Policy and Indigenous languages in Australia

Document Type

Journal Article




Faculty of Education and Arts


School of Communication and Arts




This article was originally published as: Mckay, G. R. (2011). Policy and Indigenous languages in Australia. Australian Review of Applied Linguistics, 34(3), 297-319. Original article available here


The use of Indigenous languages has been declining over the period of non-Aboriginal settlement in Australia as a result of repressive policies, both explicit and implicit. The National Policy on Languages (Lo Bianco, 1987) was the high point of language policy in Australia, given its national scope and status and its attempt to encompass all aspects of language use. Indigenous languages received significant recognition as an important social and cultural resource in this policy, but subsequent national policy developments moved via a focus on economic utility to an almost exclusive emphasis on English, exacerbated by a focus on national literacy standards. This is exemplified in the Northern Territory’s treatment of Indigenous bilingual education programs. Over recent years there have been hopeful signs in various states of policy developments supportive of Indigenous languages and in 2009 the Commonwealth Government introduced a new National Indigenous Languages Policy and a plan for a national curriculum in languages. Support for Indigenous languages remains fragmentary, however, and very much subservient to the dominant rhetoric about the need for English skills, while at the same time ignoring research that shows the importance of Indigenous and minority languages for social well-being and for developing English language skills.




Link to publisher version (DOI)