Bilingual learning - in the Australian Federal Elections


What are the Liberal Party, the Labor Party and the Greens Party saying about bilingual learning?

Here are the responses about bilingual learning from the three main parties. Read each response, or the lack of one. As of today, only the Greens Party has a policy regarding bilingual education and bilingual learning for this next term of government. The Australian First Nations Political Party has stated it will re-instate bilingual education.

Liberal Party – no response from request for information from Natasha Griggs.

Labor Party – current position unknown, however response to follow up has been received from Senator Trish Crossin

Most Recent:

• Funding grants on a yearly basis to support Indigenous languages

• Report – Inquiry into Indigenous Languages in Communities (

• Draft Australian Curriculum – Languages –Framework for Aboriginal Languages and Torres Strait Islander Languages (

 Greens Party

Warren H Williams\' comments– standing for NT Senate

The Greens will take action to reverse the funds draining from NT schools and training institutions. We will pursue bilingual education programs that have demonstrated results. Kids learn better in their own language; and research shows bilingual education can achieve better literacy and numeracy outcomes. Learning in language keeps culture strong and supports healthy life in communities.

They say:

We will also dedicate $10 million a year to enhance the teaching and learning of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages. Australia risks losing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages without a more concerted effort. The Greens will provide funds on top of current programs for schools to keep Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages alive. Furthermore, there is evidence to suggest the educational outcomes for Aboriginal kids are significantly improved when they can learn in their own language.

The funding will ensure education service providers working in remote communities are supported to become bilingual in an Aboriginal language, that teachers working in Aboriginal communities can receive ongoing mandated training in Aboriginal language concepts and that Aboriginal language courses are made available to all pre-service teachers who are intending to work in Aboriginal communities. 

The NT Greens also issued a press release on education today too that explicitly supports bilingual education (see

Policy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples

Protection for cultural rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, including their right to practise and revitalise their cultural traditions and customs, including language, and to maintain, protect and develop the past, present and future manifestations of their cultures.

 Culturally appropriate education for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, which incorporates language and culture into curricula and supports families and children to engage with the education system.

 An education system which enables Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to establish and control their own education systems where they choose to do so, in their own language, consistent with their culture.

 Culturally appropriate services and resources for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples based on local language, cultural aspects and community priorities. These services to employ qualified community members where possible.

 Qualified local-language and cultural interpreters available in courts, hospitals, clinics, and government meetings when needed.

 Youth programs to be treated as an essential service in remote communities.


Four Corners 2009 program on bilingual education

Going Back to Lajamanu

Reporter: Debbie Whitmont

Broadcast: 14/09/2009

Reporter Debbie Whitmont travels to the Top End to discover what will happen following a government move to scrap a controversial 35-year-old experiment in bilingual education.

When it comes to selling Australia as a tourist destination it goes without saying that Aboriginal language is part of the Australian identity. But in the classrooms of the Northern Territory Indigenous language is not in favour.

Last year national tests found four out of five children in remote schools didn't meet basic standards of English literacy. The Northern Territory Government decided that bilingual schooling was a major cause of this poor performance.

In October 2008 the then minister Marion Scrymgour made a decision that from January 2009 all schools must teach the first four hours of classes in English. For remote area bilingual schools and the communities they serviced it was a major blow.

"It's a matter of commonsense that in all education, whether you're teaching people of five, nine or ninety you've got to go from the known to the unknown." Senior educator

For others it was simply a knee jerk reaction. One senior academic who went to see the minister claims she told him she had been too hasty in making the decision.

"She said, look, I fucked up. And I think what she was referring to is that there was a lack of consultation beforehand and that the application of her four hour English directive ... had many unintended consequences."

The government though did not back down. In fact the Chief Minister told Four Corners he completely supports what's been done:

"We are not banning the speaking of Indigenous languages, the teaching of Indigenous culture in our schools. What we are saying explicitly is that we should have the same expectations for these kids to get to benchmark in years 3, 5, 7 and 9 along with all other kids."

But the decision to stop the bilingual program ignores much available research that shows even those schools primarily using English performed badly in tests.

"Well I was really shocked. I was shocked because there was no consultation with communities ... other schools by and large already had the first four hours of English in any school day and yet their results were still terrible." Jane Simpson

To find out the rationale behind bilingual education and to look at how it has performed, reporter Debbie Whitmont went to two Aboriginal communities in the top end, Lajamanu and Yirrkala. In 1986 Four Corners went to Lajamanu to look at what was then considered an innovative and apparently successful program of bilingual education.

Returning there, the program looks at what happened to the bold experiment of bilingual education. It also asks how the new policy, making English the dominant teaching language, would impact on the students. Perhaps not surprisingly the people there felt their view had been ignored and their culture devalued...

"It's like when you lose your loved ones, you feel the same way when you lose your language," Zachariah Patterson

"Well I think language is a large part of people's identity and their pride in who they are." Wendy Baarda


Naplan Inquiry

The effectiveness of the National Assessment Program - Literacy and Numeracy

Information about the Inquiry

On 15 May 2013 the Senate referred the following matter to the Senate Education, Employment and Workplace Relations Committees for inquiry and report.

The effectiveness of the National Assessment Program - Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN), 
With specific reference to: 

a) whether the evidence suggests that NAPLAN is achieving its stated objectives; 
b) unintended consequences of NAPLAN's introduction; 
c) NAPLAN's impact on teaching and student learning practices; 
d) the impact on teaching and student learning practices of publishing NAPLAN test results on the MySchool website; 
e) potential improvements to the program, to improve student learning and assessment; 
f) international best practice for standardised testing, and international case studies about the introduction of standardised testing; and 
g) other relevant matters. 

Submissions should be received by 07 June 2013. The reporting date is 27 June 2013.

The Committee is seeking written submissions from interested individuals and organisations preferably in electronic form submitted online or sent by email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. as an attached Adobe PDF or MS Word format document. The email must include full postal address and contact details.

Alternatively, written submissions may be sent to:

Committee Secretary
Senate Education, Employment and Workplace Relations Committees
PO Box 6100
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600

Consultation- Australian Curriculum: Draft Australian Curriculum: Languages Framework for Aboriginal Languages and Torres Strait Islander Languages

The overall rationale for learning Aboriginal languages and Torres Strait Islander languages in Australian schools is that they are the original languages of this country. Through learning them, all students gain access to knowledge and understanding of Australia that can only come from an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander perspective. The languages by their nature embed this perspective. Learning to use these unique languages can play an important part in the development of a strong sense of identity, pride and self-esteem for all Australian students. 

Consultation closes 25 July 2013

Information about the Framework for Aboriginal languages and Torres Strait Islander languages

Draft Document

Online and Written submissions

Inquiry into language learning in Indigenous communities

On Monday 17 September 2012, the Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs tabled its report on the inquiry into language learning in Indigenous communities entitled Our Land Our Languages.

From Introduction


  1. The Mabo decision of the High Court of Australia on 3 June 1992 legally recognised that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have a special relationship to the land that existed prior to colonisation. The Mabo decision recognised that ‘terra nullius', the concept that Australia was unoccupied at the time of colonisation, is a fiction.

  2.  Similarly, the notion that Australia is a monolingual nation and that only Standard Australian English can benefit a person is a fiction. Estimates show that at the time of colonisation there was an estimated 250 Australian Indigenous languages being used and today there are about 18 languages, strong in the sense of being spoken by significant numbers of people across all age groups. 

  3. Read More


Select Committee Submission

Friends of Bilingual Learning are a network of academics, professionals and interested citizens who recognise the importance of first languages in the acquisition of education, identity and human rights. The "Bilingual Learning" within our name refers to a society that operates with multiple languages, and subsequently accepts a continual cultural learning throughout life.

The world loses a language every two weeks

"When I speak language, it makes me feel home" - Roger Hart, elder and Cape York Guugu Yimithirr speaker

"Having a policy in place is essential to the survival of our people and languages. It would recognise our languages at a political level and ensure regular and consistent funds required to ensure Aboriginal languages experience growth and few impediments. Currently Australia does not have any list of any languages and as a result allows government to pay lip service to the promotion and funding of Aboriginal languages which is why we get sporadic funding allocations and little acknowledgement of our unique languages." - Lester Coyne, Former National Chair of the Federation of Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander Languages.

From the Gallery

Languages of the Top End