Evidence of meeting #104 for Procedure and House Affairs in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was languages.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Michael Tatham  Clerk of the Legislative Assembly, Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory

7:35 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

Okay. That's very high by Canadian standards.

Thank you for that.

7:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Okay.

Is there anyone else?

May 23rd, 2018 / 7:35 p.m.

NDP

Romeo Saganash NDP Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Maybe I'll ask a quick question.

Thank you for your presentation.

You spoke about the fact that there's no constitutional framework for official languages in Australia. Are there other rules that may govern certain situations? For instance, if an indigenous person is elected who only speaks an indigenous language, what happens in that case?

In our case, government services are here to serve Parliament, and that was confirmed by testimony here in this committee. What are the other rules that will govern that situation?

7:35 p.m.

Clerk of the Legislative Assembly, Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory

Michael Tatham

There are rules of the court, for example; an aboriginal interpreter service will be used for a person who is appearing before a court and needs to speak in their first language, their aboriginal language.

The aboriginal interpreter service is a well-funded, large service, with a lot of different people working in it to try to cover all of the language groups. That is the service we used seven or eight years ago when we did outreach committee work in communities. We did consultation with that service and we chose the 17 most commonly used languages for doing the outreach work. That still didn't enfranchise everyone.

There is a problem. There's a problem when people need to engage with government and they don't speak the language of government. The language of government is English. The government has put some resources into such things as the aboriginal interpreter service, but of course, in communities there are problems with policing and things like that, when people might interact with law enforcement and the law enforcement officer doesn't speak the local language. What they've done in the police is have liaison officers who engage local community people to work with the police.

7:35 p.m.

NDP

Romeo Saganash NDP Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Thank you.

7:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

David.

7:35 p.m.

Liberal

David Graham Liberal Laurentides—Labelle, QC

If an indigenous language speaker were to speak in an indigenous language in the legislative assembly and refused to speak English, what would be the repercussions?

7:35 p.m.

Clerk of the Legislative Assembly, Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory

Michael Tatham

That would be highly disorderly. That would be a matter for the assembly itself to determine.

Of course, the Speaker has pulled up the member from Nhulunbuy. The member from Nhulunbuy has done that on one occasion. The Speaker didn't interrupt him; she let him speak and afterwards she said, what you've done is out of order. She was conciliatory, saying, what you've done is out of order, because we don't know what you've said and we don't have any systems in place to find out what you've said. I think, of course, that was the point he was making.

It becomes a matter of disorder under the standing order.

7:35 p.m.

Liberal

David Graham Liberal Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Is there any constitutional protection for either the people or the languages, in either the country or the states?

7:35 p.m.

Clerk of the Legislative Assembly, Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory

7:35 p.m.

Liberal

David Graham Liberal Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Thank you.

7:35 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

I realize that none of these languages had a written form prior to the arrival of Europeans, but do they presently? Do any of the languages in the Northern Territory have a written form, or are they all purely oral?

7:35 p.m.

Clerk of the Legislative Assembly, Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory

Michael Tatham

There is a written form. It's interesting. When we look at all this, the way that the Inuit language is being put into syllabic form is very interesting, but of course here it has just been a transliteration using the European alphabet.

There is, then, a written form, but of course once it is written down there are many more consonants than vowels, and it's very difficult sometimes to get the correct spelling of what the written form is, because it's not standardized.

There have been attempts at written form. I think a Bible was written a few years ago in one of the aboriginal languages, but it would be the linguists who decided that this is the way you write that aboriginal language.

7:35 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

Right. It would make it genuinely difficult for a member who had done what you described: giving a speech without having an English written form. He would have to, on his own, provide that English after the fact by listening to himself. He couldn't actually consult his notes, because he wouldn't have had written notes in his own language.

7:40 p.m.

Clerk of the Legislative Assembly, Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory

Michael Tatham

He would not necessarily; that's right. It's much more organic when you have a discussion with aboriginal people about what's coming out of their mouths, which is not necessarily something they are reading from.

7:40 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

Right.

Okay, thank you.

7:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Is there anything different in any of the state or the national legislatures that you are aware of, related to this topic?

7:40 p.m.

Clerk of the Legislative Assembly, Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory

Michael Tatham

No, the situation is the same. When we did our survey a little more than a year ago, all the legislatures only allowed the speaking of a language other than English by leave. We're the only one we know of that actually has a standing order now that has a set of rules around it. Whether that's a good idea or not is a matter for the assembly, but there is no constitutional right for anyone to speak in any of the languages.

The constitutions of the states of Victoria and New South Wales and maybe one or two others in the last 10 or 15 years were amended to recognize that aboriginal people were there first, but that's as far as they go.

The Australian constitution does not recognize aboriginal people in any particular way, other than around the fact that the Australian Parliament may make special laws for aboriginal people. That's pretty much as far as it goes.

7:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

David.

7:40 p.m.

Liberal

David Graham Liberal Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Thanks very much. I really appreciate this. It's been very informative for me.

7:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Thank you for staying late. We know you have to rush off now, so thank you very much. We really appreciate it. It was some very fascinating information.

We can't see having our translation booth with 125 translators. You have a lot of languages.

Thank you.

7:40 p.m.

Clerk of the Legislative Assembly, Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory

Michael Tatham

Okay. Best of luck. Thank you.

7:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Tomorrow in the first hour we're going to do the report on indigenous languages. Look at the draft, which you got in an email this afternoon. Then in the second hour we'll do committee business.

Tuesday, for the first hour the committee and the sub-committee—anyone who wants to come—and one witness from the CHRO are briefing the independents on the confidential sub-committee report.

Thanks for coming. It was bad timing, but I think it was very interesting.

We are adjourned.