When Peter Harle arrived in Australia with his family as a nine year old immigrant he could hardly speak a word of English.
“I had to learn to speak the language they spoke in my new country because my parents believed that as of the day we arrived we would be Australians first and everything else second,’’ says Peter Harle, an independent councillor on Liverpool City Council for the past seven years.
“And that meant learning to speak English; my parents too learned to read and write in English, not very well but they got by,’’ he says.
This Wednesday night at the next scheduled council meeting, Cr Harle will strongly oppose plans to review which foreign language media the mayor and deputy mayor messages are published in every week at a cost of more than $35,000 a year.
Indeed he wants to scrap them altogether because he believes they may discourage some migrants from learning English.
Cr Harle plans to move this three point amendment on Wednesday night:
1. That Council discontinues publishing a Mayoral and Deputy Mayoral column in the ethnic press, and;
2. That the Deputy Mayoral Column shall be replaced by a Councillors column, consisting of not more than 700 words, to be published in English in the two leading “non-ethnic” local papers on a rotational bi-weekly basis, and
3. That all councillors are given the opportunity to contribute to that column on a regular rotational basis.
“Multiculturalism in Liverpool is amongst the highest in Australia. However the one language that is universally accepted throughout Australia is Australian English,’’ says Cr Harle.
“It is incumbent upon all new Australians to learn that language as soon as possible in order to become a participating and contributing citizen of our community.
“I am also of the opinion that council could make better use of the $38,000 it costs to publish such non-essential information in multiple languages.
“I am sure several charitable organisations in Liverpool would welcome a percentage of that money and make far better use of it than the effect a “feel good” statement would have on the community by the Mayor, Deputy Mayor or Councillors.
“I also believe that it would make more sense to convert Development Application requirements, and relatively essential important council information into multiple languages rather than provide a dedicated column for the Mayor, Deputy Mayor or Councillors to inform the public of their activities of the previous week, especially when that information is available from the council website.’’
The notice of motion that council review which foreign language media both the Mayor and Deputy Mayor messages are published in is being promoted by the current deputy mayor, Councillor Gus Balloot, a member of the ruling Liberal Party ticket on council.
Cr Balloot rejects any suggestion that placing the columns in foreign languages publications would discourage people from trying to learn English.
“I am certainly not trying to discourage anyone from learning English by asking for a review of this,’ he told the South West Vouice just a few minutes ago.
“But the fact is that we are getting really positive feedback from such ethnic groups, so I just want to have a look at it to see if we are getting value for money.
“It is certainly not my intention to try to expand the program using more ratepayers dollars,’’ Cr Balloot said.
His notice of motion, as it appears on Wednesday’s business paper, states: “There are a number of papers we could have a presence in to get our message out, but which council is neglecting.
“The benefit of this motion would be to increase our readership and connect council with the wider community of Liverpool.’’
Cr Balloot’s notice of motion also includes a table of the top 10 languages spoken in the Liverpool area other than English, using Bureau of Statistics data.
Arabic is at the top with 17,199 speakers, which is 9.5 per cent of the Liverpool population.
It is followed by Hindi (8,042 at 4.5 percent), Vietnamese (7,838 at 4.4 percent), Italian (5,105 at 2.8 percent), Spanish (5,066 at 2.8 percent), Serbian (5,064 at 2.8 percent) Filipino/Tagalog (3,226 at 1.8 percent), Greek (2,941 at 1.6 percent), Assyrian (2,884 at 1.6 percent), and Cantonese in 10th spot (2,662 at 1.5 percent).
Cr Balloott said he welcomed a sensible, constructive debate on the issue.
“That’s what I am doing here, putting the issue up for debate, to see if we can make it better,’’ he said.
“I can’t agree with Cr Harle that it’s about discouraging people from learning English.
A report attached to the notice of motion said that council currently advertises the Mayoral and Deputy Mayoral column on a weekly basis in the Liverpool Leader and the South West Advertiser.
In addition to this weekly advertising, the column also appears in a number of ethnic newspapers on a fortnightly basis, the report said.
The newspapers utilised include those with the highest circulation for each of the top six language groups for the Liverpool area.
The decision to focus on the top six language groups was endorsed by council in 2013.
The column appears fortnightly in the six ethnic newspapers at a cost of approximately $36,000 a year, the report said.
The newspapers include: El-Telegraph, Vesti, Chieu Duong, La Fiamma, Indian Link and The Spanish Herald.