Ms JODI McKAY (Strathfield) [4.56 p.m.]: The Chinese Language Education Council [CLEC] is an apolitical and non-profit-making body representing 32 Chinese community language schools in New South Wales. Its main objective is to promote the learning of Chinese language in this State. Its premier event is the National Chinese Eisteddfod, one the largest Chinese language events outside China. It involves 2,500 students aged four to 21 years participating in a Chinese language poetry and recitation competition.
The most recent eisteddfod was held in my local community at Strathfield Girls High School. It has become an annual event that is enjoyed by the school and broader community. I was pleased to attend the eisteddfod this year and to give support to the CLEC and the students, parents and friends who took part in the event. I thank the council and its chairperson, Xue Feng Zhang, for inviting me. I witnessed the great benefit of the event. Many students read their poetry or prose passages with the pronunciation of a native Chinese speaker. All students were developing an appreciation of Chinese culture and enhancing their confidence to speak in public.
This year saw the largest participation of students and schools. The number of students increased notably, especially the number of non-Chinese background students and group teams from mainstream schools. It was fantastic to see this cross-cultural exchange in addition to the celebration and appreciation of cultural diversity. This success, however, did not happen overnight. For more than 25 years the eisteddfod has played a positive role in upholding the social harmony of not only the Chinese community but also the wider community, by ensuring young people learn not only English but also the Chinese language. Bilingualism and an appreciation for other cultures are crucial to the success of modern Australia. Chinese bilingualism acts as a bridge between New South Wales and our most important trading partner, China. It helps facilitate increased cultural and economic exchange, which strengthens our State. In many ways this is story of multiculturalism in Australia—building bridges between cultures.
This is one of the things I love about my local area. I can walk up Burwood Road and choose from a huge range of Chinese, Mediterranean, East Asian and South Asian cuisines. I can attend Homebush Boys High to watch a screening of a short film created and produced by the boys on multiculturalism. And once a year I have the pleasure of seeing more than 2,500 students from across Sydney celebrate the long and rich history of Chinese poetry and prose. This is what makes my electorate, and our State, strong. Australia is an example to the world of a successful and harmonious multicultural society. Critical to this success is an understanding in our community that multiculturalism is more than tolerance. It is, when at its best, a celebration of cultures. Thus it was with great dissatisfaction that I discovered the Government had failed to fund the 2015 National Chinese Eisteddfod. The Government refused a request for a small grant of $2,000 to $3,000 through the Community Relations Commission. The grant is used by the council to employ program coordinators, to hire venues, to pack boxed lunches for volunteers, and to hire a storage room at the venue. These are essential expenses.
To fund the most recent eisteddfod, the Chinese Language Education Council had to take funding from other services. It is now facing staff shortages. Staff at the CLEC are volunteering to help after hours and on weekends to ensure the eisteddfod continues unimpeded. This situation is not sustainable. It puts additional pressure on the already hardworking staff and leaders of the CLEC. We cannot have participation at the eisteddfod go backwards. Indeed, this event needs to continue to expand. We are fortunate in our State that so many students want to embrace the Chinese language. It builds our capacity to engage economically and culturally with our largest regional neighbour, and to seize the myriad opportunities this presents.
I congratulate the partners and sponsors of the eisteddfod for stepping up and providing support, including Sing Tao Daily, ABC Tissue Products, the Australian Chinese Charity Foundation, the Lions Club, and the Australian Chinese Community Association. Many more associations and community groups, businesses, schools and individuals have also provided in-kind and monetary support. I also congratulate the staff and volunteers on their work, including the longest-serving volunteer, Phillip Ng. The Chinese language is spoken by billions and its learning needs to be a top priority for New South Wales and Australia. I call on the Government to end the uncertain funding situation in which it has put community groups and community events like the CLEC and the eisteddfod. Australia is an incredible success story of multiculturalism. We need to encourage celebrations that strengthen cultural diversity, rather than make these celebrations harder.