Friday, 01 September 2023

Farewell to Chancellor of Flinders University Mr Stephen Gerlach

Rod and I are honoured to be with you tonight to thank and pay tribute to Stephen Gerlach and to celebrate his dedicated service to Flinders University as Chancellor for almost 14 years.

The presence of all of you, including a former Governor, two Members of Parliament and a message from the Premier is testament to the esteem in which Stephen is held, both for his contribution to Flinders University as its sixth Chancellor, and to the business community.

Stephen has always been an impressive advocate for Flinders: one with a firm vision for its contribution to our State.

It is well known that when he joined Flinders University in 2010, the university was at a crossroads – should Flinders play it safe or think big? He thought big!

Drawing on his exceptional business acumen, Stephen became a champion for bold and courageous thinking.

A lawyer, businessman and board director of some of South Australia’s iconic companies – among them Santos, Elders, Southcorp, Finlaysons, and Beston Foods - he has brought strategic vision, and a faultless work ethic to his leadership of the Flinders University governing council.

His commitment to the community is further exemplified by his service to the General Sir John Monash Scholarship Foundation, Australian Red Cross, Foodbank, among others.

Australia’s higher education sector remains one of the strongest in the world, and Stephen has played a key role in making and keeping it so.

Chancellors need to work closely with the other university leaders, particularly the Vice-Chancellor, have good relationships with political and business leaders, forge strategic partnerships, ensure rigorous governance, and have an enlightened vision for the future. At their best, and perhaps most influentially, Chancellors inspire students.

Stephen has achieved all that with distinction.

His commitment and zeal for advancing our young people is often remarked upon by his peers.

He is known as an internationalist, with a wide view of our place in the region. I’m told – if somewhat tongue in cheek - that may be due to his father having been a submarine captain for the Dutch Navy in Indonesia.

Stephen is also renowned for his decisive chairmanship of committees – even if their meetings occasionally go overtime.

But I am assured that isn’t from lack of timekeeping, but because of his generosity in enabling the opinions of diverse participants to “get a fair innings”.

He has strongly supported the University’s reach beyond Adelaide into regional areas, through central Australia to the Top End where Flinders is a leader in the delivery of remote health education.

While most in this room would be well aware of Flinders University’s progress under Stephen’s leadership, I’d like to make special mention of the following achievements: the Tonsley campus and Flinders’ Factory of the Future; the Health and Medical Research Building opening next year; the new eight-floor city campus at Festival Plaza – just across the road from Government House; the student hub and plaza at the Bedford Park campus.

I commend Flinders for being an active champion of diversity and access, with a high proportion of students being the first in the family to attend university and the highest proportion of female students in the State at 64%.

I also congratulate Flinders on its investment in community, regional and indigenous healthcare and wellness, particularly through the Northern Territory Medical Program and the Aboriginal-led Poche (poh shh) SA and NT research centre.

South Australia has a long and proud history of world-leading research that benefits our State.

As we set our horizons on a future where defence industries, space technology, medicine and information technologies and technologies driving the green energy transition will be pathways to success, our universities will have a vital role to play.

Already, Flinders’ strategic partnerships with the University of Manchester and the University of Rhode Island place it in the vanguard of research and education in support of the AUKUS project.

Friends, the quest to fill Stephen’s big shoes has been completed with the appointment of business leader and Flinders alumnus Mr John Hood.

I am sure that Stephen’s legacy, and that of the five Chancellors before him, will continue to propel Flinders towards its goal to become a top 10 Australian University and in the top one percent of the world’s universities.

On behalf of the people of South Australia, I thank you, Stephen, for your exceptional service as Flinders University’s Chancellor. Rod and I wish you and Ruth and your family all the best for post-university life.

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