Thursday, 28 June 2012
Earlier this week, the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade resolved to have an inquiry into Indonesian language education in Australia. It will look at the reasons for the decline in Indonesian language teaching at secondary and tertiary levels, the impact of the decline on our relationship with Indonesia, the impediments to teaching Indonesian and strategies to promote the teaching and learning of Indonesian in Australia.
I notice that the DFAT website refers to our relationship with Indonesia as 'strong and multifunctional with a broad agenda'. It speaks of interfaith dialogue, antismuggling and relationships with the 15,000 students that we have here; cites Indonesia as Australia's largest grant based donor recipient; and mentions that two-way trade increased by 15 per cent over 2011.
This is a very timely and overdue inquiry. I notice the work of Professor David Hill of Murdoch University in his contribution Indonesian Language in Australian Universities: strategies for a stronger future launched in February this year. He notes that since 2006 two-way trade between both countries has grown by an average of 9.7 per cent per annum and given Indonesia's maintenance of respectable real GDP growth—6.1 per cent in 2010—trade between Australia and Indonesia is likely to continue to intensify in the years ahead.
There is no doubt about the importance of the relationship. We discussed in the parliament only yesterday the question of asylum claimers arriving in Australia. Professor Hill goes on to say that, even though this relationship is so important to Australia, we have seen in this country a continual decline of bahasa Indonesia in our schools and universities. He says:
Indonesian language learning in Australian education is in crisis. In schools, there were fewer year 12 students studying Indonesian in 2009 than there were in 1972. In universities, during the decade from 2001 to 2010, enrolments in Indonesian nationally dropped by 40 per cent, at a time when the overall undergraduate population in universities expanded by nearly 40 per cent.
I know from personal experience that my stepdaughter undertook bahasa studies at Birrong High School. I remember taking an education committee of this parliament to the Patrician Brothers in the early nineties where there were posters all around the room about bahasa. Today, sadly, you will find it very difficult to discover schools where bahasa is being taught. I had the privilege of attending the national conference of bahasa Indonesia teachers a few years ago, and it was very depressing to see those people struggling on. They are keen, but every time, they say, they get somewhere in regard to bahasa in this country there is an event like the Bali bombing that works against it. There is a view among Australian people that it is a dangerous society et cetera.
The Lowy Institute found that Australians lacked knowledge of Indonesia. A survey in 2011 by the institute indicated that, while 77 per cent of Australian respondents believed that it was 'very important that Australia and Indonesia work to develop a close relationship', 69 per cent still believed erroneously that Indonesia was 'essentially controlled by the military'. Only 52 per cent were aware that 'Indonesia is an emerging democracy'. Can I say on that matter that on a recent visit to Indonesia a point made by the Indonesians is that America, Australia and the United Kingdom can talk about democracy all they want in the Arab Spring, but one country that can have some influence there is Indonesia as an Islamic democracy, and they are actually working at that.
In this important inquiry, the professor came up with 20 recommendations, and he notes that the cost of many of them is minimal, but they are crucial. Amongst those recommendations is:
That an Indonesian Specialist Scholarship Scheme be established to support undergraduate students undertaking a major in Indonesian which includes a year of in-country study …
Recommendation 7 was:
That direct, targeted Commonwealth funding be provided for (up to) 15 new lectureships to teach Indonesian language, for a minimum of five years.
Another recommendation was:
That the Commonwealth Government provide funding for the establishment and maintenance of an Indonesian tertiary teaching resources bank.
That the government support the development of a set of contemporary university-level Indonesian teaching and learning materials.
That, in their staff practices and policies, universities:
et cetera. Just to show how depressing this situation is, I have heard in the last week that the Indonesian government recently offered scholarships in that country and could not get any takers to go to Indonesia and study it. We heard some nice words from the Leader of the Opposition in regard to budget—one of the few efforts that are positive. He talked broadly about how he is going to talk to a few people around the country about increasing Asian language activity in this country. I think it is going to need a bit more than that, and I am pleased to see the foreign affairs committee taking up this matter to try to drive this issue home.