ABORIGINAL LANGUAGES PROGRAM
Mr GERARD MARTIN:
My question is addressed to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. Will the Minister update the House on the Government's Aboriginal Languages Program, and related matters?
Mr PAUL LYNCH:
I thank the member for Bathurst for his question on this important issue. The reason it is important is that, as an Aboriginal Elder said to me, "You can't have a culture without a language." Language is an important expression of culture, and Australia's Aboriginal people have the longest living culture in the world. The development and protection of languages is central to identity, which in turn is crucial to self-esteem. The New South Wales Government supports the protection and revitalisation of Aboriginal languages to ensure we all have an opportunity to celebrate the wealth and diversity of Aboriginal languages in New South Wales.
This is particularly appropriate this year, because 2008 has been declared the United Nations International Year of Languages. Linguists suggest that before 1788 there were at least 70 Aboriginal languages in what is now New South Wales. Two years ago the census found there were only 804 Aboriginal people in New South Wales who identified as speaking an indigenous language. That, to put it mildly, is cause for concern. Strengthening Aboriginal communities is a key area of the Government's commitment to Aboriginal people. Culture and heritage is a priority area identified in Two Ways Together, in partnership with communities, and it provides the focus for this Government's support of Aboriginal languages.
As Minster for Aboriginal Affairs I have been able to see first hand the value of language to Aboriginal communities. Recently in Tamworth I had the great pleasure to hear children speaking and singing Gamilaraay. Gamilaraay is one of the world's oldest languages, and the New South Wales Government invested in one of the world's newer technologies to produce a Birrelee Gamilaraay language DVD. The DVD was developed by Daniel Creighton, in consultation with Birrelee Multifunctional Aboriginal Children's Service and Gomeroi Elders. Language classes have shown the great potential that comes from helping Aboriginal people to reconnect with their culture, and from all Australians understanding and appreciating Aboriginal languages.
Since community language classes were introduced in schools, school principals have noticed an increase in school attendance among Aboriginal students. A decline in absenteeism has been evident in areas as diverse as Western Sydney and Wilcannia. In April this year I invited Aboriginal community organisations to lodge submissions for grants of between $5,000 and $25,000 to conduct Aboriginal language projects. In the 2008-09 financial year the New South Wales Government will provide a total of $200,000 for its program aimed at preserving and revitalising New South Wales Aboriginal languages. The core basis of that is, as I said when I commenced my answer, you cannot have a culture without a language.