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International Mother Language Day Speech

18:03, 12/02/2018: Thank you, Member for Kingsford Smith, for raising this important subject. I’ll confess my ignorance; I didn’t know that 21 February was International Mother Language Day. However, now that I do, I am happy to support this good cause as one that is very important to my electorate. One of the greatest features of Bennelong is the wide spread of diasporas across our suburbs. Communities from across the globe have come to Bennelong and made a permanent home, with the great benefits of combining different cultures. We have large communities of Italians, Armenians, Koreans, Indians and Chinese. Each of these communities now lives in a hybrid cultural space. They are proud Australians, but they are still closely connected to the culture of their ancestors. As a result, our community is regularly home to celebrations from across the world.

It is the merging of these many rich cultures that creates the dynamic and unique flavour that pervades the suburbs of Bennelong. As I say regularly: our diversity is our strength, our greatest asset. This strong diversity is instantly apparent to any visitor to Bennelong, but it can be quantified thanks to the last census. Nearly 22 per cent of all residents speak either Cantonese or Mandarin; a further 9,000 residents speak Korean; just under 3,000 speak Italian; and a similar number speak Arabic. There are also high levels of Armenian and Farsi spoken. In total, 51 per cent of homes in Bennelong speak a language other than English at home.

Being able to speak more than one language is a huge asset to individuals. It is in this shrinking world that our cross-border connections are more important than ever. Speaking another language also opens up understanding as well as doors; speaking another language offers explanations of that culture’s history, its traditions and its national narrative. It is truly a gateway into another culture. Bilingualism also offers insights into the vocabulary and structure of grammar, as well as improving the capacity of additional languages to be learned in the future. There are links with bilingualism and people who have an increased capacity for lateral thinking and problem-solving. Furthermore, children who learn a second language are more likely to retain the second language as well as speaking those languages with more fluency. This is why bilingual schools are so important.

I’m proud to say that I have excellent bilingual schools in the electorate. The Italian Bilingual School in Meadowbank was founded 15 years ago to provide for families, with many immigrants from Italy coming out to Ryde in great numbers in the 1950s. I had the pleasure of visiting the school back in November with Senator Fierravanti-Wells for the unveiling of their new school hall, which the government helped fund with $550,000. Congratulations to the principal, Silvia Onorati, and her team.

Ryde Persian School is another wonderful institution which provides language classes to our community. Mrs Forouza Soltani runs this school, which operates as a not-for-profit organisation, teaching Persian to people of all ages and backgrounds. Impressively, the school is currently run by volunteers. Both parents and members of the community have come forward to teach each year.

Finally, the Australian Chinese Community Association of New South Wales has been operating the acclaimed ACCA Chinese Language School in Eastwood for over 40 years. It is one of the oldest, largest and most-renowned Chinese language schools in New South Wales, teaching both Mandarin and Cantonese. This community has had great success in finding a balance between integrating into the Australian way of life while retaining important aspects of Chinese culture, fusing the two nations into a unique but strong local identity. The ACCA president, Shirley Chan, and the principal, Phil Xu, have created a wonderful community institution, and to have had it enriching our area through social and educational initiatives for so long is truly a reason to be proud.

This is a small snapshot of the schools across Bennelong. There are undoubtedly many more across the electorate that do good work in keeping other languages, like Armenian, Korean and Arabic, current within our suburbs. Sadly, time prevents me from mentioning them all, but I would like to thank everyone and appreciate the work that they do and that is so essential. Local organisations like the Australian Chinese Community Association— (Time expired)