The Alfred Deakin legacy

Two events, one in Melbourne, one in India, show that more than 70 years after his death, the influence of the Father of Federation can still be heard and felt within the young nation he helped create, and the greater world in which it exists.

Alfred Deakin, Australia?s second Prime Minister
Alfred Deakin, Australia?s second Prime Minister

Alfred Deakin, Australia’s second Prime Minister, played a pivotal role in the creation of the modern Australian nation we now enjoy.

Known as the Father of Federation, he saw the need for and helped create many of the institutions we today take for granted, including the navy and the High Court.

Another example of his great vision was on show in New Delhi in late November, when the new BioNanotechnology Research Centre was opened.

This is a partnership between Deakin University’s Institute for Technology Research and Innovation (ITRI) and TERI, India’s prestigious The Energy Research Institute.

Among much else, the new Centre helps fulfil the prophecies Deakin made in 1893 that Australians and Indians would naturally be drawn together in intellectual pursuits.

Deakin wrote in his book Irrigated India that India’s students “might come to the universities of our milder climate, instead of facing winters of Oxford, Paris, or Heidelberg.

“Our thinkers may yet become authorities upon questions which need personal acquaintance with India and its peoples … we may hold it to be inevitable, as well as natural, that one of the first outward going movements of our expansive Australian life will bring us into communion with India.”

As well as helping fulfil Deakin’s prophecy, teaming up with TERI is a major coup for Deakin University.

The organisation’s Director-General is Dr Rajendra K. Pachauri, the Nobel Prize winner.

“For Deakin to be partnered with such an organisation led by a man of Dr Pachauri’s standing is a significant compliment which we hope to repay with outcomes of excellence and usefulness to our respective communities,” said Deakin University’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Jane den Hollander, who was in New Delhi for the launch.

The BioNanotechnology Research Centre will result in a world class research centre linked to not only the high tech products and applications of the future but also to outcomes that would make a difference to India’s poor and Australia’s remote communities.

TERI for instance is a world leader in repairing barren, even toxic, land and returning it to food production.

ITRI is a world leader in new materials like carbon fibres.

Working together the two institutes offer hope to many of a better world.

“For me this is the realisation of a personal goal to build a major research partnership in India that grows on Deakin’s strong commitment to a long term, broad based engagement with India,” said Professor Peter Hodgson, the director of ITRI which has its headquarter on the Waurn Ponds campus.

“It will deal with issues of food security in increasingly changing climates, remediation of polluted environments through natural products, improving health through novel molecules and improving the quality of life for poor communities.

“In short the new centre will make tangible differences to lives in both countries.”

Dr Alok Adholeva, Director, Biotechnology and Bioresource, TERI, said:  “The relationship of TERI and Deakin University at this juncture is very timely, since the Nano-biotech sphere has to play a pivotal role in application research and ultimately to deliver products and processes that are environmentally benign and efficient for mankind, specifically, in the health and food sector. “

A long way from India, in a cold and wet Melbourne rather than a humid and hot New Delhi, another part of the Alfred Deakin legacy was on show in early December – the first Fusion Lecture.

This was staged last week by the Geelong-based Alfred Deakin Research Institute (ADRI) and the inaugural speaker was Professor Paul Collier from Oxford University.

Professor Collier, CBE, is a Professor of Economics and Director of the Centre for the Study of African Economies at the University of Oxford. He is author of three books: the multi-award winning The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It (2007), Wars, Guns and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places (2009), and his most recent book, The Plundered Planet: How to reconcile prosperity with nature (2010). 

His message was generally one of hope, so long as those who seek to benefit from the world’s natural resources pay appropriate taxes on their profits, and those taxes are properly used for the benefit of everyone, not just the few.

With a wry smile, he declined to buy into whether the super profits mining tax proposed recently in Australia was a good idea.

“Getting Paul for our first lecture was a major coup for us,” said ADRI’s director, Professor David Lowe.

Future Fusion lectures, there are three planned for next year, will also feature prominent thinkers on current public policy issues in a way that Alfred Deakin would applaud.

“The Fusion lectures draw inspiration from Alfred Deakin in bringing different disciplines to bear in interpreting and responding to global and regional change,” said Professor Lowe.

“The other reason we chose that name because Deakin led a ‘fusion’ government, comprised of groups that would soon afterwards become the first Australian Liberal Party, in 1909-10.”

More than 70 years after his death, the influence of Alfred Deakin can still be heard and felt within the young nation he helped create, and the greater world in which it exists.

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