MATTERS OF PUBLIC INTEREST;Literacy Skills – 19 Jun 2013

I have spoken previously in this place about the National Year of Reading 2012 and the importance of encouraging children to read, and I was really proud to serve as a national ambassador for this program along with great Australian icons such as William McInnes, Anh Do and Jennifer Byrne. The National Year of Reading was started by a national network of libraries and it linked together all the great things happening around Australia promoting books, literacy and a love of reading. That campaign was a resounding success. I have a few statistics to demonstrate how successful it was. The National Year of Reading received $1.7 million in funding, including $1.3 million from the Gillard government. From this, it leveraged $5.6 million of in-kind support and media coverage, with an estimated value of $26 million. That is roughly $20 of value for every dollar invested. More than 4,000 events were held across Australia and the campaign had 12,000 online followers and 200,000 participants.

Now that the National Year of Reading is over, the national network of libraries that started this campaign have decided to continue it with the Love2Read campaign. Both campaigns were motivated by an Australian Bureau of Statistics report entitled the Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey, or ALLS. The report found that 46 per cent of Australians lacked the literacy skills needed to perform fully in life and work. In Tasmania, my home state, the figure is 49 per cent, the worst performance of all the states and territories, and an outcome that I am very keen to work to address. Having literacy skills at this level can mean facing difficulty in important day-to-day tasks like reading a newspaper or making sense of bus timetables. But it is hard to see whether these figures have improved.

The ALLS has been superseded by the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, which in 2011-12 found that the number of Australians aged 15 to 74 with literacy skills below the level needed to fully function in life and work had fallen slightly to 44 per cent. However, the ABS cautions that the data from ALLS is not directly comparable with the data from this survey. Still, this is a disappointing result and one that as a nation we have to work hard to improve.

The overwhelming majority of Australian adults can read and write, but it is a question of whether their literacy skills are adequate for the most basic day-to-day challenges life throws at them. While adult literacy is important, we know that we can deliver the best outcomes by developing literacy skills early, especially in childhood. An important part of this is encouraging a love of reading, which we can achieve through our schools, through our public libraries, in the home and in many other settings. Research shows that young children who are read to regularly by family members develop literacy skills long before they are able to read, and they also experience emotional and mental benefits. Developing literacy skills confers many other benefits in childhood and later on in life. It is our most important way of acquiring the information we need for our work and day-to-day living. It is our primary source of learning and gaining knowledge. When we read fiction, it helps inspire us and develop our imagination, which sharpens our skills in creative thinking.

Reading is the foundation of almost every other skill we will attain in life, even the most basic skills of writing, numeracy and critical thinking. That is why I support the Love2Read campaign because it is of such fundamental importance to our society. Love2Read helps to promote not just the practice but the enthusiastic enjoyment of an activity that leads to an essential life skill. Love2Read features several national events that promote the love of reading.

On 22 May this year, I participated in National Simultaneous Storytime. I read a book to a group of about 20 children at the Learning and Information Network Centre, or LINC, in Rosney on Hobart’s eastern shore. I have over a decade of experience as an early childhood educator, so I knew how to involve the children in the activity in a way that was fun and engaging for them, and they certainly were engaged in my reading the story.

National Simultaneous Storytime aims to encourage young Australians to read and enjoy books, and involves the simultaneous reading at venues across Australia of a well-known children’s book. The book chosen this year is Nick Bland’s The Wrong Book. When I asked how many children in the group of about 20 knew this book, it was like being a schoolteacher in fact, because all bar about four kids put up their hands. That showed me that either the parents or the childcare educators in these children’s lives were actively pursuing reading to them, and I was really happy to see that. The book was chosen to explore age-appropriate themes and address key areas of the national curriculum for grades 1 to 6. The event is now in its 13th year. If you have not read The Wrong Book, I would encourage everyone to take a couple of minutes of their life to read it. National Simultaneous Storytime 2013 was held at 2,300 locations with 410,000 children enjoying the story at the same time.

Another national event is The Reading Hour. The Reading Hour is a series of events and activities held nation-wide, which this year will take place on 24 August. While The Reading Hour is notionally between 6 pm and 7 pm, many events will be held during the day to accommodate venue opening hours or to coincide with other events. The Reading Hour is a campaign aimed at encouraging parents to read to their children for just 10 minutes a day, or roughly one hour a week, and I do not think that is too much to ask of any parent. It also tries to instil in parents the attitude that reading should start at the earliest possible time in a child’s development. Most of our brain development happens between birth and the age of three, so we should not just assume that reading is something that happens at school. Parents have a responsibility to read to their kids and to ensure that regular reading is part of their routine.

As a national ambassador for Love2Read I do whatever I can to promote reading. I often read books to children during some of my many visits to local schools in Tasmania; I try to promote Love2Read initiatives through local media; and I donate books as prizes for school fairs and end-of-year school assemblies, and to childcare centres when I visit them. I also attend literacy related events throughout Tasmania.

Just in March this year, I participated in a Rock & Rhyme event, which is an interactive session for parents and/or carers and their babies, at the Kingston LINC, some 500 metres away from my office. Rock & Rhyme is a weekly series of half-hour sessions which include songs, nursery rhymes, stories and music. It promotes listening, memory and vocabulary skills, as well as promoting the bonds between children and their parents. Rock & Rhyme is based on the Canadian Parent-Child Mother Goose Program. It started at the Launceston Lending Library in Hobart, which is now the Launceston LINC, and it has been rolled out state wide and even interstate, and it is getting great support.

Of course, you do not have to be a Love2Read ambassador to promote the joys of reading. As I have mentioned quite a few times already, it is something I really believe we all have a responsibility to do.

If you are an adult who finds reading challenging, why not enrol in a literacy class? Thanks to the Tasmanian government and some non-government community services, my home state has free adult literacy programs available through LINC Tasmania, the 26TEN grants program and a variety of other providers, including some neighbourhood houses and community centres. The Australian government also provides help to job seekers in developing reading, writing, maths and language skills through the Department of Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, Science, Research and Tertiary Education’s Language, Literacy and Numeracy Program. It is never too late to enhance your reading skills; and, when you do, you will find that it opens up a whole new world of possibilities. Not only is it useful and educational but it has the added benefit of being fun—not all the time but a lot of the time.

For more information about the Love2Read campaign, I encourage you to visit their website at The Love2Read website has links to Facebook and Twitter, so those on social media can share their information through that process. For Tasmanians, there is also some fantastic information about adult literacy at

We in this place have precious little spare time but, when we do, reading a good book or a newspaper is a great way to fill it. I know that lots of senators and members do take advantage of the time we spend in the air to do some reading, whether it is newspapers, fiction or non-fiction books. I certainly try to read whenever I get the time, and I do encourage every Australian to discover the joys of reading, if they have not already. As a child I lived in the country and did not have access to a library until I was seven years old. When we first moved into the suburbs, one of the first things my mum did was take me to the library, because until then we had only had access to the mobile school library bus. I found it was not much of a detour, walking home from school, to go via that library and I dropped in fairly frequently. I still love going to libraries when I get the chance.

Obviously, the Parliamentary Library is a very valuable asset to senators and members here, and I am very proud to be on the Joint Standing Committee on the Parliamentary Library. The library has a fiction section as well as a non-fiction section, and there are some brilliant books in there. I would encourage any member or senator who has not been in the Parliamentary Library to go in and support it.

It is really important that we not only enjoy reading for ourselves but share and promote a love of reading at every opportunity. You can set up a reading group if you have the time. You can discuss your favourite books with your friends. I know that in my family we actually share our books and pass them around to other family members. If you are not a member of your local library, as I have said previously, now is the time to join. It is free. I do not understand why any adult, in particular, would not be a member of their local library.

In the last few minutes of this contribution, I reiterate the importance of reading to kids and young people. We cannot overestimate the importance of our involvement in reading to kids, not just as a learning concept—the child learning to read, understanding words and how grammar and those sorts of things work—but also as a bonding process. Even if you do not have children of your own, you must know children, and I would encourage everybody to take the time to read to a small person. It is quite a heart-warming experience. As I said earlier, 10 minutes a day is not a huge ask of a parent—and, once kids start school, it is too late, really, to worry about starting the process of them learning to read. So, if you have kids, read to them. Establish a regular habit of reading; that is really important. I know that when my children, now adults, were very small it was a very important part of their bedtime routine. Lots of parents do that and I think that is a great thing to do, as it is part of relaxing before they go to sleep and brings all those other benefits I have already mentioned. Encourage any other parents you know to do the same. As I said, we all have a part to play in ensuring that everybody, including us, has this essential life skill, because if you cannot read—if you cannot read what is it says on the can in the supermarket, if you cannot read a newspaper, if you cannot read a bus timetable—then life is going to be very difficult. I think, if everybody in this place encouraged people to read and to make sure they can read adequately, we should be able to become a nation of readers very easily.