Recently members raised significant concerns about the new NAATI certification scheme. The following considers a way forward.

Principles and Goals

In approaching a response, it is important we start from principles and goals. Translators and Interpreters Australia, a division of Professionals Australia, maintains that language services are an essential community service and expects that governments will have quality standards in place.

In recent decades governments have failed both language professionals and their communities by not adhering to their own policies to engage only accredited/recognised practitioners which has led to an industry where professionals are undermined and underpaid.

Translators and Interpreters Australia is working to elevate the profession in terms of pay and conditions. Our goal is to have you recognised and treated as professionals.

Translators and Interpreters Australia supports:

  • Governments taking responsibility to provide equal access to services for non-English speaking and deaf communities;
  • Governments taking responsibility to protect consumers who access language services;
  • A system that provides criteria against which to assess language professionals for the public sector;
  • A requirement for Continued Professional Development (CPD), enabling professionals to demonstrate that they are up-to-date in their field.


Given our members want to be treated as professionals, we need a system to differentiate them from people who are simply bilingual or multilingual.


What system achieves these goals

What’s the best way, based on current supply and increasing demand, for government departments and agencies to be assured that they are purchasing professional quality services?

We believe that it in the absence of a university degree requirement, we need a system of credentialing that addresses the diverse pathways from which practitioners enter the profession. That system however, must work in the interests of capable and professional translators and interpreters.

Currently the only such system available in Australia is operated by NAATI.


Issues with the NAATI Proposal

Translators and Interpreters Australia acknowledges that translators and interpreters are currently concerned about the proposed new NAATI certification scheme which will replace the current accreditation scheme.

Our role, as your union, is to give voice to your concerns.

Members, particularly those accredited prior to 2007, have expressed the following concerns:

  • They feel they have no choice but to go through the new process or they will lose work and therefore feel it is disingenuous to say it is not necessary to be certified;
  • they feel disrespected by having to jump through new hoops despite their experience;
  • the cost of transitioning and of ongoing re-certification is of concern given the poor fees being paid to professionals;
  • they feel that re-certification undermines their years of experience;
  • the requirement to provide evidence of skill in chuchotage – which for many interpreters is a skill that has been developed ‘on the job’ and not something third parties can attest to on an interpreter’s behalf;
  • that once you join the new system you are required to follow the same processes as those post 2007, that is go through a further process each three years;
  • that they will be forced to provide private financial records in order to certify/re-certify;
  • that the system being implemented is not even followed by governments given the number of non-professional, non-credentialed translators and interpreters being engaged by agencies;
  • low income makes participation in continuing professional development difficult to access and there are concerned about the quality of that CPD;
  • a NAATI credential system is a mechanism utilised to improve the chances of migration.

Response from NAATI

Previously Professionals Australia represented members by participating on the NAATI PRG. Since this group has ceased to operate and given members concerns over the move from accreditation to certification, a meeting with Mark Painting, CEO of NAATI was held recently.

During that meeting NAATI provided some facts and responses. We summarise those responses here, stressing that these responses are from NAATI not from Translators and Interpreters Australia:

  • It is not compulsory for anyone holding a current NAATI accreditation to transition to the new certification system and that all credentials previously issued by NAATI remain valid for the period they were issued (i.e. pre-2007: indefinitely);
  • NAATI acknowledged that they would now encourage government to use certified translators and interpreters to ensure that standards are enforced and maintained. However, they argued they are not actively seeking to achieve an outcome where accreditation loses value once certification is introduced. Rather, NAATI simply ‘thinks’ that this is likely to happen automatically over time as certification becomes the ‘norm’ [sic]. At the same time, they acknowledge that they ‘could be wrong’ about this;
  • NAATI argued that they have attempted to make the process for pre-2007 accredited translators and interpreters moving to certification as simple and easy as possible:
    • There is no fee to transition until June 2018.
    • To transition the only evidence you need to provide is that you have undertaken an average of 40 hours/assignments per year for the last three years. That can be provided by a statement from a language service provider, or your own records eg. logbook. There is no requirement to provide financial evidence- this is an option only.
  • Practitioners have been subject to fees for translator stamps ($112) and ID card which currently has an expiry date ($67.00) and an annual directory listing fee (approx.$60p.a/$180 over 3 years). Under the new scheme these costs are waived on transition and covered in the recertification fee every three years. NAATI maintains that the fees are therefore comparable to the current accreditation expenses ($242);
  • In relation to chuchotage – that is the only new requirement to transition and it is acknowledged that evidence from work practice might not be possible for some interpreters so NAATI has therefore arranged with AUSIT to provide a relevant PD session at no cost in order to meet this requirement;
  • For pre-2007 practitioners it means paying a fee and undergoing a process that you previously did not have to. Current post- 2007 practitioners are already subject to these requirements. NAATI argues, while not compulsory, the opt-in arrangement aims toward a level of consistency in the field especially given many pre-2007 practitioners may not be practising and have not provided details;
  • In terms of certifications for migration purposes, NAATI advises that the new system will separate the two streams. Further to this, holders of certifications issued for migration purposes are unlikely to re-certify and will therefore be ineligible to practice in the future.

We specifically raised some direct questions to NAATI. The following is their response, paraphrased:

I was accredited prior to 2007 and have been practising for decades and I am therefore an established professional. Why should I have to be subjected to recertification?

NAATI response: While many pre- 2007 accredited TI have been practising consistently, there are many who have practised intermittently and some not all. Anecdotal evidence suggest that many accredited TI moved into other occupations and overseas for long periods. While not doing away with previous accreditation, the new system recognises this challenge and provides a consistent benchmark for the consumer. It also recognises the fact many pre- 2007 practitioners have diverse qualifications.

Why should I have to undertake CPD when it is inadequate and expensive?

Practitioners should work with NAATI, Translators and Interpreters Australia and other stakeholders to come up with better and lower cost CPD. A refusal to undertake professional development is not consistent with practitioners wishing to be treated as professionals.

What evidence is there that the new system will be more reliable?

There is no current evidence. NAATI does not wish to alienate the more experienced, ie. pre- 2007 practitioners but need to encourage as many as possible to transition in order to achieve a consistent structure.


Legality of Proposal

Some members asked: As a government owned corporation under the Corporations Act 2001, is NAATI in breach of Australian competition law or Common Law (restraint of trade) by excluding accredited translators and interpreters who dont transition to certification by excluding them from the directory?

The legal advice is that the proposal is not illegal. Government has set up NAATI to create a system which allows government, when purchasing language services, to be able to purchase quality services in the interest of the community. Without such a mechanism, it faces the risk of legal injustice, lack of informed consent in health and diminished access and equity for sections of the community, to name a few.

It is common for government to set standards and prerequisites prior to purchasing any services. NAATI’s system provides government with some capacity to differentiate services purchased. The system in no way restricts the ability of translators and interpreters to provide private services. The fact that private companies utilise the NAATI system is a by-product.

Under the common law doctrine of ‘Restraint of Trade’ NAATI’s actions are deemed reasonable if:

  • They are reasonable in the interests of the parties;
  • They are reasonable in the interests of the public.

Therefore, the requirement for re-certification/training is arguably in the interests of the public and the requirement for further professional development can be supported.

NAATI states that its role is for the protection of the consumer. Government owns NAATI, and therefore government has decided it wants this quality assurance for its customers and its systems.  In short, if translators and interpreters want to work for government, government can implement a system to ensure the protection of government and consumers.

Translators and Interpreters Australia frustration is that the government is not consistently following its own standards.

Some members asked: Is it unlawful or challengeable under competition law (or any other aspect of the law) for NAATI to actively discriminate against pre-existing accredited practitioners and lock them out of the market by refusing to list them in its directory (or indeed provide any mechanism for clients to verify their credentials) and run a campaign encouraging government and private sector bodies not to use them? 

Discrimination can occur for a variety of reasons however, under the law the discrimination is prohibited in only certain circumstances including discrimination on the grounds of age, gender, race, sexual orientation, marital status, disability, religion and political opinion. Accreditation, qualifications and the like do not fall under this category.

As outlined above, the common law doctrine of ‘Restraint of Trade’ allows for actions to be taken if they are deemed to be in the reasonable interests of the public. Therefore, whilst the new directory may not include pre-existing accredited practitioners, the public interest argument under this doctrine provides an argument for this to occur.


Translators and Interpreters Australia Position

Translator and Interpreters Australia understands the frustration of members. It is our view that any system that attempts to drive professionalism without professional wages and conditions will ultimately fail.

Many members are frustrated that there are going to be even more expectations upon you when the pay is so low.


It is our experience in other professions that the creation of a profession, including the exclusion of those who are not professionals and a requirement for ongoing professional development, are an essential nexus to achieving professional pay and conditions. This can be seen in multiple professions which all have some form of registration requirements and ongoing professional development including: engineers, pharmacists and architects, all of which are represented by Professionals Australia.


It is clear that many practitioners are frustrated with NAATI and would prefer an alternative system. Our point is that you need a system. To argue against a system would ultimately be self-defeating in our broader goal of achieving professionalism, including professional pay.


It is also clear that many practitioners are confused by the situation and frustrated by the communication.


Next steps

Your union will represent members and take up issues with NAATI. We ask all members to consider the information provided in this paper and then articulate practical changes that you would wish us to advocate on your behalf.

I invite you to please contact us with those proposals by emailing:

Although we are always open to listening to your frustrations, we now need to move into a problem-solving mode where we put forward practical changes to NAATI to address any remaining concerns.

It is clear Translators and Interpreters Australia needs to play a more active role in this area given the frustration and confusion. If necessary we will advocate strongly on behalf of members.

To this end we have reached agreement with NAATI that we will hold formal quarterly meetings to raise your issues and to help shape a better system that achieves respect, recognition and reward for practitioners providing essential language services.


Chris Walton