Over one million Victorians speak a language other than English at home and over 200,000 Victorians have limited English proficiency. Language services are critical for many Victorians to access government services and information.
Government departments and agencies have a responsibility to ensure people with limited English, and people who are Deaf or hard of hearing, are given information in their own language to participate in decisions that affect their lives.
Government responsibility for equitable access to services
The Multicultural Victoria Act 2011 (the Act) states that all individuals in Victoria are equally entitled to access opportunities and participate in and contribute to the social, cultural, economic and political life of the state. Interpreting and translation services are crucial to ensuring this is achieved. The Act also requires all Victorian Government departments to report annually on the use of interpreting and translation services.
The Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 and the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 outline rights and obligations relevant to providing access to language services.
Victoria’s Equal Opportunity Act 2012 includes a ‘positive duty obligation’ which means that departments and agencies need to take proactive and reasonable steps to address causes of discrimination, regardless of whether a complaint has been made or not.
A number of other Acts, both at the Victorian Government and Commonwealth Government level, also include provisions on the use of interpreting and translating services.
Organisations must not directly or indirectly discriminate against people who have limited English proficiency or use a form of sign language. Discrimination includes:
- refusing to provide a service
- providing a poor quality service
- having unreasonable requirements, conditions or practices within the organisation that disadvantages clients because of their race, disability or other attributes
The failure to identify the need for, or to promote the availability of, an appropriate language service may have legal consequences.
Government departments and agencies, either directly or through funded service providers, routinely make decisions that affect the rights of individuals, or provide services that require client consent.
The failure to identify the need for, or to promote the availability of, language services may create a risk of inadequate procedural fairness. This may result in decisions being reviewed and overturned, incurring additional costs and avoidable delays.
Victorian Government Policy
Victorians who cannot communicate effectively through spoken or written English must have access to professional interpreting and translation services:
- when required to make significant decisions concerning their lives
- when being informed of their rights
- where essential information needs to be communicated to inform decision making, including obtaining informed consent
Interpreters and translators should be credentialed by the National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters (NAATI) at the Certified Interpreter / Translator level.
Culturally sensitive services
The responsibility to provide culturally appropriate services includes, but is not limited to, providing language services. Departments and funded agencies are required under the Multicultural Victoria Act 2011 to develop ‘cultural diversity plans’ to enhance the provision of culturally sensitive service delivery. The provision of language services is a key component of cultural diversity planning. Cultural diversity planning also entails:
- providing cultural competency training for staff;
- ensuring that information on services is readily accessible to culturally and linguistically diverse communities; and
- assessing the effectiveness of service delivery to culturally and linguistically diverse communities
It is also important that departments and funded agencies employ people from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds, involve diverse communities in the development of new programs and services, and consider language and culture in the design and delivery of services.
Duty of care
The government and its funded agencies have a duty of care to anyone who is reasonably likely to be affected by their activities. Failure to satisfy duty of care can have legal consequences.
In relation to language services, the government and its funded agencies have a duty to ensure that members of the public understand the information that is being provided to them, and should provide appropriately trained and credentialed interpreters when required. Duty of care may be breached if a staff member unreasonably fails to provide, or inform a client of their right to an interpreter.
Government and its agencies can fulfil their duty of care by taking reasonable steps to actively identify whether language assistance is required and acting accordingly. Following the steps in these guidelines will help to consider these matters properly.
Risks of not providing a qualified interpreter
Failure to provide a qualified interpreter can have significant negative impacts including:
- Reduced or adverse health outcomes, for example due to incorrect diagnosis because of miscommunication between a patient and a health professional, or hospital readmissions where a patient did not understand how to manage their own care after discharge
- Delays or obstructions to justice, for example, due to additional legal proceedings where procedural fairness failed as a result of not engaging an interpreter.
Departmental language services policies and procedures
It is recommended that government departments and agencies, that provide direct services, establish their own policies and procedures on language services that:
- are consistent with these guidelines;
- take into account relevant legal requirements;
- require that any interpreters and translators they engage must have some level of NAATI credential;
- address the language needs of clients with limited English;
- define when interpreters must be engaged;
- are reviewed and updated regularly in consultation with relevant community stakeholders; and
- reflect the needs of their particular client groups
Reviewed 28 October 2019