Speech by Senator the Hon Concetta Fierravanti-Wells

International Conference on Community Translation

Location: University of Western Sydney

E & OE

Can I start by adding my acknowledgment of the traditional owners.

Can I thank you Professor Peter Hutchings for your kind welcome on behalf of the Vice-Chancellor. Can I also acknowledge the CEO of NAATI John Beever, and Pino Migliorino NAATI Board member, Plenary Speakers, distinguished contributors, Dr Taibi and other distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

As the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Social Services, with special responsibility for Multicultural Affairs and Settlement Services, I am very pleased to be here with you.

Can I congratulate the University of Western Sydney of organising the first International Conference on Community Translation as a forum for researchers, translation practitioners, government and non-government organisations to share views, experiences, research findings and policy developments.

Can I also extend my thanks to the principal conference sponsor, the National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters (NAATI) and other supporters for this important initiative.

The Australian Government relies on the knowledge and experience of organisations like NAATI for advice on how to improve community translating and interpreting services.

Can I also acknowledge other sponsors: the Community Relations Commission of New South Wales, the University of New South Wales and the Australian Institute of Interpreters and Translators.

It is good to be here on the second day of proceedings. I can see from the programme that you have already had many thought-provoking sessions on community translation.

I was particularly interested to see themes like volunteering, community empowerment and translation in healthcare. These topics are close to my heart, not just in my political role but also from my own personal experience.

My parents came here from southern Italy in the 1950s. They spoke no English. I grew up speaking Italian at home, as did many children of post-war migrants.

I learnt English at school. On my first day at kindergarten, only three children in the class spoke English and I wasn’t one of them. But within three months we were speaking and singing in English!

I grew up completely in a bilingual and in a bicultural way. And being bilingual at a young age was very important in our household. I often found myself being the translator for my parents, my family and for other people who needed help. And this experience, apart from being very important in our family, also put me on a path of volunteering and community service that I enjoyed for 25 years.

Our successful multicultural society is founded on a commitment to the common elements that unite us, combined with a respect for, and an understanding of, our social and religious differences.

To ensure this happens properly, it is important that communication between the state and its citizens is effective and constant. Community translation services help to empower our citizens to engage and remain informed.

Your work as community translators cannot be over-stated, which is why your discussions are so important.

In August the National Press Club in Canberra hosted an event called “The Voices of Multicultural Australia”. Some of you may have attended, or heard about it.

I understand one of the presenters used a well-known Nelson Mandela quote about language, which I felt was appropriate here too.

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language that goes to his heart.”

It is indeed a joy to speak, hear and write the language of your family – the language of your history. It is also a joy to speak, hear and write the language of your future.

Australia is an incredibly diverse nation. We speak about 300 different languages, including indigenous languages.

And each wave of migration has given us a better understanding of where we have come from, and where we are going. Our diversity is one of our greatest strengths.

It has had a huge impact on our quality of life, and economic success. We are recognised internationally as one of the most socially cohesive nations on Earth.

And this success is due in part to the importance placed on creating fast and effective pathways to learning English, our shared language.

Close to one in five of us speaks a language other than English at home. However, 3% of Australians say they cannot speak English or do not speak it well. I suspect this is not a surprise to many of you.

The Australian Government continues to invest in programmes to tackle this issue, such as the Australian Migrant English Programme.

Nevertheless, acknowledging that not all Australians are able to communicate in English immediately or at all times, the Australian Government also supports the Multicultural Access and Equity Policy.

I am proud that DSS – the Department of Social Services – takes the lead on this important, whole-of-government policy.

This policy respects diversity while improving responsiveness. It ensures that everyone, regardless of their English proficiency, has access to the government services they need. It also means all agencies must administer those services fairly.

On a practical level, DSS is also responsible for the Multicultural Language Service Guidelines for Australian Government Agencies.

The Guidelines give government officers useful tools and real-life examples to better communicate with diverse communities including highlighting the best-practice of always using NAATI accredited translators and interpreters where available.

In line with the Multicultural Access and Equity Policy, DSS encourages non-government organisations applying for DSS grants funding to consider whether services, projects, activities or events may require the use of professional translating or interpreting services in order to communicate with non-English speakers.

If required, after assessing the target group of clients, organisations applying for DSS funding are encouraged to factor costs for translating and interpreting services into grant applications.

DSS also offers free translations of key documents to eligible clients through the Free Translating Service. Within the first two years of arriving or returning to Australia, eligible clients can have up to 10 personal documents translated into English.

In recent times, the translation of documents such as academic transcripts and employment references has helped over 7,000 people. Around 12,000 documents were translated in the last financial year alone.

The most common documents being translated through this service are education certificates, birth records and drivers licence. And this work supports people to participate in the community, and find employment and education opportunities.

I mentioned earlier that I was interested to read about the sessions on translation in health related areas. One such issue close to my heart is finding appropriate care for older Australians, including people from non-English-speaking backgrounds.

Some 20% of people aged 65 and over were born outside Australia.

It’s difficult to find the right type of care for people you love, especially if English is their second language. And of course I know this from my own personal experience. My father has dementia, and now needs full-time care and my mother is also in care.

Therefore, as this cohort ages, their needs become more acute and their need to access community translation services will increase.

The Australian Government wants to ensure all Australians have equitable access to appropriate care, regardless of their background.

As I have spoken with stakeholders in the translating and interpreting industry, you have raised issues which have been of ongoing concern. These include:

  • pay and conditions for interpreters, and in particular, translators;
  • subsequent low retention rates of qualified practitioners;
  • difficulty in sourcing qualified practitioners in new and emerging languages; and
  • concerns about the de-professionalisation of the industry through the engagement of non-qualified practitioners to perform work.

Given these and other issues which have been raised with me, I am very pleased to announce that later this year I will be hosting a translating and interpreting sector Roundtable.

I am sure that the National Roundtable will present an opportunity to not only discuss some of these issues, but canvas potential solutions.

I also expect the Roundtable will be enlightened by the discussions of this conference.

I am looking forward to the opportunity to engage with you all in the industry, many of whom are in this room, but some of whom are not here today, and further details will be provided to you soon.

Once again, I appreciate the opportunity to be able to give an insight into the value that the Australian Government places on what you do.

Community translation is not only a wonderful service, but it is an essential service.

As the daughter of migrants, I know how important it is to be heard and understood – to feel that you belong.

I look forward to receiving your feedback and working with you to advance your service and opportunities.

As Leonardo da Vinci said, “Il piacere pi? nobile ? la gioia di capire” – the noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding.

Thank you.