HE Alex Chernov AC QC, Governor of Victoria in Australia speaks about the potential areas of cooperation between Victoria and Oman in an exclusive interview with Visvas Paul D Karra.
Academician, legislator and head of a state, HE Alex Chernov, governor of Victoria, Australia, has witnessed an entire gamut in the lifecycle of a country. Therefore his experience speaks, when he says, “I am here to establish closer ties and emphasise the relationship Victoria has with Oman and the only way to emphasise this is by a personal visit and by meeting people.”
Says HE Chernov, “Cooperation between any two countries or states is very critical nowadays. Because almost all countries face the same set of problems ultimately. In Victoria, our state, we have had our own spells of droughts and floods and bush fires which are no less challenging than the situations that one may come across in countries like Oman where you have issues of soil conservation, salinity, ground water availability etc.”
Stressing on the importance of having bilateral cooperation and joint ventures for economic development, HE Chernov quotes Indian education minister, Kabil Sibal, who said: “Today, the problems are too big for any country to solve it by themselves. Therefore you need to have joint ventures and partnerships.”
HE Chernov had a meeting with HE Dr Rawiyah Bint Saud Al Busaidiyah, Oman’s Minister of Higher Education where the two discussed cooperation between Australia and the Sultanate in higher education. They also discussed about the Sultanate’s establishment of the Sultan Qaboos Chair for Arab and Islamic Studies at the University of Melbourne in Australia, which has got the 32nd place in the list of leading universities, and the setting up an Omani corner at the university hosting some Omani heritage and culture products.
“The Omani corner at the university has been a great success so far because it gives you a glimpse of the Sultanate of Oman. I realise that your country is so beautiful,” says HE Chernov.
Expertise for projects
During the meeting with HE Rawiyah, a number of joint venture proposals were discussed by HE Chernov. These include conducting joint scientific research between the research institutions and universities in the two countries in quantitative survey of palm trees diseases and providing more chairs for the Omani students at other Australian universities.
Other areas of mutual cooperation such as providing expertise for vital projects like the Oman University and Science and Technology City were also talked about.
HE Chernov also met HE Dr Yahya Bin Mahfoudh Al Mantheri, chairman of the State Council, where they spoke about bilateral relations particularly related to the parliamentary aspects and ways to enhance them.
HE Mantheri highlighted the progress of the Shura while talking about the importance of the legislative and oversight powers of the Council of Oman and the impact of these powers on activating a parliamentary process.
HE Chernov was born in Lithuania and, with his Russian parents, immigrated to Australia as a young boy. He was educated at Melbourne High School and then at the University of Melbourne where he gained the degrees of B.Com. and LLB (Hons). In 1968, Alex Chernov signed the Roll of Counsel at the Victorian Bar and in 1980, was appointed Queens Counsel in Victoria. He played a significant role in providing leadership to the legal profession and legal education in Australia.
In 1997, HE Chernov was appointed as a Judge of the Trial Division of the Supreme Court of Victoria and, in 1998, he was appointed to its Court of Appeal. After various roles in the legal field and as academician, he was elected as Melbourne University’s chancellor in 2009. Earlier in 2008, he was appointed as an Officer of the Order of Australia and was awarded a Companion of the Order of Australia at the 2012 Australia Day Honours. He was sworn in as the 28th governor of Victoria in April 2011.
Talking about his earliest association with Oman, HE Chernov says it goes back 2003, when His Majesty the Sultan endowed a chair in Arabic and Islamic studies in Melbourne University. They managed to get Prof Abdul Said into the chair who has done a remarkably wonderful job.
And even as the number of Muslims continued to grow in Australia in the last 10 years, the Sultan Qaboos chair became a focal point in the Asia Centre of the university. Two years ago, the Oman corner was opened and the Counsel General of Oman, Mahmoud Al Hajiry opened a mini museum there. Anybody passing there gets a glimpse of Oman, says HE Chernov.
Education, education, education
Melbourne city has an international appeal with just under half of the population of the city having been born overseas or having parents who were born overseas. Melbourne and the other universities in Victoria have about a quarter of their students who are international from the region.
HE Chernov says that higher education is accorded top priority in Melbourne and therefore it is home to some of the top universities in Australia. Emphasising this, he says that in any developing country, the most important thing is education, the second most important thing is education and the third most important thing is education. And he is happy that Oman has also given the same importance to education.
To honour HE Chernov’s visit to the Middle East, an exclusive Victorian alumni networking event was hosted at the Grand Hyatt by John Butler, the commissioner for Victoria to the Middle East and North Africa. Alumni from all universities in Victoria were invited to this event and HE Chernov was pleased with the way the people recollected their memories of Australia. He says it was interesting to find that the Omani alumni were fond of reminiscing about their memories of Melbourne and they even made an audiovisual presentation of their days in Melbourne.
According to HE Chernov, there are many facets of education. And one of these is vocational education. He says that Victoria and Oman could work together because the type of colleges they have in Melbourne and Victoria are pretty much renowned and top of the range in teaching skills to even plumbers and electricians who are involved in infrastructure development. Moreover, these vocational students if given an opportunity could go on and study for their degree certificate. It’s a two step process. So they learn both theory and practice.
Apart from education, HE Chernov feels that Oman and Victoria could have collaboration in a number of areas. Some of these include infrastructure development, heritage and culture, life-sciences and biotechnology, manufacturing (especially automobiles) and tourism.
“Victoria, although a small state, contributes 25 per cent of the Gross National Product and our agricultural exports is huge almost 30 per cent out of which 90 per cent are dairy products,” he points out.
Another great strength of Victoria is life sciences and biotechnology. Many universities are involved in research but most of them need capital infusion to continue their research. It would be great if Oman could become a joint venture partner, HE Chernov avers.