I rise today to promote the cause of Asian language education, which will certainly not benefit from the member for Warringah. I have spoken many times in this place about the vibrant, ethnically diverse community that I represent in Sydney’s north-west, which has a significant proportion of residents from an Asian background. We are a community that values education very highly, a community in which people understand the importance of Asian languages and literacy.
In this area, the Rudd government is making up for lost time under the former Liberal government, which quite disgracefully cut Asian languages and studies in schools in 2002. Earlier this week, the Prime Minister, who knows very well the importance of learning an Asian language, along with the Deputy Prime Minister released a series of reports that provide a snapshot of the teaching of Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Indonesian in our schools. That report shows that the number of students studying an Asian language has dropped, particularly at the secondary level.
A key issue in Chinese language studies is getting more students to continue to year 12 and retaining more students whose heritage is not Chinese. At present, 94 per cent of students in this category drop out by year 12. The report recommends the setting up of an Australian centre for Chinese language education, and I thoroughly endorse that, because it would fit in perfectly, I would suggest, on the site of the Macquarie University campus. It would be a very nice fit. Despite our growing relationship with China, between 2000 and 2008 the number of schools teaching Chinese across the country dropped from 569 to around 380.
The teaching of Korean has also stagnated: 46 schools across the country were teaching the language in 2008, only one more than in the year 2000. The report into Korean language teaching describes the state of language learning in schools as ‘of concern’. Other specialists go further, saying, ‘We’re in a fight for survival.’ The report makes, I think, a very important practical recommendation—that every Australian school teaching Korean needs a direct partnership with a school in Korea. The fact that a language that has been a priority in schools for 20 years can be fighting for survival is a significant indictment of the Liberal Party and its failure to support Asian literacy.
One of the first priorities of the Rudd government on our election was to invest $62.4 million over four years to 2012 to increase the number of students learning these four key Asian languages, and in New South Wales this investment is now resulting in a range of initiatives that will begin to turn things around. Teachers, students and Asian communities across the country know that, when it comes to engagement with their language and culture, only Labor speaks their language. They are saying ‘Xie xie ni’ and ‘kansa hamnida’.