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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 13 February 2016
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 13 FEBRUARY 2016 19 OPINION OPINION GEORGE ZANGALIS Time to put our claims to all political parties And a good place is the Antipodes Festival in Melbourne and the Greek Festival in Sydney EDUCATION This is a federal election year. This is also the time of budget preparations by the federal and state governments to be announced in early May. Political parties are preparing their policies and fund allocations that affect all of us. Lobbying is in earnest, with the claims of the rich and powerful receiving, as usual, top priority. Ordinary people's needs have to be pushed hard to make it to the table. And this we must do not only by formulating our claims but above all by campaigning with all our strength. One thing is for sure - we cannot afford to be spectators. It is crystal clear the government’s crying poor is intended to make savings and increase revenue at the expense of those who can least bear it. And the great majority of Greek Australians, as indeed of all Australians, is in that category. As a community we have a responsibility to make common cause with other sections of our society to fight for jobs, better health care and education, social justice and equality issues in general and as they impact on the rights of migrants, refugees and, more broadly, the ethnic minorities. I am sure we all recognise the importance for Greek Australians, through their community organisations and especially the large and influential Greek Community organisations in all states - either on their own but preferably together and with other ethnic communities through the ECCV and FECCA, as the case may be - to formulate and lobby for such claims of strategic and practical significance for Australia's non-English background residents and citizens, such as: Language and cultural maintenance is a core claim. It is imperative to support the Gonski recommendations adopted as policies by the federal and state governments in 2013 that provide federal government grants to schools on a needs basis and additional amounts for schools with disadvantages e.g. teaching English as a second language and community languages. Such funding will enable schools to maintain and increase the teaching of Greek and other languages, the universities to again start producing language teachers, curricula and methods of teaching and examinations suitable for our Australian conditions. The long term survival of Australia's unique multiculturalism and multilingualism depend above all on the country's education system having and implementing a national languages policy at state and federal level, providing real opportunities to students. This is especially important in the mainstream day schools, where the great majority of all ethnic background students go, including those of Anglo Celtic origin, to learn or reinforce not just a language relating to their ethnic background but another language of significance to such a demographically diverse country as Australia and indeed the wider world. Now the Turnbull government is reneging on that commitment, and $4.5 billion will be denied to schools in the next two years, affecting particularly the public schools and the ‘poorer’ nongovernment schools such as most of the ethno-specific colleges, unless the government retreats or changes at the next election. There is already mounting opposition, including to such cuts from Prime Minister Turnbull addresses the hundreds of people gathered at the Being Greek Festival in Sydney. He will also attend this year’s Lonsdale Street Festival in Melbourne. the ALP, the Greens and most independents. The state government also has a major responsibility - actually, the main one, in arresting and reversing the ongoing decline in language teaching in schools. Statements of giving priority to commercial languages demonstrate a profound misunderstanding of the essence and role of language, and should be combated. Eulogies about language and cultural diversity, foremost in Victoria, mean very little unless backed up with forward looking policies and funds. The teaching of languages should not be pushed out of the students’ day schools. MULTICULTURAL LEGISLATION Lobbying for a federal mul- ticultural act, improvements and accountability on the current state ones, is another major issue. The Victorian government has called for a response to a draft Multicultural Policy Statement. We should study it and respond in the next few weeks. It is my understanding the federal ALP is considering the enactment of a federal Multicultural Act. FECCA at its last biannual conference adopted it as policy. Having ethnic and multicultural rights incorporated in law would be a considerable achievement for which many of us have campaigned for years. Australia's demographic diversity is an ongoing development and demands of equality of rights are never redundant. ETHNIC REPRESENTATION All statistics show ethnic representation in all walks of Australian life is extremely inadequate, much lower than those for women and young people. We should remind those who contribute regularly in the mainstream media that diversity representation goes beyond gender and age; it must include ethnic minority people - women, men and the youth - but even better we should be doing it ourselves. There are also huge needs and injustices for pensions in general and ethnic ones in particular, both here or on visiting the country of birth. The pensioners are a very large constituency in our community as with all communities. New migrants need to be supported and protected against super exploitation. These are but a few issues that I believe Greek Australians and their organisations should reflect and act upon. Some are already long-standing policies that need to be activated. And I repeat this is the time to act. A good place to fire some of these shots can be at the Antipodes Festival in Melbourne and the equivalent ones in Sydney and elsewhere. * Historian and author George Zangalis is president of radio station 3ZZZ and president of the National Ethnic and Multicultural Broadcasters’ Council of Australia.
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