Chapter 3 Indigenous languages policy
At the Commonwealth Government level, a National Indigenous Languages Policy
has been in place since 2009, following the announcement of Indigenous
Languages – A National Approach. The Office for the Arts
(OFTA) is the lead agency for the implementation of the policy, and funds
language-related activities through its Indigenous Languages Support (ILS)
The states and territories have developed policies relating to Indigenous
languages that are, in general, related mainly to their respective education
While Indigenous languages policy is an integral issue in education, as
Dr William Fogarty told the Committee, it is also fundamental ‘for Indigenous
identity, cultural reproduction and the aspirations for Indigenous economic and
social development’. 
This chapter begins by examining the historical policy context before
discussing the national Indigenous languages policy and the role of the states
and territories. It then examines the sources of funding that are available to
support a range of activities that are being undertaken to maintain and revive
Indigenous languages. The chapter also discusses the constitutional recognition
of Indigenous languages, and the relationship between languages policy and
international human rights instruments.
Australian Indigenous language policies
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
Government policies of the past have been, in part, responsible for the
decline of Indigenous languages. For example, the Committee heard evidence in
Adelaide that the government actively repressed the use of Indigenous languages
by Aboriginal people. Dr Alitya Rigney said that when she was ‘growing up on
Point Pearce, it was forbidden to speak language by law.’
Similarly, Mrs Verna Koolmatrie recalled not being able to be immersed
in her traditional language when she was growing up. Mrs Koolmatrie said that:
I did not have that privilege and neither did the
Ngarrindjeri people in general. If you are on the community, which was called a
mission at the time, it was supposed to not be spoken at all. So, yes, I am one
of the people who missed out.
Limited recognition of Indigenous languages occurred in the 1960s via
the development of bilingual education programs in some Northern Territory
community schools (where English was not the first language). The
implementation of a bilingual education program in the Northern Territory has
received varying levels of Northern Territory Government support through to the
The first Commonwealth policy to significantly address Indigenous
languages was the National Policy on Languages of 1987.
The main objective of the policy was to outline the nation’s ‘choices about
language issues’ in the context of Australia’s emergent multiculturalism. The
policy covered all language-related activities in Australia, including policy
specific to Indigenous languages. It recommended the development of the
National Aboriginal Languages Project (NALP) to fund Indigenous language
education programs and projects. The main outcome of this policy was the
provision of funding to community based Indigenous language programs.
Australia’s Language: The Australian Language and Literacy Policy was
released as a White Paper in 1991. The main objective of the
policy was to outline a strategy to promote language and literacy in
Australia. The policy emphasised the importance of competency in both English
and Languages Other Than English (LOTE) to enhance educational outcomes and
communication within Australia and in the international community. The policy
provided funding for Regional Aboriginal Language Centres and other
organisations and also led to the establishment of the Federation of Aboriginal
and Torres Strait Islander Languages and Culture (FATSILC), which was auspiced
as the national peak body for community based Indigenous language programs in
Australia. The policy placed an emphasis on school-based educational programs;
however the extent to which schools followed the national policy was dependent
on the interest and resources of local school administrations.
In 1992 the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal
and Torres Strait Islander Affairs tabled the report Language and Culture –
A Matter of Survival as a result of its inquiry into the maintenance of
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Languages.
The terms of reference of the inquiry were:
n The nature and extent
of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander language loss
n The means by which
remaining Aboriginal languages can be maintained and recorded
n The funding of
Aboriginal language programs, and
n What work is already
under way in Australia in both recording and maintenance of language.
The main recommendations of the inquiry and government responses to
those recommendations are summarised in Table One.
Table One Recommendations and government responses from 1992
To raise awareness of the status and importance of
Campaigns planned by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander Commission (ATSIC) and the Department of Employment, Education and
To train and encourage Indigenous media organisations to
use local languages.
ATSIC to review and implement.
The training, provision and use of Indigenous interpreters
(particularly in the justice system), and the establishment of a national
interpreter service for Indigenous languages.
Importance recognised, however the funding implications of
encouraging the widespread use of interpreters need careful consideration.
Improved teacher training for teachers working in
Training programs in development, but states are primarily
The provision of language teachers and linguistic training
for Indigenous communities.
Importance recognised, however no substantive changes made
to supplement existing programs.
The provision of bilingual or bicultural education to all
Indigenous children whose first language is other than English.
States are primarily responsible.
of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
Affairs, Language and Culture: A Matter of Survival, 1992; Government Response
to the Recommendations of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs inquiry into Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander Language Maintenance Report ‘A Matter of Survival’, June
Following the Committee’s 1992 inquiry, the National Indigenous
Languages Survey (NILS) was commissioned in 2005.
This report, by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander Studies (AIATSIS) and FATSILC, provided the most comprehensive
analysis of the status of Indigenous languages in Australia to date, and
proposed a range of strategic and programmatic solutions to redress the decline
of Indigenous languages.
National Indigenous Languages Policy 2009
In 2009 the Commonwealth Government announced a national Indigenous
languages policy: Indigenous Languages – A National Approach.
The policy was a response to the NILS Report 2005, which found that the
situation of Australia’s Indigenous languages was grave and required urgent
In the policy announcement, the Government stated that it was committed
to addressing the serious problem of language loss in Indigenous communities.
The stated objectives of the National Indigenous Languages Policy are:
n National Attention:
To bring national attention to Indigenous languages – the oldest surviving
languages in the world; and the pressures they face
n Critically Endangered
Languages: Reinforce use of critically endangered Indigenous languages that are
being only partly spoken to help prevent decline in use and to maintain or
extend their common, everyday use as much as possible
n Working with
Languages to Close the Gap: In areas where Indigenous languages are being
spoken fully and passed on, making sure that government recognises and works
with these languages in its agenda to Close the Gap
n Strengthening Pride
in Identity and Culture: To restore the use of rarely spoken or unspoken
Indigenous languages to the extent that the current language environment
n Supporting Indigenous
Language Programs in Schools: To support and maintain the teaching and learning
of Indigenous languages in Australian schools.
The stated actions of the National Indigenous Languages Policy are:
n National Attention
a feasibility study for the National Indigenous Languages Centre recommended by
the NILS Report
public recognition and appreciation of Indigenous languages by expanding the
use of these languages across public and government functions, and
greater coordination and assistance amongst Indigenous language centres to
maximise their impact nationally and to reach languages not currently
n Critically Endangered
Indigenous Languages Support (formerly the Maintenance of Indigenous Languages
and Records) program, administered by the Department of the Environment, Water,
Heritage and the Arts, is investing $9.6 million in 2011-12 on 67 activities
around Australia supporting the revival and maintenance of Indigenous languages
use of new technology to broaden the impact of language maintenance and revival
activities by local community Indigenous language centres
Early Childhood Language Nests and Mobile Language Teams to supplement the work
of language centres, especially in more remote areas that are not within easy
Tax deductible status to Indigenous languages organisations through the
Register of Cultural Organisations for maintaining and reviving Indigenous
n Working with
Languages to Close the Gap
Þ Given the
centrality of language to strong Indigenous culture, and the broader social
benefits of functional and resilient families and communities, better targeting
support for Indigenous languages as part of a broader national focus on
Indigenous culture generally, will contribute to the overall well-being of
has committed $38.6 million towards interpreting and translating services as
part of the new Remote Service Delivery sites. The Remote Service Delivery
National Partnership (RSD NP) provides for the strengthening of interpreting
and translating services in response to local needs in each of the priority
locations. In addition to the employment of interpreters in each location, the
Commonwealth is responsible for working with the States and Northern Territory
to introduce a national framework for the effective supply and use of Indigenous
language interpreters and translators. It will include protocols for the use of
interpreters and translators.
of the proposed national framework include:
development and strengthening of Indigenous interpreting services
through establishing mentor/coordinator positions, providing base salary
funding for interpreters and administrative support of interpreters;
training and accrediting Indigenous interpreters – development of
nationally consistent curriculum material for training and provision of
training leading to accreditation and expertise in particular subject areas;
increasing supply of Indigenous interpreters through development
and establishment of a national recruitment and retention strategy, with
increasing demand for interpreters through increased training for
government and non-government employees working in relevant locations;
translation of government information products.
could be given to forming a National Reference Group of Experts to advise on
future directions of policy on Indigenous interpreters. Each of the components
would involve contributions from the Commonwealth and from each of the
n Strengthening Pride
in Identity and Culture through Language Revival
community-based Indigenous language centres by increasing links with major
national, state and territory cultural institutions to ensure that Indigenous
languages material is properly preserved and made accessible appropriately
the Indigenous Contemporary Music Action Plan, support music in Indigenous
languages to increase the transmission of languages across generations to
younger speakers, utilising festivals and multimedia to strengthen the focus on
Indigenous languages and increasing broadcasting content in Indigenous
collaboration with the Songroom Project, Sing Australia, Australian community
Business Network and Foundation for Young Australians to work with communities
where languages have been lost to promote language revival.
more grass-roots collaboration between language learning programs and Stolen
Generation members and their organisations.
n Supporting Indigenous
Language Programs in Schools
Government commissioned the Indigenous Language Programs in Australian Schools
– A Way Forward report, which revealed that between 2006 and 2007 over 16,000
Indigenous students and 13,000 non Indigenous students located in 260
Australian schools were involved in Indigenous language programs, covering over
80 different Indigenous languages.
funding for languages education is being provided to the states and territories
through the National Education Agreement for languages, allowing jurisdictions
flexibility to determine how funding is allocated. Funding can be used to
support and maintain Indigenous language programs operating in government
million is also being provided over 2009 to 2012 through the Schools Assistance
Act 2008 to support the teaching of languages, including Australian Indigenous
languages, in non-government schools.
jurisdictions are currently establishing programs to strengthen the teaching
and learning of Indigenous languages in schools, including a proposal by New
South Wales to develop national senior secondary Indigenous languages courses.
Indigenous languages, literacy and numeracy and the National Curriculum
The National Indigenous Languages Policy makes the following statements
linking Indigenous languages to literacy, numeracy and the National Curriculum:
n The learning of
English is also a fundamental skill that all Australians, including Indigenous
Australians, must have in order to maximise their learning opportunities and
n All Australian
governments through the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) processes have
committed to halving the gap in the reading, writing and numeracy achievements
between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students within a decade, and
n The Government is
providing $56.4 million over four years to provide extra assistance to schools
to enable them to expand intensive literacy and numeracy approaches that have
been successful with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and provide
professional development support to assist teachers to prepare Individual
Learning Plans for Indigenous students.
n The National
Curriculum is being developed by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and
Reporting Authority, initially in English, mathematics, science and history. A
second phase of subject areas will be developed in languages, geography and the
perspectives will be written into the National Curriculum to ensure that all
young Australians have the opportunity to learn about, acknowledge and respect
the language and culture of Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders.
Discussion of policy
The Committee received substantial evidence about the National Indigenous
Languages Policy. A common theme was that while stakeholders welcomed the
announcement of the policy, there was little evidence that it was being fully
The only funding streams that were earmarked specifically to support the
policy’s ‘actions’ were directed towards improving interpreting and translating
services at Remote Service Delivery National Partnership Agreement (RSD NP)
sites, and existing/ongoing funding for the Indigenous Languages Support (ILS)
The policy stated that funding would be provided to support the teaching
of languages in schools, although that was directed towards ‘all languages’ and
it is unclear what component would be directed towards supporting Indigenous
language learning. Funding that was allocated under Council of Australian
Governments (COAG) agreements for school assistance was specifically targeted
towards expanding intensive Standard Australian English literacy and numeracy
approaches for Indigenous students.
The Australian Education Union (AEU) commended the announcement of the
policy, but urged the Committee to advocate for:
n a greater focus on
the language rights of communities whose first language is not English
n greater acceptance of
the evidence showing the educational benefits of bilingual education, and
n meaningful funding
and resource commitment to support the genuine implementation of the policy.
The Eastern States Aboriginal Languages Group (ESALG) welcomed the
policy announcement, and called for a whole of government approach to
The National Policy appears to have prompted increased
interest in Indigenous languages around the country. This is particularly
highlighted by the increase in action by Education departments (in Queensland
and Victoria) moving towards offering inclusion of Indigenous languages studies
in schools state wide.
A whole of government approach to support the National
Indigenous Languages Policy now needs to be adopted. This approach will help
overcome current problems with inter-departmental policy coordination; improve
needs assessments for allocating existing funding and identify priorities for
future funding opportunities.
Similarly, the Indigenous Remote Communications Authority (IRCA)
encouraged the implementation of the policy across multiple government
Whilst IRCA welcomes the development of a National Indigenous
Languages policy we believe that this policy needs greater muscle behind it to
be truly effective. The announcement made in 2009 is a good start that must be
built on. This policy needs to be attached to actions across departments including
Education, Health, FAHCSIA, Media, NBN, Regional Affairs. The policy should
enable increased flow of resources to drive projects which simultaneously
create employment opportunities and support indigenous languages such as
language curriculum development, cultural tourism projects and language music
Other responses highlighted that few concrete or newly funded activities
have resulted from the policy. For example, the AEU asserted that ‘there
appears to be a significant disjuncture between policy statements and actual
The National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples were concerned that
an action plan for the national policy had not been established across
government portfolios. On examining the submissions received during this inquiry
from government departments, the Congress commented that:
None of the departmental submissions provided a coherent
explanation of which agency was pursuing which aspect of the Action Plan for
the implementation of the 2009 Policy. Furthermore, the Action Plan itself does
not appear to be publicly available, making it difficult for stakeholders like
Congress to monitor and evaluate progress.
Ms Fabienne Balsalmo from the Australian Human Rights Commission pointed
out that the current implementation of language policy is impeded by the divide
across jurisdictions. Ms Balsalmo said that:
while the national approach to Indigenous languages policy is
a good step to preserve languages in principle, there are too many barriers for
it to have achieved its stated aim to improve coordination between those who
are already working to support Indigenous languages—and that was the
ministerial statement when it was launched. The divide between Commonwealth,
state and territory policy is a large obstacle in the implementation of
coherent direction in language preservation in Australia.
Similarly, Faith Baisden from the ESALG said that:
written into the national policy there is an opening to
involve all of the departments—make it a whole-of-government approach. I think
we need to do that, so that we can get some strength into this sector. If we
realise that language education is not just in this one little field; it is in
health, in justice, in environment—that is what language impacts on.
The Committee notes that the Commonwealth is developing a National
Cultural Policy in which Indigenous languages will be considered as a
significant aspect. It is anticipated the final Policy will be released in
2012. The National Cultural Policy will:
reflect the diversity of modern Australia; protect and
support Indigenous languages and culture; make the most of emerging
technologies and new ideas; strengthen the capacity of the arts to contribute
to society and the economy; support excellence and strengthen the role arts and
creativity play in telling Australian stories.
State and Territory languages policies
State and Territory governments fund a range of Indigenous language
initiatives that are intended to maintain, promote and revive Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander languages. However, at the state and territory level,
Indigenous language policies are generally embedded within education policies.
For example, the Queensland Department of Education and Training
(Queensland DET) is committed to improving the education of Indigenous students
by way of the department’s Closing the Gap Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander Education Strategy. The Strategy includes the ‘3 way strong
language approach to support teachers to understand and respond to the complex
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander language situation in Queensland’.
Similarly, Indigenous languages form a part of the Western Australia
Department of Education and Training’s Languages Other Than English (LOTE)
Strategy. The dual goals of this strategy for Indigenous languages are to:
n increase the levels
of student achievement and participation rates in Aboriginal Languages
n maintain a critical
pool of highly skilled Aboriginal language teachers providing quality sustainable
language programs in Department of Education schools.
The Northern Territory’s Indigenous languages policy is embedded within
its education policy. Where previously the territory operated a widely
criticised policy of Compulsory Teaching in English for the First Four Hours of
Each School Day, it has shifted recently to a Framework for Learning English as
an Additional Language policy.
New South Wales is the only jurisdiction that has developed a stand-alone
Indigenous languages policy that has influence over a range of portfolio areas.
The New South Wales Aboriginal Languages Policy, which was first established in
2004, is administered through the Department of Aboriginal Affairs.
In consultation with Aboriginal communities, the New South Wales
government developed a five year Aboriginal Languages Strategic Plan 2006-10,
which ‘recognised the critical role of the educational sector to the
reclamation of Aboriginal languages’. The Strategic Plan
outlined the following four key result areas:
n Aboriginal languages
in Aboriginal communities
n Aboriginal languages
in the educational sector
n Aboriginal language
Programs in Goals and Detention Centres, and
n Aboriginal languages
in the wider community.
As part of the Strategic Plan, the New South Wales Government has contributed
more than $1.4 million since 2005 to 78 community based language centres
through the Aboriginal Languages Research and Resource Centre (ALRRC).
The ALRRC was established in 2003 and, following a review in 2010, the
coordination of language revival efforts and resources in New South Wales was
transferred to a newly-established Centre for Aboriginal Languages Coordination
and Development (CALCD) in 2011. The change was brought about by the review’s
recommendation that Aboriginal communities need to have greater ownership of
language maintenance and reclamation work. The CALCD is the peak Aboriginal
education advocacy body supporting language revitalisation work in New South
Wales through linkages with the education system.
State and Territory approaches to teaching and learning Indigenous
languages will be discussed in chapters 4 and 5 of this report.
The Committee agrees with the National Congress of Australia’s First
Peoples’ observation that there is no evidence of an effective action plan for
the implementation of the objectives of the National Indigenous Languages Policy.
The Committee is of the view that without concrete actions, clear goals and
accountability, the National Indigenous Languages Policy will not achieve its
intended goals. If the National Policy is to be taken seriously, then it must
contain more than aspirational words.
Recommendation 4 - Languages policy action plan
||The Committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government review
and make publically available by March 2013 an updated action plan with clear
goals, accountability and reporting requirements to implement its National
Indigenous Languages Policy. The Committee further recommends that relevant
Commonwealth Government agencies are required to report annually on outcomes
of the action plan.
The Committee commends the New South Wales government’s ongoing
commitment to supporting Indigenous languages. The Committee encourages the states
and territories to work with the Commonwealth to improve language learning in
Indigenous communities across all portfolio areas.
Program funding and support
The Committee heard evidence that much of the work being undertaken to
maintain, revitalise or reclaim Indigenous languages is driven by local
communities, and the desire of those communities to preserve their cultural
heritage. The evidence indicated that, aside from some potential for developing
interpreting and translating services, there is little
opportunity for language centres to generate enough of their own revenue to be
Currently these community-run language programs and projects are reliant
on a limited pool of government funding, primarily through the Indigenous
Languages Support (ILS) competitive grants scheme.
The Committee heard evidence that philanthropy and other sources of private
sector funding could offer another avenue of support for Indigenous language
organisations, which would require changes to be made to the Deductible Gift
Recipient (DGR) eligibility of those organisations. This is discussed later in
This section will begin by discussing a range of activities that are
being carried out by organisations and communities to maintain, revitalise or
revive their Indigenous languages. It will then examine the financial support
that is available for these activities, either through government assistance,
or through tax deductible donations.
Examples of Indigenous languages
maintenance and revival activities
Throughout the inquiry, the Committee received evidence about a broad
range of activities, which can be categorised loosely as Indigenous language
maintenance and revival. This spectrum of activities included, but were not
n the production of
electronic databases of language material
n the production of
n the use of languages
in media broadcasting
n the learning of
languages through language nests and master-apprentice programs, and
n language programs in
The Committee was appreciative of the great passion and energy that many
individuals and communities devoted to their work with Indigenous languages in
urban, regional and remote areas of the country.
In Newcastle, the Committee visited the Miromaa Aboriginal Language and
Technology Centre, which has been at the forefront in developing support for
language preservation and reclamation through technology. Mr Daryn McKenny, the
Centre’s General Manager, developed the award-winning Miromaa software, which is
an easy to use database that enables people working with languages to gather,
organise, analyse and produce materials to aid in language education and
training. The software was initially developed to support local languages,
including the Awabakal language, but it is now supporting a large number of
language projects around Australia, while licenses are being distributed
internationally to support language projects overseas.
In Alice Springs, the Committee met with representatives of the Papulu
Appar-kari Language Corporation, which is based in Tenant Creek. The Centre
supports 16 language groups in the Barkley Region through a range of activities
n working with speakers
to create dictionaries and wordlists
n producing books,
readers and short stories
n producing stories in
audio books and in animated computer stories, and
n working with
Australian Literary and Numeracy Foundation on the First Language Learning and
Literacy Program, to establish The Centre for Indigenous Literacy.
The Papulu Appar-kari Language centre produces excellent children’s
books, which also have wider applications beyond teaching local languages to
These books are written in simple language and are
illustrated and designed to engage young children, but have wider applications
as well – a recent book about body parts was created for children and will
prove a valuable resource for health professionals as well. To date we have
published over 30 books, in multiple languages, as many as we can manage
(eight, for recent titles).
In Alice Springs, the Committee heard evidence from the Indigenous
Remote Communications Association (IRCA), the peak body for remote media
organisations, which includes eight remote Indigenous media organisations.
IRCA works closely with Indigenous Community Television to deliver ‘video
content in 23 different languages from around Australia’.
Similarly, the Committee heard evidence from the National Indigenous
Radio Service (NIRS) which draws on local media organisations to produce
national radio content across a large range of Indigenous languages. According
to NIRS, ‘over 160 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander broadcasters take and
contribute to the national scheduled program through satellite for the national
The Committee heard about the value of language nest programs in New
Zealand and Hawaii, as a method of averting the loss of indigenous languages.
Language nests are a method of language learning in which children are exposed
to Indigenous language, stories and culture from early childhood.
Dr Margaret Florey told the Committee that:
The language nest models that have been very successful are
those in New Zealand and Hawaii. In the Hawaii model, for a child to be
accepted into a language nest the parents have to commit to start learning the
language themselves so that the child can continue to use the language outside
of the school. It can thrive in the home alongside the school context.
The language nest model is being drawn upon by the people of the
Crocodile Islands to preserve the Yan-nhangu language and ‘provide
opportunities for appropriate cultural transfer’.
Similarly, the people of the Fitzroy Valley used language nests as a method of
transferring the language and cultural knowledge of senior people to young
children in the community. Ms Michelle Martin helped to facilitate the language
nest and described it as a relaxed and effective learning environment.
Other witnesses gave evidence about the value of the master-apprentice
model for language learning in a variety of contexts.
The master-apprentice model was developed by the University of California and
is currently run as a training program by the Advocates for Indigenous
California Language Survival.
Dr Knut Olawsky from the Mirima Dawang Woorlab-gerring Language and
Culture Centre described the benefits of the master-apprentice model for the
learning of Mirrawoong in the Kununurra region. The master-apprentice program
usually teams of just two including a fluent speaker who is
called the master and a partial speaker of the traditional language who is
called the apprentice. These people spend time together and have to spend this
time completely using the traditional language, which may seem difficult at
first if you are only a partial speaker or only have a passive knowledge of the
language, but the team is supported through a variety of activities and weekly
meetings to facilitate that. It is probably one of the most successful
strategies that we have used so far.
The Resource Network for Linguistic Diversity (RNLD) said that a lack of
resources and expert knowledge of running the program in Australia was holding
back the implementation of the program. RNLD said that they were having
discussions with the Office for the Arts ‘to try to build a pool of trained Australians
who can train and support MasterApprentice teams locally’.
The Committee heard evidence about several individuals and organisations
who were working with schools to deliver a variety of Indigenous language
learning programs. For example, Mrs Nyoka (Nicky) Hatfield told the Committee
about her work in teaching Darambal language and culture to children in schools
across central Queensland. Mrs Hatfield reported that the teachers at the
schools ‘said that the Indigenous kids feel really special because it is their
culture and their language that are being taught’.
Similarly, the Committee heard about how the Mabu Yawaru Ngan-ga
language centre was supporting the teaching of the Yawaru language in schools
in the Broome area. Ms Carmel Leahy from the
centre reflected on the important benefits these activities held for local
I feel that children having knowledge of their language and
their culture makes them strong and resilient to face whatever life throws at
them and that we really must support people when they want to give their
children their language and culture.
The above sample is a small selection of the outstanding work that is
being undertaken across the country to maintain and revive Indigenous
languages. It is clear that many individuals and organisations are devoting
considerable time, effort, passion and expertise to keeping their languages and
culture vibrant and strong. Some of these important activities are being
financially supported by the ILS program.
Indigenous Languages Support
The Office for the Arts forms part of the Department of Regional Australia,
Local Government, Arts and Sport and is the lead agency responsible for
implementing the Commonwealth Government's National Indigenous Languages
Policy. It administers the Indigenous Languages Support (ILS) program, which
‘assists the maintenance, transmission and revival of Indigenous languages’.
The ILS program is the only Commonwealth program that funds Indigenous
languages programs and underpins the national Indigenous languages policy.
The ILS program aims to:
address the erosion and loss of Australia’s estimated 250
Indigenous languages by providing funding to support community based projects
by language groups, language research and coordination of language resources. 
The objectives of the program are:
n support the
maintenance, revival, and development of Indigenous languages
n increase the use of
Indigenous languages in a range of fields and media
n support Aboriginal
and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ engagement with their languages
n promote Aboriginal
and Torres Strait Islander wellbeing by strengthening pride in identity and
culture through languages, and
n promote public
appreciation of Indigenous languages.
Striking a balance between funding small, community-based language
projects, and larger language or research institutions is a significant challenge
for the ILS program. Ms Stacey Campton from the Office for the Arts commented
Applications come from all over. We get them from the small
community through to your large research centres like AIATSIS. We have, as you
know, a small amount of money to run it nationally but we try and spread that
money as best we can.
ILS funding is directed towards supporting activities ‘along the whole
continuum of language use’, rather than priorities being given to language
revival or maintenance projects. ILS funding is not
distributed on a State/Territory basis, with the amount of funding allocated
fluctuating ‘from year to year as regional priorities change’. 
In practice, the success or failure of an ILS application is measured by
the strength of an individual application against the published assessment
criteria. The general assessment criteria for ILS applications for the 2012-13
funding round included separate criteria for applicants seeking annual and
Applicants seeking annual funding were assessed against the following
n The likely benefits
of the proposed activity in the Indigenous culture, languages and visual arts
n Ability to carry out
the proposed activity, including the applicant’s track record in relation to
planning, governance and financial management.
n Demonstrated need for
funding, including provision of a realistic and sound budget for the year of
Applicants seeking triennial funding were assessed against the following
n Quality and relevance
of the applicant’s three-year strategic plan to the funding objectives of the
relevant funding category. This includes the proposed activity’s likely contribution
to strengthening Indigenous culture, languages or visual arts.
n Capacity of the
applicant to fulfil the three-year strategic plan.
n The applicant’s
ability to carry out the proposed activity to a high standard, including the
applicant’s track record in relation to planning, governance and financial
n Demonstrated need for
funding, including provision of a realistic and sound budget for the three
years of proposed funding. 
In addition to the general assessment criteria, ILS applicants were
assessed against ‘demonstrated performance and commitment in the area of
Indigenous languages and capacity to contribute to ILS objectives’, including
one or more of the following elements:
n capacity to achieve
outcomes for the maintenance, revival and/or development of Indigenous
n capacity to support
the innovative use of Indigenous languages in a new field or medium
n ability to facilitate
Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples’ engagement with their
n potential to increase
public appreciation of Indigenous languages, and
n engagement with other
language organisations. 
There are substantial demands on the ILS program. The Office for the
Arts reported that:
Each year, funding requests far exceed the total amount of
funding available. In 2011-12, the program received 90 applications seeking
approximately $14.5 million against the 2011-12 budget of $9.6 million. A total
of 67 language activities, including 10 multi-year activities approved in
previous funding rounds, are being supported in 2011-12. This includes
activities such as community-run language centres and programs, research
projects and resource development projects.
According to Stacey Campton from the Office for the Arts, funding for
language programs has remained at around $9 million for 15 years.
However, demand for funding has outpaced budget allocations since
responsibility for administering the program was passed from the Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) to the Office for the Arts when ATSIC
was abolished in 2005. In 2005-06, the budget for the MILR program was $8.5
million, with applications exceeding $17 million. In 2012-13, the budget for
the ILS program is $9.9 million, with applications exceeding $21 million.
Several witnesses expressed their concern about the level of funding
available to support language activities through the ILS program. For example,
the Mobile Language Team commented that:
This has been the same figure for quite some years now, and
it is a highly competitive grant application process, fought out between
communities, all wanting to win a drop from a limited bucket of money, either
on an annual or triennial basis. There is far more demand (and need) than there
is money available. An increase in the total amount available from the federal
government is well overdue.
Similarly, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice
Commissioner was critical of the lack of new funding attached to the
announcement of the National Indigenous languages policy. Describing the ILS
program as ‘the centrepiece of Indigenous language funding in Australia’, the
Commissioner pointed out that:
This program has been in operation for a number of years and
is now the sole source of funding for the Commonwealth’s new National Approach.
No new money has been added to the MILR (ILS) to meet the new obligations of
the National Approach.
Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation (ANTaR) was concerned
that a grant-based approach to the distribution of ILS funding ‘favours better
resourced applicants, and does not necessarily reflect a strategic or regional
analysis of language requirements’.
Other concerns were raised that successful applicants for ILS program
funding were being subjected to increasingly onerous reporting requirements.
For example, the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre (TAC) said that ‘reporting periods
have changed from year to year without obvious reason or explanation and with
very short notice’. The TAC noted that they
were currently required to report every three months.
Similarly, the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples said that
‘for the small amount of funding received, the reporting is onerous on community
programs and requires streamlining’.
The Office for the Arts informed the Committee that ILS reporting
requirements for funding recipients are consistent with the Department of
Finance and Deregulation’s Commonwealth Grant Guidelines, which
establish the reporting framework for all departments and agencies. However,
the ILS program reporting is designed to elicit information on how it
contributes to whole-of-government objectives, including Closing the Gap.
The Office for the Arts stated:
With regard to periodic reporting required of funding
recipients, requirements are kept to the minimum. Funded organisations are
provided with a simple template for performance reporting based on the agreed
objectives and key outputs which are stated in the funding agreement and
Project Officers are always available to discuss and/or assist with any
difficulty a client may encounter with the reporting requirements or in
completing the performance report template. Financial reporting is not onerous
for an organisation with sound book-keeping and accounting procedures. 
In terms of the frequency of reporting, the Office for the Arts said
that projects were assessed based on risk mitigation:
Frequency of reporting is either quarterly or half-yearly,
depending on the level of funding, degree of complexity of the funded project,
the risk rating of the funded organisation and the ability of the Project
Officer to visit the organisation in person and see how the activity is
The Committee commends the great work that is being undertaken by
individuals and communities across the nation to preserve and revive their
Indigenous languages, often on a voluntary basis. The Committee acknowledges
that much of these activities have limited resources and that there are few
funding opportunities available.
The Committee is impressed particularly with work that is being done at
the grassroots, community level. The Committee believes that community
ownership of Indigenous language programs is essential for the successful
maintenance and revival of Australia’s Indigenous languages. Only communities
can keep a language alive and strong. However, governments have a critical role
in facilitating communities to achieve this.
It is clear to the Committee that, given the precarious position of many
languages, long-term support is required to maintain record or retrieve
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages for the benefit of the speakers
of those languages, their descendants, and for the nation's heritage.
As the lead agency responsible for administering the National Indigenous
Languages Policy and the ILS program, the Office for the Arts is oversubscribed
and inadequately funded and levels of funding have been static since 2005-06.
The Committee recognises that this equates to a decline in funding, in real
terms, during a period in which demand for Indigenous languages support has increased
substantially. This equates to a slow death by neglect for many Indigenous
The Committee cannot reconcile the statement made by the national policy
under its ‘actions’ that greater attention and support is being provided for
Indigenous languages, when funding for language projects has declined
effectively in real terms. The Committee calls the Commonwealth Government to
account and urges it to include a substantially greater allocation of funding
for the ILS program.
The Committee is of the view that a greater allocation of funding for
the ILS program will have substantial positive impacts on Closing the Gap
targets, through promoting intergenerational connection to culture and
community wellbeing, the preservation of heritage, and education and employment
outcomes. A well supported ILS program will have positive benefits in
Indigenous community capacity building and developing a greater sense of
community responsibility for the wellbeing of future generations.
The Committee considers that stringent reporting requirements for ILS
funding recipients are appropriate and are consistent with finance regulations.
Recommendation 5 - Increased funding for Indigenous Languages Support
||The Committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government
substantially increase ongoing funding for the Indigenous Languages Support
program in the 2013-14 Budget.
Support for Torres Strait Islander languages
Another issue that was raised in relation to the ILS program was that
people and organisations who are working with languages in the Torres Strait
are ineligible to apply for ILS funding. Ms Campton said that the Office for
the Arts funds Torres Strait language programs that are based on the mainland,
but are unable to extend that funding to those based on the islands in the
According to the Office for the Arts, the ineligibility of Torres Strait
language programs is a legacy of when support for Indigenous languages was
administered by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC).
Stacey Campton stated that ‘when ATSIC was shut down, the money for the Torres
Strait went directly to the Torres Strait Regional Authority for language,
culture and broadcasting’.
Sally Basser from the Office for the Arts described this as an
‘administrative arrangement’ in which ‘the Torres Strait Regional Authority was
retained so the Australian government funding for the Torres Strait still goes
through the Torres Strait Regional Authority’.
Ned David, the Chair of the Torres Strait Islander Regional Education
Council, described this method of apportioning funds for language programs in
the Torres Strait as ‘extremely ineffective’.
The Torres Strait Regional Authorigy (TSRA) responded by saying that:
Through its modest budget appropriation, the TSRA (has) supported
and encouraged traditional language use and learning across the Torres Strait
region through open and transparent grant application and selection processes.
The TSRA clarified that its grants are not directed solely towards
The range of cultural activities supported by TSRA not only
focuses on languages, but includes a range of projects that focus on
traditional song, storytelling, visual arts and traditional dance.
The Committee recognises that the present mechanism for the allocation
of funding for language-related activities in the Torres Strait is not ideal
and is a legacy of the dismantlement of ATSIC. However, the Committee
understands that the TSRA has limited funding available to support these
The Committee considers that Torres Strait Islander language programs
should be considered in ILS funding allocations.
Recommendation 6 - Torres Strait Islander funding eligibility
||The Committee recommends that the Minister for the Arts amend
the guidelines for the Indigenous Languages Support program to allow Torres
Strait Islander applications to be considered for funding.
Deductible Gift Recipient
Opportunities exist for organisations that are working with Indigenous
languages to obtain funding through charitable donations. However, at present
these opportunities are limited because these organisations are unable to offer
potential donors the incentive of a tax deduction for their donations through
being categorised as Deductible Gift Recipients (DGR’s).
Several people gave evidence that language centres are unable to access
philanthropic support through DGR eligibility. Mr Daryn McKenny from the
Miromaa Aboriginal Language and Technology Centre said that due to current DGR
arrangements, his organisation:
have had to turn away the corporate social responsibility
managers—I think that is the term—for Telstra and for Westpac. It is absolutely
crazy that we have had to turn them away because the answer to whether we have
deductible gift recipient status is no. We cannot achieve that because of the
Australian taxation and the antiquated legislation which exists there does not
acknowledge language. It has separated us out.
Similarly, Australian National University linguist Greg Dickson said
This is unfortunate and seemingly unfair as comparable
non-profit organisations such as Aboriginal Art Centres easily meet the
criteria of the Register of Cultural Organisations. Language Centres
potentially miss out on significant private donations and grant opportunities
due to being unable to obtain DGR status.
John Hobson from the University of Sydney’s Koori Centre agreed, and
Tax-deductible status for Indigenous languages organisations
should not just be considered; it should be granted as soon as possible to
allow for a philanthropic funding stream to supplement the need for government
The Register of Cultural Organisations (ROCO) was established to allow
qualifying cultural organisations to be categorised as DGR’s. In order to be
eligible to be entered onto the ROCO, an applicant must show that they are a
‘cultural organisation’ as provided by the meaning set out in under Subdivision
30-F of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 (the Act).
The ROCO is currently by the Office for the Arts and is one of only four
DGR categories that are not administered by the ATO. The ATO already has
responsibility for 43 other general DGR categories.
According to correspondence the Committee received from the Office for
the Arts, there have been discussions at various times about expanding the
‘principal purpose’ provision [s30-300(2)] of the meaning of ‘cultural
organisation’ in the legislation to reflect a broader understanding of
‘culture’. Activities that do not meet the current provision but are generally
understood to be cultural include:
n recording of
n Indigenous culture
n teaching or study of
languages more generally, and
n promoting historic
and other cultural heritage.
These issues were examined in the 2011 Review of Private Sector Support
for the Arts, which was undertaken by Mr Harold Mitchell AC and commissioned by
the Minister for the Arts.
The review recommended that the:
n guidelines for the
ROCO be amended to ‘improve the definition of ‘cultural’ to encompass
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural practices, such as Aboriginal
and Torres Strait Islander languages’, and
n responsibility for
administering the ROCO be transferred ‘to the Australian Taxation Office, with
administration to be streamlined in line with other deductible gift recipient
categories. The Office for the Arts will retain an advisory role’.
The Commonwealth Government is formulating its response to the Harold
Another avenue for recognition as a DGR for Indigenous language
organisations is via classification as a Public Benevolent Institution (PBI) by
the Australian Taxation Office (ATO). According to the ATO, characteristics of
a PBI are that
n it is set up for
needs that require benevolent relief
n it relieves those
needs by directly providing services to people suffering from them
n it is carried on for
the public benefit
n it is non-profit
n it is an institution,
n its dominant purpose
is providing benevolent relief.
The Victorian Aboriginal Centre for Languages (VACL) reported to the
Committee the benefits of recognition as a PBI:
Most recently, VACL was recognised by the Australian Tax
Office as a Public Benevolent Institution which not only allows additional
benefits to staff and makes VACL a more attractive employer, but also allows
VACL to access a wide range of philanthropic funds and trusts to expand its
programs and activities.
However, other language centres have been unable to obtain DGR status as
a PBI. Mr Daryn McKenny, General Manager of the Miromaa Aboriginal Language and
Technology Centre in Newcastle, told the Committee that his centre had been
refused DGR status both through the ROCO and as a PBI. Mr McKenny said that:
The Australian Tax Office with today's legislation will not
allow us as a language centre to receive public benevolent institution status
or let us register under the register of cultural organisations because
language is not recognised within that legislation.
Mr Paul Paton from VACL said that he had shared the lessons learnt from
VACL’s successful application with Mr McKenny. However this knowledge-sharing
did not aid Mr McKenny’s PBI application:
Our success is based on public benevolence and instilling a
sense of pride in individuals and communities. I shared all that information.
We could only put that unsuccessful application down to perhaps the individual
who was assessing it, because mine was assessed in Melbourne, and Newcastle's
was assessed in Perth. It may be an individual interpretation of the act as to
whether languages are a contributor towards self-esteem and individual pride.
The Committee is of the view that inherently Indigenous language related
activities are cultural activities and that organisations carrying out Indigenous
language-related work should be considered to be cultural organisations.
As such, the Committee strongly supports the changes to the ROCO as
recommended by the Mitchell review. These changes will enable Indigenous
language organisations to access philanthropic and other revenue streams by
being classified as cultural organisations under the ROCO. The Committee views
this to be a more appropriate pathway to DGR status than making changes to ATO
guidelines relating to the categorisation of PBI’s.
In doing this, the Commonwealth Government will relieve some funding
pressure and enable funding flows to language centres from the philanthropic
sector. This will provide greater recognition of the heritage and living value
of Indigenous languages to all Australians.
Recommendation 7 - Deductible Gift Recipient eligibility
||The Committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government
immediately amend the criteria for an organisation to be entered on the
Register of Cultural Organisations to include a provision for Indigenous
language-related projects to be endorsed as a Deductable Gift Recipient by
the Australian Taxation Office.
Constitutional recognition of
A significant number of submissions to this inquiry supported the formal
recognition of Australia’s Indigenous languages in the Constitution. This
recognition was a recommendation of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
Social Justice Commissioner in his 2009 Social Justice Report.
The Commissioner recommended that the Government:
Commence a process to recognise Indigenous languages in the
preamble of Australia’s Constitution with a view to recognising Indigenous
languages in the body of the Constitution in future.
In December 2010, the Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition of
Indigenous Australians (the Panel) was tasked to report to the Government on
possible options for constitutional change to recognise Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander peoples, and their continuing cultures, languages and
heritage. The Panel sought advice as to the level of support from Indigenous
people and the wider community for these options.
The Panel conducted a broad national consultation between May and
October 2011. Upon presenting its final report in January 2012, the Panel recommended
the following change to the Constitution:
That a new ‘section 127A’ be inserted, along the following
lines: Section 127A Recognition of languages
(1) The national language of the Commonwealth of Australia is
(2) The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages are
the original Australian languages, a part of our national heritage.
While the weight of evidence supported constitutional recognition of
Indigenous languages, the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre (TAC) urged for
legislative changes and increased funding instead. They did not support
constitutional recognition, and said that it:
would not provide any effective mechanism for strengthening
languages and would be purely tokenistic. Such a recognition would not impose
any duty or obligation on the Commonwealth or any other government in
Australia. It would not impose a duty to legislate to protect languages. Nor
would it create a right of funding for those attempting to preserve languages.
The Committee supports the recommendation of the Expert Panel on
Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Australians that Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander languages be recognised in the Constitution as Australia’s
The Committee is of the view that constitutional recognition of
Indigenous Australians, and their unique cultures, languages and heritage is an
important step forward for the nation as a whole.
Recommendation 8 - Constitutional recognition of Indigenous
||The Committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government
support Constitutional changes to include the recognition of Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander languages, as recommended by the Expert Panel on
Constitutional Recognition for Indigenous Australians.
United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
The importance of Indigenous languages is recognised in a range of
international human rights instruments. These instruments acknowledge the
importance of individuals and their rights as part of the international legal
The most notable instrument is Article 13 of the United Nations
Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which provides that:
Indigenous peoples have the right to revitalize, use, develop
and transmit to future generations their histories, languages, oral traditions,
philosophies, writing systems and literatures, and to designate and retain
their own names for communities, places and persons.
2. States shall take effective measures to ensure that this
right is protected and also to ensure that Indigenous peoples can understand
and be understood in political, legal and administrative proceedings, where
necessary through the provision of interpretation or by other appropriate
Article 14(1) of the Declaration provides for educational autonomy of
Indigenous peoples. It affords Indigenous peoples the right to:
establish and control their education systems and
institutions providing education in their own languages, in a manner
appropriate to their cultural methods of teaching and learning.
Further, Article 31 of the Declaration recognises the right of
Indigenous peoples to maintain, control, protect and develop their cultural
heritage, traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions.
The Commonwealth Government formally endorsed the Declaration in April
2009, although as ANTaR highlighted, it has not developed a national
Convention for Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage
The principles set out in Article 31 of the Declaration are paralleled
to some extent in the Convention for Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural
Heritage. The Convention is the key instrument within the United Nations
Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO’s) cultural
heritage program, and was introduced in response to perceived inadequacies in
the World Heritage Convention and other related instruments, which focus on
immovable property (such as monuments or natural sites) or movable tangible
property (such as tools, weapons and ceremonial objects).
According to the Convention, Indigenous languages are a ‘vehicle of the
intangible cultural heritage’, which include:
the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge,
skills – as well as the instruments, objects, artefacts and cultural spaces
associated therewith – that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals
recognize as part of their cultural heritage.
As such, the Convention recognises that the preservation of Indigenous
languages is fundamental to safeguarding intangible cultural heritage.
A significant number of submissions supported Australia’s ratification
of the Convention.
ANTaR noted that Australia has not ratified the Convention and supports
the Commonwealth Government taking appropriate steps to become a party to the
agreement. However ANTaR also said that:
Given the broad definition of intangible cultural heritage
within the Convention, we do recognise that Australia’s ratification of the
Convention has implications (and we would posit, potential benefits) which
extend beyond the strict terms of reference of the Inquiry. Accordingly, a
separate consultation process to consider Australia’s ratification of the
Convention may be prudent, and perhaps timely, in light of the significant work
being undertaken in relation to language revitalisation, and the release of the
proposed new National Cultural Policy in 2012.
The Committee notes that Indigenous languages are recognised in a range
of international human rights instruments. Further, the Committee recognises
the importance of these instruments as part of the international legal framework.
The Committee observes that the Commonwealth Government formally
endorsed the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2009. The
Committee encourages the Commonwealth Government to develop an implementation
plan to give effect to its endorsement of the Declaration.
Recommendation 9 - United Nations declaration implementation
||The Committee recommends that by March 2013 the Commonwealth
Government develop and announce an implementation plan given its endorsement
of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2009.
The Committee notes that the Commonwealth Government’s ratification of
the Convention for Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage extends
beyond the terms of reference for the present inquiry. However, the Committee
sees merit in a review being conducted.
Recommendation 10 - Convention ratification review
||The Committee recommends that, given Australia has not yet
ratified the Convention for Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage,
the Commonwealth Government conduct a review of the potential benefits and
implications of its ratification.