Can politics build, rather than divide?

By The Mandarin

Tuesday October 2, 2018

Leadership at all levels is a practice encouraged in most public sector organisations, but does it apply in politics? Nominations have opened for a non-partisan prize in political leadership.

The judges behind last year’s non-partisan McKinnon Prize in Political Leadership put stock in leadership, courage and collaboration coming from all quarters — even in politics — choosing a federal backbench senator and a Torres Strait councillor for their exemplary leadership on a significant public policy issue.

Nominations opened today for the 2018 prize, which includes two categories: Political Leader of the Year, for politicians with at least five years in office; and the Emerging Political Leader of the Year, for those with less than five years in office. The latter will receive $20,000 to be used for professional development and growth courtesy of the Susan McKinnon Foundation.

This year’s judges include former Defence mandarin Dennis Richardson, former prime ministers John Howard and Julie Gillard, journalists Chris Kenny and Laura Tingle, plus academic, medical, sport and not-for-profit leaders.

Professor Mark Considine, a public policy specialist, University of Melbourne Provost and chair of the 2018 selection panel, said a national conversation about Australian leadership was vital in the current political climate.

“There is a rising level of public anxiety about politicians and political life,” Considine said. “Facilitating a national conversation about the qualities Australians expect from their leaders, and celebrating politicians who exemplify those qualities, strengthens our democracy and helps promote the positive work of true political leadership.”

Vonda Malone speaking after receiving McKinnon prize

‘A moment where that cynicism dissipated’

The 2017 winners were Senator Dean Smith, recognised for his bipartisan leadership on same-sex marriage, and Councillor Vonda Malone (pictured above) for her collaborative and compassionate leadership as Mayor of Torres Shire Council.

“We’re a long way from Canberra, so one of our biggest challenges is getting our voices heard,” Malone said.

“When I was told I was the winner of this prestigious prize I was overwhelmed.  For a girl in the Torres Strait to be recognised nationally is incredible.

“Our community is faced with challenges around climate change, housing and health and education, so to get that attention has been incredible for the Torres Strait and for our women of the Torres Strait as well.

“Other leaders in big cities can go home and close the door and be removed from the community. Here you’re surrounded … you have to work with the community and bring them with you, there’s no place for divisions.”

Smith said winning the prize had given him a powerful understanding he had achieved something good.

“It’s very obvious to me that there’s a high degree of political cynicism in Australia about the political class,” Smith said. “The success of the marriage equality debate last year was a moment where I think that cynicism dissipated, where people felt truly proud of their parliamentary process, proud of their parliamentary representative.

“What the McKinnon Prize will allow Australians to do is to have a conversation about how better their public discourse can be. To have a discussion about what are the qualities of real political leadership.”

Nominations are open until November 29, 2018. The winners will speak at the oration in March next year.

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