WA Liberal Senator Dean Smith and Torres Shire Council Mayor Vonda Malone have been named as the inaugural winners of the McKinnon Prize for Political Leadership, a non-partisan award recognising courageous, visionary and collaborative political leaders.
The prize is a collaboration between the Susan McKinnon Foundation and the University of Melbourne that aims to improve the standard of local, state and federal political leadership in Australia.
The awards have two categories, with the McKinnon Political Leader of the Year going to experienced politicians who have served for more than five years, and the McKinnon Emerging Political Leader of the Year for newly elected leaders with less than five years’ experience.
Smith was named the McKinnon Political Leader of the Year 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.
Malone won the McKinnon Emerging Political Leader of the Year for her efforts to shed light on pressing issues such as unemployment, housing shortages, waste management, community engagement, health and wellbeing.
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, with Malone to also receive a $20,000 financial prize for professional development.
The selection panel was chaired by University of Melbourne Vice-Chancellor Glyn Davis and included former Prime Ministers Julia Gillard and John Howard, along with a number of distinguished business, political, education and sporting leaders.
In a statement, Smith said “it’s a great honour and privilege to be the inaugural award winner”.
“It’s my hope the award will encourage others to have the confidence of their convictions and to recognise the opportunities that can be realised by looking beyond traditional partisan lines,” he said.
“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.”
Malone said she is “truly honoured to receive such a distinguished award”.
“Attaining the McKinnon Emerging Political Leader of the Year, and gaining national recognition of my advocacy efforts for improved services in the Torres Strait, is a huge step forward in my leadership journey,” she said.
“This recognition has reaffirmed that my representations for the Torres Strait are having an impact towards achieving much needed outcomes. I am grateful and thank the panel, the anonymous person who put forward my nomination and not least my family, friends and colleagues and community for their continued support and confidence in me.”
Professor Davis said the prize celebrated political leaders at all levels of government and will spark a national conversation about the role of politicians and public aspirations for leadership in Australia.
“These were difficult choices, given a strong field of nominations from across Australia, but Dean Smith and Vonda Malone are outstanding contemporary leaders who make a difference through their political roles,” Davis said.
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.”
The organisers hope that over the coming years the award will become one of the country’s most important prizes for a strong and effective leadership in Australia and will encourage people who aspire to political office to consider carefully the type of leader they wish to be.
The McKinnon Prize in Political Leadership is a collaboration between the Susan McKinnon Foundation and the University of Melbourne.
The Susan McKinnon Foundation as established in 2015 by Sophie Oh and Grant Rule to fulfil their desire to make a positive difference to society. The Foundation believes better leadership is the key to a brighter future for Australia. By fostering better leadership, we can create more effective government and obtain the greatest leverage for positive change to our society and economy.
The Melbourne School of Government is an interdisciplinary school harnessing the resources of the University of Melbourne to create and deliver new Masters programs, research, executive education and international partnerships.
Registrations are now open to attend the public oration.