Australian statesman and three times prime minister (1903–04; 1905–08; 1909–10), who played a major role in the early development of the Commonwealth.
Born and educated in Melbourne, the son of an accountant, Deakin began his career as a barrister in 1878. After entering the Victoria legislative assembly (1879) he gained a reputation as a powerful advocate and travelled widely: he made a strong impression at the London Colonial Conference (1887) with his defence of Australian interests. Elected as the member for Essendon in 1889, Deakin was one of the six Australians who went to London to steer the Federation Bill through the British parliament. Appointed attorney-general by prime minister Barton, he introduced the legislation that produced the high court in Australia.
Following Barton's retirement in 1903 he became prime minister but was defeated a year later. Re-elected in 1905 and supported by the Labor Party, he introduced some far-reaching legislation, including a protectionist tariff, old age pensions, and commercial laws affecting copyright, trade marks, and trusts. Losing the support of the Labor Party in 1908, he formed what came to be known as the ‘Fusion’ of 1909 with Joseph Cook and his former opponents in the Liberal Party and was prime minister for a third time. He was defeated in the election the following year. A widely read man known as ‘the silver-tongued orator of Australia’, Deakin retired in 1919, shortly before his death.