Dr Peter Shergold, on discussions made of a national policy on languages.
18 July 2002
Interview for Making Multicultural Australia, 1995
DR PETER SHERGOLD
Foundation Director, Office of Multicultural Affairs, 1987-90
I can remember discussion of a national policy on languages, around the Cabinet table, where there were essentially very few people who spoke up, and where three very senior ministers ardently spoke out against a national policy on languages because it would divide Australia: "God have you been to New York lately. American society is breaking up because English is no longer the official language." And so, people were very wary about what was going to be included...
CONTINUATION OF INTERVIEW AS TEXT
When you went in again to Cabinet and argued on a national policy on languages, so long as it meant that every school child in Australia could learn Japanese, there were all for it. When you actually started to talk about diversity of languages, using languages and other skills that were already in Australia, you wouldn’t get listened to...
If you look at the FitzGerald Report, he may in the end have put in a couple of genuflecting sentences. But there was no acknowledgment anywhere about the tremendous resource base that already existed in Australia in terms of Asian communities. It is all couched in terms of training our academics, our business leaders, our public servants in Asian culture and Asian language. Nothing essentially to say, "Look, there are already a huge amount of skills there that can be tapped into."
Interview for Making Multicultural Australia, 1995.