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A legal research centre dedicated to the problem of statelessness has been established by Melbourne Law School, thanks to the generous donation of a former student.

A new research centre led by refugee and human rights law expert Professor Michelle Foster will open at the University of Melbourne next year.

Named in honour of the philanthropist whose donation has made the centre possible, the Peter McMullin Centre on Statelessness will work with governments, the not-for-profit sector and the United Nations to develop solutions to the growing problem worldwide.

The group has been established to look at the phenomenon of statelessness, how to eliminate it and protect the rights of the many people who are affected.

“In our opinion, policy solutions need to be found to address the mounting issue of statelessness around the world, and we look forward to them being developed through the work of the centre,” Mr McMullin said.

Mr McMullin, together with his wife Ruth, recently made one of the most significant gifts to his old university. The undisclosed sum gifted by the Melbourne law alumnus was announced at a gala dinner commemorating law school’s 160th birthday this week. 

According to the law school, the monetary gift is enough to see the centre established and operate for the next 10 years. 

“We all need to contribute where we can to strengthen valuable institutions like the University of Melbourne in the current global environment,” Mr McMullin said.

University of Melbourne Chancellor Allan Myers described the couple’s contribution as one of the most significant and visionary philanthropic initiatives in the history of the law school.

“A child is born into statelessness every 10 minutes and stateless people are vulnerable to a wide range of legal disabilities in many countries which may limit their right to education, employment, travel and even marriage.”

“The Melbourne Law School is proud to establish a centre that will play a critical role in worldwide efforts to eliminate statelessness and to protect the rights of stateless people,” Mr Myers said.

The new centre will focus its attention on the Asia-Pacific region and engage in research, teaching and training, supporting public policy and law reform. Public awareness campaigns will also be a part of the new centre’s work.

Professor Foster explained that a stateless person is an individual with no official nationality; that is that no state recognises that the person is a citizen.

"While some stateless persons are also refugees, most stateless people remain in the country in which they were born but are not recognised as citizens.  The causes of statelessness are multifaceted: for example, statelessness may be due to gender or race discrimination, to a gap in nationality laws or to state succession," Professor Foster said. 

"There is no other academic research programme globally focused on statelessness however we hope to work collaboratively with centres that work in related fields, such as the Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law," she said.

Mrs McMullin is a committed philanthropist and social worker. Her husband was the principal of his own firm for 24 years and worked as a senior consultant for HWL Ebsworth before entering politics.

From 1985 to 1996, Mr McMullin served as a Commonwealth and state tribunal member. He is also the former deputy Melbourne Lord Mayor.

“Ruth and I congratulate the Melbourne Law School on its global leadership in establishing the centre and it is our pleasure to support it,” Mr McMullin said.

Mr McMullin graduated from the University of Melbourne in 1974 with degrees in law and commerce. He currently works as a special counsel for commercial law firm Cornwall Stodard, and was the Mayor of the City of Greater Geelong from 2004 to 2008.

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