It is fitting to question why this University is named after Alfred Deakin and luckily for readers, it is a question Sir Anthony Mason answers with great satisfaction in the his article Deakin’s Vision, Australia’s Progress. Sir Anthony’s response can be surmised by the following.
Unique as a Leader
Deakin’s contribution to the Federation movement is unique, as he played a leadership role from the Imperial Colonial Convention in 1887 all the way through to his term in 1903 when he became Australia’s second prime minister. Deakin’s leadership saw him play a pivotal role in the three major components of the Federation movement: the Constitutional Conventions in the 1890’s that drafted the constitution, the referenda throughout the colonies on whether to adopt the draft of the constitution and the negotiations with the Imperial Government that the draft adopted by the conventions and the referendum should be enacted without any further amendment. It is an under-appreciated fact that the draft presented to the Imperial Government was only subjected to a minor amendment before being accepted.
Deakin’s Vision of Nationhood and the Future of the Commonwealth
Unlike many of the other leaders in the federation movement, Deakin was Australian born, and this undoubtedly contributed to his idea of Australia as a nation. Deakin’s vision was one of a people united under a single crown where previous colonial rivalries and misgivings were forgotten.
This vision cannot be understated, as many members of the convention were sceptical of a federated Australia, supporting the movement for necessity rather than a belief in a truly Australian identity.
Deakin believed the law could play a vital role in creating this Australian identity and his support for an Australian court of final appeal expressed this belief. It may seem unlikely now, but controversy surrounded the High Court in the early days of the Commonwealth. Deakin feared that if final inquiries with respect to the Constitution remained with the state supreme courts and the Privy Council, Australia would retain its fractured identity. As Deakin noted:
This Constitution is not the creation of our State Parliaments only, neither is it the creation of the Imperial Parliament only. It draws its authority directly from the electors of the Commonwealth, and it is as their chosen and declared agent that the High Court finds its place in the Constitution which they accepted.
History looks favourably on Deakin’s vision of Australia. The people of the Commonwealth no longer identify themselves as ‘British’ or ‘Victorian’ but through the guise of a truly national identity.
Chris Webb is the 2015 Vice President of Education, Social Justice, Health & Wellbeing, a fifth year International Studies / Law Student and a self-acknowledged law geek who gets his thrills from High Court transcripts and anything Stephen Colbert.
For more on Deakin, see:
- Sir Anthony Mason, ‘Deakin’s Vision, Australia’s Progress’ (2002) 7(1) Deakin Law Review 61
- Alfred Deakin, JA La Nauze (ed), The Federal Story: The Inner History of the Federal Cause 1880-1900 (Sydney University Library, 2000) Can be found here
- JA La Nauze, Alfred Deakin: A biography (Melbourne University Press, 1965)
 Sir Anthony Mason, ‘Deakin’s Vision, Australia’s Progress’ (2002) 7(1) Deakin Law Review 61.
 Commonwealth, Parliamentary Debates, House of Representatives, 18 March 1902, 10967, (Alfred Deakin)