Dick Adam’s speech

Speech made by Dick Adams during Reading Week in Federal Parliament, May 2012

MR ADAMS: To move—That this House:

(1)          recognises that 46 per cent of Australians do not have functional literacy to enable them to undertake more than the very basic tasks, and that it should:
(a)          give recognition to and acknowledge the importance of the National Year of Reading 2012 as demonstrated by the attendance at the launch by the Prime Minister, the Minister for the Arts, and the Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth;
(b)          congratulate all of the people and sponsors involved in setting up this National Year of Reading;
(c)          aim to raise the awareness of all Australians to understand the benefits of reading as a life skill and a catalyst for well being through supporting this program;
(d)          help to promote a reading culture in the home through this program, and
(e)          assist to establish an aspirational goal for families, or parents and caregivers to share books with their children every day; and

(2)          encourages all Members to participate in promoting the annual National Reading Day in their communities, schools and libraries

2012 is the National Year of Reading and I have been given the honour of being appointed one of 24 national reading ambassadors, plus a number of State and Territory ones, working with our patron, William McInnes. This was certainly a surprise and I never believed I could be in such august company as some of my fellow ambassadors, who are mainly writers or actors or very experienced in artistic communications, particularly for children have far more to contribute to reading than me.

So I believe my role is to let the Parliament and my State know why this year has been set up and how we should be raising the awareness of all Australians to understand the benefits of reading and hopefully develop the love of stories and enjoy the act of reading.

Did you know that there are 46% of Australians who can’t read newspapers; follow a recipe; make sense of timetables, or understand the instructions on a medicine bottle?  Nearly half our population can’t read with any fluency. It’s a shameful and worrying statistic!

46 per cent adult illiteracy figure is the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey, 2006 found:

  • that approximately 7 million (46 per cent) of Australians aged 15 to 74 years had scores at Level 1 or 2 on the prose scale.
  • Prose literacy is defined as ‘the ability to understand and use information from various kinds of narrative texts, including texts from newspapers, magazines and brochures’.
  • The four main domains tested were: prose, document, numeracy and problem solving. A fifth domain, health literacy, was also tested.
  • Scores were grouped into five skill levels (only 4 levels were defined for the problem solving scale) with Level 1 being the lowest measured level of literacy.

So Australia really needs to do more to ensure our population is more than just literate.

As a fifth-generation Tasmanian, my education was distinctly lacking in incentives to be literate.

And I can understand why we have this dreadful figure of 46% of Australians who are not functionally literate – certainly in my day as a child, my folks did not read much, and not to their children, and their parents did not read at all.
So reading was not a natural pastime in the 1960s-1970s and I notice that there are still members of my family now who do not read much now.
We didn’t have the need to on the farm; we didn’t have BAS statements, or emails or much in the way of reading material, the newspaper and a farming magazine was the most likely to be looked at and the radio provided the other stimulus.

My stimulus to learn to read was that I needed to do more reading and writing in my employment to represent other people.  It is much more difficult to learn as an adult than a child and it did take me a long time.

It is very hard to do many things if you cannot read!

Having learnt to read and write, I have since devoted considerable effort to the Adult Literacy Program and I now know the value of reading to both adults and children.

Every day I read a lot, either through my work with the House but also as a pleasant pastime.

Now I am the House of Representative’s representative on the Board of the National Library as well as Joint Chair of the Joint Committee of the Parliamentary Library.

Libraries are a key information source. I have used public libraries all my life. They empower people and they help our democracy. Libraries and their services give me great joy.

I was sad to note that they have renamed our libraries in Tasmania, the LINC  – which to me is misleading, firstly because it is spelt wrong and secondly it does not imply reading or the recreational joy of a book – it seems very impersonal and more to do with communication jingo.

So I am going to work hard this year to try and encourage more children to get into books and understand libraries, it is one of the most important parts of our education system.

Losing oneself in a story is a marvellous way of coping with times in your life while you are waiting – at the doctor’s surgery, to board a plane and travel, waiting in a queue or just waiting to fall asleep!

This Government has recognised the need to improve reading standards across the education spectrum.

The Gillard Government is committed to improving the educational outcomes of all school students and is providing funding for three Smarter Schools National Partnerships:

  • $540 million over 4 years (2009 to 2012) for the Literacy and Numeracy National Partnership to support the infrastructure and practices that will deliver sustained improvements in literacy and numeracy, including $350 million for rewarding improved performance;
  • $1.5 billion over 7 years (2008-09 to 2014-15) for the Low SES National Partnership to support a range of reforms that address educational disadvantage associated with local socio-economic status (SES) school communities; and
  • $550 million for the Teacher Quality National Partnership for system wide reforms to attract, train, place, develop and retain quality teachers and school leaders.

A quarter of all Australian schools (2,564) have been targeted for support through the Low Socio-economic Status School Communities National Partnership (Low SES NP) and/or the Literacy and Numeracy National Partnership (Literacy and Numeracy NP). Approximately 793,000 students (23% of all students) attend these schools.

And 32 of my schools in Lyons are benefiting from these partnerships and their programs.

With this motion I am asking people to share their particular joy in reading with their communities, both young and old.  Families can start by reading to their kids or grandkids.

If you are an adult – starting to learn – you may want to start with the outboard motor manual or how to use a sewing machine.  Whatever hook is needed to get people ready; we need to have pathways for people to get on board.

The school beginning is so important.  TAFE has always played a great role for people who go for training with low reading and writing skills; they were able to address this need as well.  Adult literacy is something that also needs more attention now.

The Federal Government has two programs:

  • The Language, Literacy and Numeracy Program (LLNP) which seeks to improve participants’ language, literacy and/or numeracy, with the expectation that such improvements will enable them to participate more effectively in training or in the labour force and lead to greater gains for them and society in the longer term.  The LLNP provides up to 800 hours of free accredited Language, Literacy and Numeracy (LLN) training for eligible job seekers whose LLN skills are below the level considered necessary to secure sustainable employment or pursue further education and training.
  • And the Workplace English Language and Literacy (WELL) program, the aim of which is to assist organisations to train workers in English language, literacy and numeracy skills. This funding is available on a competitive grants basis to organisations for English language and literacy training linked to job-related workplace training and is designed to help workers meet their current and future employment and training needs.

The Government is providing $182.8 million over four years to these programs to assist in building up skills in literacy to assist job seekers to find work.  These programs are primarily linked to Centrelink and as part of job provider programs.

There are volunteer programs still operating in Australia and there is a reading and writing hotline that is nationwide funded by the Commonwealth Government – to try and give everyone a chance to learn;  the number is 1300 6555 06.

Members may wish to use their newsletters to promote their local libraries and publicise local events for this year of reading.
Organise some events for schools, go into some of the retirement villages and offer to read – encourage reading wherever you can in your communities.
This is something beyond politics and I think we can all support this motion.

I hope you will and enjoy some reading today!