Liberal senator and same-sex marriage champion Dean Smith has been named the inaugural winner of a new prize for political leadership, recognition of his courage and determination in helping Australia reach the landmark social reform in 2017.
Senator Smith, himself a gay man and convert to the cause of marriage rights for gay and lesbian Australians, was named the McKinnon Prize Political Leader of the Year on Thursday.
The award, a collaboration between the Susan McKinnon Foundation and the University of Melbourne, was judged by former prime ministers Julia Gillard and John Howard, as well as a group of business, political, education and sport leaders.
The mayor of Queensland’s Torres Shire Council, Vonda Malone, was named the Emerging Political Leader of the Year, for her work on reducing unemployment, easing housing shortages and improving waste management, community engagement, health and wellbeing.
The prize is open to politicians with less than five years in office.
Judges commended Senator Smith for his bipartisan leadership on reform of Australia’s marriage laws, for providing backbench leadership in the face of internal opposition and diversity of public opinion within Australian society.
“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.”
The winners were selected by a majority decision of the judging panel.
The Susan McKinnon foundation is a non-partisan body established to find practical pathways to solve some of Australia’s major challenges.
Both winners will deliver a keynote speech at the McKinnon Prize in Political Leadership Oration next month, while Ms Malone will also receive a $20,000 prize for professional development.
Ms Gillard praised the winning pair, describing the award as an opportunity to improve 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,” Ms 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.”
Mr Howard said he remained optimistic about Australia’s future political leaders.
“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,” Mr Howard said.