From Government News Magazine.

The Alice Springs-based group who created Ngapartji Ngapartji (a play which has sold out to national audiences and is a 2008 nominee for a prestigious Deadly Award), are calling on the Federal Government to urgently introduce a National Indigenous Languages policy.

The group released a discussion paper to Government in late July and are concerned that they haven’t yet heard a response.

“The establishment of a National Indigenous Languages policy is crucial if Australia hopes to close the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous health and education; it is as crucial as building hospitals and classrooms”, says Ngapartji Ngapartji creative producer Alex Kelly.

“Knowledge of language and culture can have flow on benefits into broader educational, employment, health and environmental outcomes, but rarely are they included in indigenous strategy and policy decisions, and more over, not enough is known about the economic costs and benefits of Australian Indigenous languages.”

The group recommendations the following actions:
• a whole of government approach with a National Indigenous Languages policy;
• a National Council on Indigenous Languages and a National Indigenous Languages Centre to advise government on policy direction;
• a nationally coordinated approach to research and data collection on Australian languages;
• a national Languages database; and
• to support states and territories in the development of statewide language policies and indigenous language curricula in schools.

Only 145 of the 300 languages existing at the time of colonisation are still spoken today, with 110 of these critically endangered. Alarmingly, only 17 of these are regarded as viable enough to survive for another generation.

“In the past 15 years Federal parliamentary committees have recognised the importance of protecting and promoting Indigenous languages and culture through supporting various state and territory based programs.”

“But despite these efforts there is currently no national policy on Indigenous languages, no consistent approach to funding allocations and research, or national body enabled to advise on policy development,” Kelly said.

The Federal Government currently invests $8.8M in 2008-09 in language programs. Mr Kelly said that while they applaud the recent increase in funding “it needs to be backed up by a national policy”.

“The costs to both revive a lost language and support the survival of an existing one are more than just economic. I don’t think this is a cost that Australians are willing to bear,” he said.