Tonight I rise to speak on the importance of the National Year of Reading 2012. The National Year of Reading 2012 is a collaborative project which has seen libraries, governments, community groups, media and commercial partners, as well as the public, come together to promote the importance and enjoyment of reading. The Gillard government provides funding for the National Year of Reading 2012 through the Office for the Arts, which falls under the responsibility of the Minister for the Arts, Mr Simon Crean. This year is an opportunity to highlight the wonderful projects and organisations across Australia which exist to promote reading and literacy, as well as to explore new ideas and projects.
The Patron of the National Year of Reading 2012 is actor and author, William McInnes. I am pleased to be one of the national ambassadors for the program, along with one of my Tasmanian colleagues in the House of Representatives, the federal member for Lyons, Dick Adams, who is also a national ambassador. I know that a number of other politicians from both state and federal levels as well as local government are also involved as ambassadors.
According to the Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, approximately 46 per cent of Australians are not equipped with the skills needed to read newspapers, follow a recipe, make sense of timetables or understand the instructions on a medicine bottle. This figure is a statistic that should concern us all.
Unfortunately, my home state of Tasmania has the lowest level of adult literacy in Australia, but it is starting to turn that situation around through strategic investments in adult literacy programs. The ABS survey found that 49 per cent of Tasmanians do not have adequate skills for everyday reading and writing activities. The Tasmanian Council for Adult Literacy explains that this rate does not mean that 49 per cent of Tasmanians cannot read or write; what it does mean is that people considered to have inadequate skills overall may have different levels of ability in various categories such as prose, numeracy or problem solving.
The National Year of Reading 2012 is about encouraging our children as they learn to read, as well as getting readers to broaden their horizons by trying a new author or genre. It is about supporting reading initiatives while respecting that there is still a place for oral storytelling. It is about helping people discover and rediscover the magic of books. And most of all, it is about Australians becoming a nation of readers.
The campaign has identified three goals which will help turn Australia into a nation of readers and encourage a reading culture in every home: for all Australians to understand the benefits of reading as a life skill and a catalyst for wellbeing; to promote a reading culture in every home; and to establish an aspirational goal for families, for parents and caregivers to share books with their children every day.
In 2011, the National Year of Reading team set out to identify a set of eight books which together describe what it is like to live in, be from, visit or in some other way connect with the eight states and territories. They wanted to create a collection of books which, if read together, articulates the Australian experience—remote, regional, suburban and metropolitan. The eight books chosen were: The Idea of Home by John Hughes representing New South Wales; Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey for Western Australia; Listening to Country by Ros Moriarty for the Northern Territory; Smoke and Mirrors by Kel Robertson representing the Australian Capital Territory; Time’s Long Ruin by Stephen Orr for South Australia; Well Done, Those Men by Barry Heard representing Victoria; The White Earth by Andrew McGahan symbolising Queensland; and Richard Flanagan’s Wanting representing my home state of Tasmania. My personal goal is that by 1 January 2013 I hope to have read every single one of those eight books. These books were chosen by thousands of Australians who voted on the ABC website or in their local library for the book to represent their state or territory during the National Year of Reading 2012.
There are a number of events being held in my home state of Tasmania as part of the National Year of Reading 2012. One event was the stage production of the Tim Winton story, The Bugalugs Bum Thief, which was shown in Hobart and Burnie in August. Another event is the Language of War exhibition. The exhibition displays the work of Tasmanian poets as they express their views, ideas and perspectives on commemoration of Australia’s military conflicts and activities. The poems are accompanied by photographs of Australia’s war memorials.
As a mother, I read to my own children when they were little and I still have some of their favourite books from their childhood. I also used to read frequently to the children in my care when I worked as an early childhood educator and I now enjoy reading to the next generation in my extended family. I also enjoy visiting various groups in the community to read to children, and I hope that they develop a love of reading. I think there is nothing quite the same as cuddling up with a really good children’s book with a couple of children and exploring the book. I also enjoy reading, myself, when time permits, and read a wide range of authors and genres.
In my home state of Tasmania, the Mercury is involving school students in a never-ending story. Chapter 1 was written by Tasmanian author Lian Tanner and introduces teenage characters Eliza Chan and Johnny Dance who are involved in a plane crash. The story is being continued each week by a different student author or, in some cases, as a joint effort by multiple students from different high schools. At the end of the year, the novel will be available in an e-book format. The never-ending story is a great way to get high school students involved in writing and using their creativity, and students seem very eager to read the ongoing story each week.
Another event that promotes reading in Tasmania is the annual Premier’s Reading Challenge. The challenge is for prep to grade 6 students, and the aim is for students to read one book each week for ten weeks. Students participating in the challenge have the opportunity to win prizes by writing a book review, with six reviews chosen each week. Children who complete the challenge will go into the draw to win an e-book reader and will also receive a certificate from the Tasmanian Premier, Lara Giddings. Many Tasmanian schools are taking part in the challenge and one example is Lauderdale Primary School. The school is aiming to read 10,000 books during the challenge, and at the halfway mark the tally was 3,184. I know that other states also have a premier’s reading challenge and I think it is a wonderful way to encourage our children to take up reading.
Another event that was held in Kingston, near my office, was a story session by the author Bob Graham. Bob read his children’s stories The Trouble with Dogs!, Crusher is Coming!, A Bus Called Heaven and Has Anyone Here Seen William?This storytelling session was organised by the Children’s Book Council, Tasmanian Branch, and the Kingborough Council.
When looking at the importance of reading, there is a challenge we must face. Reading is not just about reading the newspaper or a novel. It is also about reading what is on social networking sites, completing online forms and using e-books. These are fairly new phenomena—10 years ago they were not around.
On 25 August, the Reading Hour was held across Australia. The Reading Hour was one call to action for the National Year of Reading and the aim was to establish the idea that everyone will benefit from reading for at least an hour a week. Opportunities for reading may include sharing a book with your child for 10 minutes a day; restoring some of that work-life balance by taking a break with a book at lunchtime; getting together with friends to read and talk about your favourite books, such as in a book club; or incorporating a reading hour into the school week—or, indeed, like Senator Feeney, maybe reading while your colleague makes her adjournment speech!
I would like to conclude tonight by paying tribute to all those people involved in the National Year of Reading 2012. I especially thank my fellow Tasmanians, national ambassador Dick Adams and state ambassadors Bernadette Black, Peter Gee, Kate Gordon, Heather Haselgrove, Melanie Milburne, Jo Palmer, Rob Pennicott, Margaret Reynolds, Lian Tanner and John X, for their work in promoting the National Year of Reading 2012 and for promoting the importance of reading. I would encourage everyone to make the time to read as often as they can.