Speech by Senator the Hon Concetta Fierravanti-Wells

Translating and Interpreting Industry Roundtable

Location:  Parliament House Canberra


Can I extend a very warm welcome to you all here to Parliament House. I understand from Cate McKenzie (DSS) that this has not been done before in this sector and for many of you who have been involved in this sector for a long time, I understand this is probably a first.

So thank you so much for coming here today and to discuss issues that are of importance to all of us. Can I thank you especially for the enthusiasm with which this roundtable has been received.

We have quite a range of different people in one place. It’s very rare I think for you all to come together and to hear from each other.

You have come from different parts of the country and I think that the willingness that you have shown in travelling here today is a testament to your commitment to our language services.

You all know the needs of our multicultural communities, the hearing impaired and our indigenous communities. You understand the different aspects of this sector.

You come from practitioner groups and professional bodies, from community groups and from peak bodies. You are educators and language service providers and the users of language services.

Quality language services are a big part of the Australian Government’s determination to deliver better access and equity for all Australians.

They are essential to understanding and being understood. Communication is not a secondary issue. It is a key component of service delivery, for governments and for others.

It is a key to achieving the best outcomes in other areas such health, legal services and social services.

Language services enable all Australians to participate in society and have more equitable access to services. Your work is both valuable and valued.

Communication is fundamental to all our lives. We are familiar with the saying – ‘you don’t fully appreciate what you’ve got until it is gone’.

The same can be said for communications. We take it for granted, but once we are in an unfamiliar environment and we don’t speak the language, we really do understand what we have missed.

Fortunately, thanks to everyone here, English language proficiency gaps can be met for all those who need assistance in communicating.

Whether that’s newly arrived migrants in those early days of settlement, Australians whose first language is one of the many Indigenous languages still spoken today or the hearing impaired in our community.

Many of us know what it’s like to be without adequate English language skills. I understand this very well. I am part of that 45 per cent in Australia either born overseas or have at least one parent born overseas.

My parents came from southern Italy in the 1950s speaking absolutely no English. I remember as a young girl having to translate for my parents as still happens very, very frequently in Australian society today.

Indeed, whilst I was born in Australia, I did not speak a word of English until I went to school and learnt it at kindergarten.

For many of our new arrivals today it is the same story – that sudden need to help in simple communication. From my community work which spans over 30 years, I understand that it is not just new migrants that depend on language services. Increasingly, we are seeing established communities, particularly our older communities, needing services.

So all of you here are at the frontline. You work to help break down those communication barriers. While there are challenges, there has also been progress in language in translating and in the interpreting sector.

But, we have still a lot to be done collectively.

So today is about hearing your views about how we move forward. I know you won’t all agree with each other and that’s fine. But I do want to understand, I want to hear the different perspectives. I want to understand the challenges but also the opportunities that are available in this sector, now and most especially in the future.

We need to make this sector sustainable for the future.

Today is about the Australian Government listening to your views.

We will not resolve the issues today. This roundtable discussion is only a starting point. I need your assistance to help identify those priority areas and encourage innovative ideas to meet those challenges.

These discussions will definitely assist us in the next steps that the industry, the stakeholders and government – Australian government and governments around Australia – might take in addressing these challenges.

I know that together we can meet these challenges and look at sustainable outcomes. So thank you so much for attending and I look forward to hearing your views throughout the day. Thank you.