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Recognising and protecting NSW Aboriginal languages 

NSW Cabinet recently gave approval to consult on draft legislation to recognise and protect NSW Aboriginal languages.

NSW will be the first State in Australia with legislation to recognise the importance of Aboriginal languages. It will continue this State’s leadership amongst States and Territories on supporting the revival and protection of Aboriginal languages.

Aboriginal Affairs will hold a community workshop in December 2016 to further refine the legislative proposal, initiate development of the first strategic plan for Aboriginal languages, and begin outlining the form and function of a NSW Aboriginal Language Centre. A more developed proposal is due to go back to Cabinet in the first half of 2017. If Cabinet approves the proposal, there will be further consultations to inform a final Bill which is expected to go back to Cabinet in late 2017.

The draft legislation will have two parts:

  • Statements of recognition about the significance of Aboriginal languages, and the importance of preventing their loss; and
  • Measures to protect and revive NSW Aboriginal languages, including a proposed NSW Aboriginal Languages Centre, a strategic plan, and accountability framework.

The draft legislation will be informed by international developments such as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, legislative examples from similar jurisdictions (Canada and New Zealand); national conversations on constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians; and a stakeholder meeting held by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs in March 2016.

The form and function of the NSW Aboriginal Language Centre will be based on community views about what it should do as well as critical assessments of previous NSW Aboriginal language programs. Possible functions for the Centre could be developing strategies to prevent language loss, building community capacity to revive languages, and working in partnership with Aboriginal communities, Aboriginal Language and Culture Nests, regional language centres, schools, universities and government on language revival efforts.

The Aboriginal Affair website will be kept updated with information on the Aboriginal language stakeholder workshop and other opportunities to participate in the development of the proposed legislation.

For further information please contact conversation@aboriginalaffairs.nsw.gov.au or phone Aboriginal Affairs on 1800 019 998.

PowerPoint information on the Draft Bill

Gary Williams – (Muurrbay Aboriginal Language and Culture Cooperative, Nambucca Heads)

“It is quite exciting to know that the NSW Government is at the forefront to protecting Aboriginal Languages so we could serve as a role model and benchmark for other states.

Respect and acknowledgement of Aboriginal Language is very important, and it is great to be apart of the decision here today to proceed toward protecting NSW Aboriginal Languages via formal legislation.

Aboriginal language development is currently resource poor, and this major step toward

Legislation will secure funding and commit future resources to enhance that’s required to ensure

Aboriginal Language of NSW is forever spoken by our people and valued by Australia.”

Ray Kelly (Jnr) – Wollutuka Institute (Newcastle)

“It’s about time that the NSW Government and all necessary partners come together to build strong future foundations to bring about a cultural revitalisation of our languages, lores and culture.”

Maureen Sulter – (Fully Accredited (Masters) Gomeroi Language Teacher)

“I’m so proud that the respected recognition has finally come (long time waiting), for Aboriginal language protection, and will bring about pride & recognition for our young people, as they are our future leaders. It will also provide learning and training pathways, and further promote employment opportunities for our Aboriginal language teachers, to hopefully inspire our next generation to carry on our language, heritage, lores and culture.

Winangaya (Respect). Dreaming of a Better Future – Dreaming of Unity.”

Daryn McKenny - Miromaa Aboriginal Language and Technology Centre (Newcastle)

“When I first started working with Aboriginal Languages I was involved with the NSW Aboriginal Language Research and Resource Centre. (funded through the then NSW Department of Aboriginal Affairs), who supported funding for Aboriginal Language and to develop the first Aboriginal Languages policy for the state of NSW.

Although language policy was formed, the overall intent from those initial days, was to proceed toward achieving formal legislation – as with legislation, it would assure future Government funding and resource allocation is priority to Aboriginal language revitalisation and protection.

Although policy was reviewed several times, our over intent was to acknowledge and respect the original languages of NSW. With NSW being the first to establish a commitment toward Legislation, it would bring All-Of-Government commitment, true acknowledgement, recognition, and is much harder to ignore or disregard when its enshrined in NSW state legislation.

Wontakolowa (Which Way – Where You Going – What you Doin) – New Future Direction.


Stan Grant (Snr) – Wiradjuri Language Consultant, Wiradjuri Study Centre (Nerrandra)

“With all the current resources and language revitalisation initiatives out there, there are several opportunities to enhance and build language revitalisation in NSW, and I would really like the implementation of language legislation to contribute toward greater pathways for learning within the schools and university areas, and to support additional technologies that speak to the younger generations.

Language doesn’t belong to people, it belongs to the land. Its who we are, it speaks to us as the traditional owners of the land. And reaffirms our Identity.”

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