The Hon Tony Smith: McKinnon Political Leader of the Year

The Hon Tony Smith MP has been named the McKinnon Political Leader of the Year, recognised for his work in consistently and impactfully upholding Parliamentary standards and ensuring bipartisan accountability within the Parliament.

Beginning his career working as a senior adviser to Peter Costello, Mr Smith was elected to Parliament as the Member for Casey in 2001 and appointed Parliamentary Secretary to Prime Minister John Howard in 2007. He became the Speaker of the House of Representatives in August 2015.

As Speaker, Mr Smith was an advocate for balanced and respectful debate, embracing his role as the arbitrator of democratic discourse in Parliament. Despite two years of pandemic lockdowns and frustrations, Mr Smith refused to allow the governing of the nation to be further disrupted, championing the first digital sittings of Parliament in Australia.

Throughout his tenure as Australia’s 30th Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr Smith has been praised by both sides of politics for his even-handed and responsible moderation of the Parliament. Elected three times to the Speaker’s chair, Mr Smith is only the second House of Representatives Speaker to be nominated and seconded unopposed for the role by both major parties.

Throughout late 2020 and 2021, Smith has overseen transitions to and from ‘hybrid’ sittings of Parliament, maintaining effective moderation of Question Time throughout travel restrictions imposed due to the pandemic. Mr Smith played an integral role in keeping Parliament running throughout the pandemic, including ensuring Parliamentary business was able to continue on schedule during Canberra’s COVID-19 outbreak in August and September.

Upon announcing his retirement as Speaker in October 2021, Smith was unanimously praised by members from both major parties for restoring dignity to Parliament and for his deft chairing of the House under challenging conditions, particularly throughout 2020 and 2021.

The Selection Panel noted the diligence, fairness and consistency with which Mr Smith approached his role as Speaker of the House of Representatives. The Panel commended Mr Smith’s remarkable contribution to good political governance of business of the House, which facilitated a healthier democracy and enhanced the status of the Australian parliament.  

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The McKinnon Prize in Political Leadership is a collaboration between the Susan McKinnon Foundation and the University of Melbourne.

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