Conversation: The Hon. Lisa Singh, CEO, Australia India Institute

Lisa Singh is a former Australian Senator and was the first woman of South Asian heritage to be elected to the Australian Parliament. She is currently the CEO of the Australia India Institute, a leading research and policy think tank advancing Australia-India relations at the government, business, diaspora and academic levels. She is also Deputy Chair of the Australian Government’s Australia-India Council and sits on the advisory board of the University of Melbourne’s Asialink.


You lead a think tank focussed on one of our most important trading and cultural partners, India. Nevertheless, our relationship with the world’s largest democracy rarely gets attention. Why do you think this is so?

You are right, but I do think this is changing. Our trading relationship is still dwarfed by that of China so I suppose this has been understandable. And it is not helped by the lack of Australian media in India. But both governments are working to change this and because of the interim trade agreement and other policy initiatives, I think we will continue to see more attention paid to the relationship. The opportunities are massive and any board room that is not talking about India is missing out.


Where do you see the greatest opportunities for developing closers links between India and Australia?

I think the Quad [Quadrilateral Security Dialogue between Australia, India, Japan and the US] is a real opportunity to strengthen the relationship, building on our common interests. Australia and India can play a pivotal role not only in relation to security issues but also humanitarian matters (such as vaccines). The opportunities also go beyond trade and investment to some other big endeavours such as supporting India in seeking a seat on the UN Security Council.

Of course, education is a huge opportunity, particularly post pandemic. Half the Indian population is under 25 and in the rapidly growing Indian tech sector there are huge shortages of talent. We are very well placed to help them develop talent.


The Australia India Institute is nested within the University of Melbourne, Australia’s leading University. What are your observations of the sector?

I must say it is so nice to see students and staff back on campus; it highlights what a diverse environment we have here. The interface with the students and faculty is great and while we don’t deliver courses, the role they play in what we do and the expertise that the academics bring is fantastic.


The pandemic had a big impact on education and research. You recently visited India. Did you get a sense that Australia is seen any differently now by potential Indian international students or their families? Any long term impacts?

There was certainly a short-term negative impact of the border closures and perceived treatment of Indian students. While we need to learn lessons from this, I don’t think there will be a long-term impact. Australia has quite a high and positive profile in India at present and this has been raised further by the recent leaders’ summit.

On my recent trip to India there was strong interest in Australia from Indian universities; but these relationships take time to develop. I think it is also important to lift the Australian consciousness and understanding of India. This is something that is a focus for us at the Australia India Institute.


You have had a fascinating and diverse career to date; what drives Lisa Singh? Do you have a particular leadership philosophy?

I am an ideas person and driven to make things better; that was why I originally went into politics. I hope people see me as authentic in my leadership style. I think I am grounded, determined and optimistic, meaning I don’t take no for an answer, I always try and find a solution and I have a sense of confidence. But I am also mindful of the impact I have as a leader and try to ensure I bring compassion into my decision making.

Ultimately however, it all starts with ideas. But I know I don’t have them all and that is why as a leader you need a great team around you!


Rohan A. Carr

May 2022

icon-twitter icon-linkedin icon-facebook