Vasiliki Nihas explains the 1986 budget.
27 June 2002
Making Multicultural Australia
Consultant to government agencies (multicultural and access and equity policies) and former Senior Adviser, Ethnic Affairs, NSW Ministry of Education
The 1986 budget effectively wiped out everything that looked like it pertained to ethnic affairs or to multiculturalism. The greatest mistake that budget made was trying to wipe out English as a second language provision, especially for children. It was just seen as total and complete anathema.
And so for the first time, you had busloads of little old ladies in black, from Newtown and Stanmore, grandmothers of their kids in schools, rolling up at Parliament House on the lawns...
That’s where the education lobby came in and was worth its weight in gold, because it was teachers and it was organisations like the Inner City Education Alliance, that literally set up the capacity for people who wanted to protest to be able to go and do it...
CONTINUATION OF INTERVIEW AS TEXT
The 1986 Budget was probably nothing short of a disaster. There you really saw the mobilisation of ethnic communities. There you really saw advocacy groups jumping up and down. The 1986 Budget was one where all of us who’d had bureaucratic training, all of us who saw ourselves as administrators and public servants before the Budget came out, took the notional view that, "Yes, there are going to be cuts, Australia is economically in a situation where we are going to need to cut back and of course the areas that we are involved in will sustain some of those cuts". However we didn’t expect that it would sustain all of those cuts...
In 1986 one of the greatest mistakes of the Labor Government was to try to eliminate funding for English as a second language. Because in Australia, despite the fact that you can be totally anti-multiculturalism, you are still going to say: "Well, those buggers ought to be learning English", or: "They should have learnt it before they came out here"; "Why the heck don’t they learn English once they’re here?" So even for the most negative of reasons, one would have thought that at least a bottom line would be the importance of the learning of English, and the governmental footing of that bill.
Interview for Making Multicultural Australia, 1996.