Australia's largest embassy, our second largest defence representation and a substantial Australian Federal Police presence. Historically, trade between the two countries has been modest—namely, $12.9 billion in 2010—with Indonesia ranking as only our thirteenth largest trading partner. However, our trade relationship has been showing recent signs of increasing.
Since 2006 two-way trade between our countries has grown by an average of 9.7 per cent per annum. Given Indonesia's maintenance of respectable real gross domestic product growth of 6.1 per cent in 2010, the reality is that trade between Australia and Indonesia is likely to continue to intensify in the years ahead. The International Monetary Fund projects that Indonesia will achieve one of the fastest growth rates in the world's 18 largest economies during 2009 to 2015, outstripping even the powerhouse economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China. Since 2006 Indonesian has been designated a nationally significant language. It is perhaps time for the State and Federal governments to give more consideration to the languages that will play an important role in Australia's future. The ability to communicate and conduct business with our Indonesian counterparts in their language will be of critical importance to Australia.