MELBOURNE : Lisa Singh who was the first person of Indian origin elected to the Australian Parliament as a Labor Party Senator from the state of Tasmania in the federal election in August 2010; is now excited about her role working at the meeting point of policy, academia, and business. She is the CEO of leading policy and research think tank, the Australia India Institute, at the University of Melbourne, dedicated to advancing Australia-India relations at the government, business, diaspora and academic levels.
She now sees many academicians of Indian origin in prominent positions in Australia. “There are several academicians of Indian origin in the fields of engineering, science and even international relations who have gained visibility in niche areas. In fact, the University of Western Australia has a vice-chancellor of Indian origin, Dr Amit Chakma,” Singh, who is also deputy chair of the Australian government’s Australia-India Council; told the Times of India in a recent exclusive interview. “I work with many of them on a weekly basis to engage them in different activities including research and writing reports,” she said.
Singh feels that the development of the Indian diaspora and the integration of many of its members in leadership positions is testimony to the rich tapestry of diversity in Australian society. “There’s still work to be done when we compare ourselves with the Indian diaspora in America and it will take some time. But Indians immigrated to the US earlier and we will see a generational change in Australia too,” says Singh, who was shocked when she found out that she was the very first person of Indian origin to be elected to Australian Parliament.
She doesn’t see herself back in politics soon though and is enjoying the role of straddling different worlds of policy making; education and the bilateral relationship between Australia and India. “The importance of the Australia-India relationship is growing and I have a very exciting role engaging with governments of both the countries and also state governments,” says Singh. She is proud of having hosted Indian foreign minister S. Jaishankar at the University of Melbourne last year and of attending the event where the education minister of India Dharmendra Pradhan hosted his Australian counterpart Minister Jason Clare. “I have an exciting role engaging with governments and with industry and higher education institutions; all three will drive the relationship between India and Australia,” she said.
During her frequent trips to India in the last couple of years; Singh, who was awarded the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman by the President of India in 2014, has been putting in an effort to engage with her Indian heritage. “Recently, I visited Lucknow and met a professor who is studying the Indian diaspora and wanted to interview my father and me together to find out about our roots. Our family is originally from Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh,” she said. She always finds time to visit at least one new place to broaden her horizon, even if she is visiting India on official work. “During an earlier trip, I visited Shillong and this time, in Lucknow, I visited the Tagore Library designed by architect Walter Burley Griffin; who also designed Canberra, the capital city of Australia. He died in Lucknow and I paid respects at his graveside,” she said. Recently, she went to Goa with her father, who was also visiting from Australia, to celebrate her birthday. “I carry with me a personal connection during my trips to India and it’s a win-win,” she said.
Singh feels that despite the number of Indian students, choosing Australia for higher education, not yet having reached pre-pandemic levels; there’s a huge surge in numbers and Indian students are already among the largest cohort of international students. “The large number of Indian students choosing Australia is acknowledgement of the fact that we have the best quality institutions and now the two countries, which are like-minded partners, recognise each other’s educational degrees,” she said.
And, of course, she acknowledges cricket as one of the biggest bonds between India and Australia. “Earlier this year, I was lucky to watch the India-Australia test match live in Delhi. And last October, I had the incredible experience of watching the India-Pakistan T20 match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground along with over 100,000 members of the South Asian diaspora,” says Singh who has watched cricket matches with her father when she was a young girl and now shares the love for the game with her son as well.