WA government launches revised policy to break down language barriers in the public sector

By Shannon Jenkins

Wednesday November 11, 2020


The Western Australian government has released a new version of its language services policy to help public service agencies ensure that information and government services are accessible to everyone.

Citizenship and multicultural interests minister Paul Papalia on Tuesday said the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for information to be accessible, particularly when it concerns issues of health and public safety.

“The Western Australian Language Services Policy 2020 helps ensure that language and literacy are not barriers that prevent Western Australians from accessing services and programs,” he said.

“This will make sure everyone has the opportunity to contribute to this state’s social, cultural and economic prosperity.”

The state government noted that more than 17% of Western Australians speak a language other than English. Of those, more than 14% do not speak English well or at all.

Individuals who may need assistance to communicate effectively include people from Aboriginal backgrounds, people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, and people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

For example, many Aboriginal people, especially those living in regional and remote WA, speak Aboriginal languages or Aboriginal English as their first language rather than Standard Australian English. Meanwhile, the proportion of Western Australians who communicate through Auslan has increased over the past decade.

Read more: Hearing language: 50 Words Project allows people to hear local Indigenous words

Developed through extensive consultation with public sector and community stakeholders, the policy aims to improve access to information and government services, including health, justice, education, training, housing and transport.

Under the policy, agencies must “maximise the cultural and linguistic knowledge and skills” of staff to help improve the provision of front-line services, and provide cultural competency training to staff.

Other obligations include being client-focused in the delivery of services, and providing better planning, management and delivery of language services by incorporating interpreting, translating and multilingual information needs into budgeting, human resource and client service programs.

The revised policy document includes supporting resources, practical advice and case studies to make it easier for government agencies to implement the policy, with guidance on key activities such as engaging interpreting services, quality control and assurance in interpreting and translating, data collection and reporting, and multilingual communication strategies.

Papalia noted that it is the duty of all in the public sector to understand how to make services accessible to everyone.

“I am confident that public sector agencies are fully aware of the importance of this policy and will ensure its full implementation,” he wrote in the foreword.

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