The leadership skills of Australia’s first Prime Minister will be scrutinised and analysed in new research which could inform modern-day transitions to democracy around the world.

Director of Griffith’s Centre for Governance and Public Policy, Professor Haig Patapan, has been awarded the 2013-14 Australian Prime Ministers Centre Fellowship, Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House.

The project explores the important role of leaders in states in transition to democracy by examining the leadership of Edmund Barton, Australia’s first prime minister.

It will examine the challenges faced by Barton, how he confronted and dealt with them, and how he was perceived by the general public.

“Australian history has the potential to be helpful and useful to countries where the transition to democracy is in process or imminent,” Professor Patapan said.

“There are countries in all parts of the world at a point in their history where such leadership and negotiation skills and strategies are paramount.”

Professor Patapan says it is crucial that momentum is maintained during transition to democracy. He highlights the influential role of Nelson Mandela in ensuring early gains in South Africa’s transition process did not dissipate.

“I think Edward Barton’s leadership skills around the founding of the Australian federation have something tangible to contribute to a 21st century discussion.

“He negotiated Australia’s federation in establishing our Commonwealth agencies. This involved decisions on Australia’s immigration policy and negotiations between nascent states, issues that remain relevant and important.”

Professor Patapan will examine Barton’s personal documents, public statements, contemporary newspaper accounts and the secondary scholarship of his prime ministership.

The research seeks to understand the opportunities and challenges he faced as a democratic leader and the lessons this may provide for comparable leaders in contemporary situations.

The Australian Prime Ministers Centre has supported the research of more than 40 APMC Fellows since 2007, including some of Australia’s leading academics, writers and artists.

Fellows are in residence at the Museum of Australian Democracy for at least ten days and use this time to engage with the collections and staff at the museum and other cultural institutions including the National Library of Australia and the National Archives of Australia.

The research program provides a national focus for prime ministerial research and scholarship, raises public awareness of the lives and achievements of former prime ministers and supports access to prime ministerial material held at a range of collecting institutions.