Leading Indonesian expert Professor David T Hill has welcomed Opposition Leader Tony Abbott's pledge to increase the number of school students learning Asian languages.
Professor Hill, Professor of South East Asian Studies at Murdoch University, said: "In my recent government-funded report on Indonesian in Australian Universities: Strategies for a strong future, the first of 20 recommendations was 'that both Government and Opposition make an explicit public commitment to supporting Indonesian language in Australian universities until 2020, and that they indicate the level of financial support they will provide for this'.
"In that context, it was very encouraging to hear Tony Abbott's express commitment to languages in his budget reply speech last night: 'My commitment tonight is to work urgently with the states to ensure that at least 40 per cent of year 12 students are once more taking a language other than English within a decade.'
"Unfortunately, Mr Abbott’s commitment is in stark contrast to the absence of any support for Asian languages in the budget outlined this week by Treasurer Wayne Swan.
"In fact, last year’s budget failed to continue funding for the National Asian Languages and Studies in Schools Program (NALSSP). When NALSSP commenced in 2008 with a promise of $62 m over 3 financial years, it had the target of having 12% of Year 12 students studying an Asian language by 2020.
"In terminating NALSSP, Education Minister Garrett had claimed it was not achieving its targets, but the limited funds provided for NALSSP were insufficient for the task. The government has failed to replace NALSSP with any dedicated program to stimulate and support Asian language learning in our schools or universities.
"The question is, whether Mr Abbott’s target of 40% is achievable. Of course, the devil will be in the detail… and the financial commitment…but this is a great start, and to be commended.
"Universities must be adequately funded to provide quality language programs to produce the school teachers and others needed to implement an expansion of language learning in schools.
"Underpinning all of this is the vital importance of language policy being above party politics. We need a bipartisan commitment to supporting Asian languages across our education systems, from primary to university, with long-term sustainable programs and substantial investment to achieve the country’s long-term gains."