International Mother Language Day- Speech, March 16,2015

Language is much more than an instrument for communication. It is also the main carrier for one's inheritance and the core source for ethnic and cultural identity. Our multilingual world would be better appreciated if we all had a greater understanding of our linguistic and cultural traditions. According to the 2011 census, there are about 418 languages spoken in Australia today. At least 151 of those languages are spoken in my electorate of Calwell. Other than English, the dominant languages are Turkish, Arabic, Italian, Greek, Maltese, Senegalese, Tamil, Maori, Aramaic and Bhutanese, just to name a few. Of course, the language of the Wurundjeripeople is often heard during our local welcome to country ceremonies. The importance of recognising International Mother Language Day is to remind us here in Australia of the enormous multilingual capacity we have and our duty to preserve it. It is also an affirmation of the right of people to speak their mother tongue free of persecution. Nowhere is this more vital than in our Indigenous languages, the mother tongues of our first people. Sadly, we find ourselves in a dire predicament where we are lamenting the decline of our Indigenous languages as they are increasingly becoming extinct. 

According to Australian Bureau of Statistics data from 2009 and 2010, Indigenous language endangerment in Australia is illustrated by the decline in Indigenous language speakers across all age groups. At the 1996 census, 12.5 per cent of Indigenous Australians were Indigenous language speakers. This had declined to 11.3 per cent by the year 2011.


Worldwide, it is estimated that more than half of the 6,000 languages spoken will be replaced by the dominant languages. This means that some 3,000 languages will no longer be spoken by the end of the 21st century and that all their cultural, ethnic and ecological heritage, unique to their speakers, will be lost. In Australia we are fortunate to have a rich cultural diversity of languages that are assets to our increasingly global community; however, we must not be complacent. Rather, we should do what we can to maintain, service and support our languages as national cultural assets.

For this reason I would like to commend the Speak Greek in March campaign, which is currently seeing a range of activities taking place and was launched on Saturday, 21 February in Melbourne. The campaign aims to encourage the greater use of the Greek language amongst Greek-speaking and non-Greek-speaking Australians, and to promote the Greek language as one of the world's richest languages and an ongoing source for the development of our modern languages.

Former general manager of SBS Radio Mr Mike Zafiropoulos came up with this concept as a way of encouraging his own children, who are third-generation Greek-Australians, to actually use the Greek language. Mike realised as a bilingual parent of a couple of school-age kids, as he has said, that more needed to be done to encourage speaking Greek amongst the younger generations. Mr Zafiropoulos believes that such a campaign could help arrest some of the worrying trends in the use of Greek within families, where speaking Greek is on the decline.

The campaign has attracted the attention of a broad number of organisations, including the Victorian education department, but in particular the celebrities of Greek-Australian extraction who have thrown their full support behind the campaign. Journalist and broadcaster Helen Kapalos said that, after her mother passed away some 20 years ago, she lost her confident grasp of the Greek language, and that it was only with age that she realised and appreciated the cultural strength contained in the words gifted to her by her ancestors.

I would also like to quote celebrity chef Mr George Calombaris, who has served up his own trademark enthusiasm for all things of Greek extraction, and who said: 

Jeez, I love Australia … what we're all about … I'm proud of all the Greeks that came here and put their stamp on this wonderful place …

Finally, I would like to encourage similar campaigns to be undertaken by other community languages in Australia, akin to that of the Speak Greek in March campaign.