Non-partisan awards: visionaries recognised


Senator Dean Smith and Torres Strait Mayor Vonda Malone are the inaugural winners of a non-partisan award recognising courageous, visionary and collaborative political leadership.

The two prizes, the McKinnon Political Leader of the Year for politicians with at least five years in office and the McKinnon Emerging Political Leader of the Year for politicians with less than five years in office, which went to Smith and Malone respectively, is a collaboration between the Susan McKinnon Foundation and the University of Melbourne.

The selection panel included former prime ministers John Howard and Julia Gillard, along with former titans of the public service Professor Glyn Davis and Dennis Richardson, and leaders from journalism, business, community services and the sporting world.


Smith was commended for his bipartisan leadership on same-sex marriage and his demonstration of courageous backbench leadership in the face of internal opposition and diversity of public opinion within Australian society. He said it was his hope this would encourage others to have confidence of their convictions and to recognise the opportunities that can be realised by looking beyond traditional partisan lines.

“If we are to rebuild the confidence of Australians in their democratic institutions, parliamentarians must be prepared to work issues through on their merits and never lose sight of the fundamental values of decency and fairness that have always been our foundation,” Smith said.

Malone, who is mayor of Torres Shire Council, was recognised for her efforts to bring together her community, shedding light on pressing issues such as unemployment, housing shortages, waste management, community engagement, health and wellbeing. She convened numerous dialogues and networking events across all levels of government. She said gaining national recognition of her advocacy efforts for improved services in the Torres Strait, was a huge step forward in her leadership journey.


Gillard said the McKinnon Prize recognised quality political leadership and would generate community understanding of the dilemmas of politics.”Dean won because of the bravery he showed in campaigning on an issue that was divisive within his own political party. He also showed personal fortitude in the way he advocated for a yes vote around Australia,” Gillard said.

“Vonda has been recognised because she decided to use her talents for local leadership.  She had many other options but decided to be a community grassroots leader.”

Howard said he was optimistic about the future of political leadership in Australia.

“A good leader is a combination of somebody who believes in the right things and has got the capacity to carry the public with him or her. I think the Susan McKinnon Foundation should be congratulated in establishing such a prize,” Howard said.

“The winners were elected by a majority decision and the panel made a judgement in relation to the particular endeavours that most closely mirrored the principles of the prize.”


In addition to the honour of being selected as an exemplar of outstanding political leadership by a distinguished group of Australians, both winners will deliver a keynote speech at the McKinnon Prize in Political Leadership Oration on March 15, where they will be awarded a trophy of recognition. The McKinnon Emerging Political Leader will also receive a $20,000 financial prize for professional development.

Click here to register to attend the public oration.

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