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Subject: Cultural Studies »


National Language Policy

Joseph Lo Bianco.

Joseph Lo Bianco talks about multilingualism in Australia.



Date Added:

27 June 2002


Making Multicultural Australia


mov (Quicktime);

File size:



46 secs


Chief Executive, National Languages and Literacy Institute of Australia; Author of the 1987 report, National Policy on Languages

What I think successfully has been done in the last twenty years in Australia, much more so than in almost any other country, has been to go through a stage of arguing that multilingualism is in fact a right for people. And now we've gone to regarding it in a more sophisticated way as a resource - an intellectual resource for communities of the children, and a sort of economic, international, global resource for the country.

And I think that the shift away from primarily favouring immigrant and community interests, towards Asian, economically-oriented ones - which is a shift that I think was to a large extent inevitable, because there is a very big pragmatic need for the country to do better in the Asian language area - was brought about by government trade interests which actually prevailed in Cabinet.


In 1984 the Senate produced its report on a language policy, in which it argued for a language policy. But I think they really shied away from all the hard questions. They made 114 recommendations, but didn't actually offer a policy.

I think the recommendations were based to a large extent on cultural retention intergenerationally, the concern that language attrition was well advanced, that people - the children, the second and third generations - would not retain languages. And I think that's clearly the case. But I think that that is also based on a lot of symbolism, and I think that a lot of communities, certainly expressed to me many many times, that a monolingual education system really put a significant number of students at a quite unequal position to everyone else. And it meant that monolingualism was, in fact, dominant and successful, whereas bilingualism and multilingualism were the problem.

There were three forces that brought the policies together - intellectuals, Asian-oriented business interests and some intellectuals in that category, and ethnic communities - as the leaders of a wider lobby for a language policy.

I think a thing that wasn't so successful in the 1987 language policy were that I would have liked to have seen a much better place for interpreting and translating as a right, in legal and health situations. And I don't think that that was got through, and it still hasn't.

I think one of the things that has been achieved is that no-one really argues any more about whether Australia really should or shouldn't have language policies. What people argue about are the priorities that go within it. I think that's a kind of watershed that won't be gone back on.

I think FECCA played a critical role, the Federation of Ethnic Communitiesí Councils. Between 1980 and 1982 they organised a series of conferences around the country, and they convened a lobby group, which was the National Languages Policy Lobby Group. In this lobby group were included people who were interested or whose backgrounds were in Aboriginal languages, in foreign language teaching, in ethnic minority languages, in deaf and sign language, in ESL (English as a second language). So they tried to put together a comprehensive constituency, if you like.

Interview for Making Multicultural Australia, 1996.