In an era of political polarisation and growing partisanship, research suggests declining public trust in our political leaders. Without this trust, belief in our system of government can erode and necessary reforms become hard to achieve. With Australia facing immense challenges in its region and the wider world, it is more important than ever that we have, and recognise, those courageous and visionary leaders making a positive impact for Australia.

Our purpose

The McKinnon Prize advocates for our democracy by acknowledging and encouraging good political leadership.

The McKinnon Prize in Political Leadership is an independent, non-partisan award that acknowledges outstanding political leadership across the political spectrum.

We believe identifying great leadership and recognising leaders who work in a collaborative and bipartisan manner to pursue their vision for Australia, builds trust, inspires others and ultimately contributes to better-quality policy and higher-quality governance.

We believe the recognition of outstanding leadership makes it easier for young people and aspiring leaders to see themselves as future leaders, by showing them the path forward for politicians who lead with their values.

The Prize is the first of its kind in Australia and seeks to:


Recognise politicians, at all levels of government, who have successfully tackled vital issues of public policy, overcome adversity, and achieved real change for the public good.


Inspire others to pursue courageous and visionary political leadership despite the challenges they may face.


Encourage national discussion about our expectations of political leadership in this country.

The McKinnon Prize is represented by the Acrux, the brightest star in the Southern Cross constellation. The Acrux has been used as a reference point in navigation for centuries. It is a symbol of stability, leadership and guardianship.

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


The Susan McKinnon Foundations’ (SMF) aspiration is for Australia to have the world’s most effective government, focused on the long-term interests of the Australian community. We incubate, deliver and support practical improvements to how government works. Our mission focuses on three key areas – effective elected representatives, robust state institutions and quality policy dialogue. We are politically neutral and motivated only by the public good. We were established in 2015 by tech entrepreneur Grant Rule and his wife Dr Sophie Oh, a public health policy professional.

The University of Melbourne is a global leader in higher education where brilliant minds come together to address important questions and tackle grand challenges. We equip our students with a future-facing education personalised around their ambitions, enriched by global

perspectives and embedded in a collaborative research culture. As active citizens and future leaders, they represent our greatest contribution to the world. We engage our communities to ensure that education and research is inspired by need and for the benefit of society. In

this, we remain true to our purpose and will fulfil our mission as a public-spirited institution dedicated to the principles of fairness, equality and excellence in everything we do.

The McKinnon Prize identifies great Australian leaders, fosters their political development and encourages them and others to pursue positive outcomes for Australia through outstanding leadership.

The prize

The McKinnon Prize advocates for our democracy by acknowledging and encouraging good political leadership.

The McKinnon Prize recognises outstanding Australian political leaders in two categories each year:

McKinnon Political Leader of the Year

Politicians with over five years in office, whether leaders in local communities or in state or federal government, are eligible for the McKinnon Political Leader of the Year.

McKinnon Emerging Political Leader of the Year

Recently elected federal, state, territorial or local government politicians, with fewer than five years in office are eligible for the McKinnon Emerging Political Leader of the Year.

The McKinnon Prize promotes a strong and effective system of government in Australia and encourages those who aspire to political office to reflect on the type of leader they wish to be.

The process

The McKinnon Prize is awarded each year from a pool of public nominations through a rigorous and transparent selection process.


Nominations are received from the public in two prize categories from October each year. These nominations span federal, state, territory and local government and reflect major parties, minor parties and independents.

Read more about how you can nominate.


Eligible nominations are then evaluated by an expert Shortlisting Committee that determines a shortlist for each Prize category. Shortlisting occurs in late January / early February the following year.


An expert Selection Panel later convenes to determine the recipient for each of the McKinnon Political Leader of the Year and McKinnon Emerging Political Leader of the Year awards.

Read more about the Selection Panel.

Recipients Announced MARCH

Recipients are announced shortly after selection and are recognised at an annual event celebrating their leadership and contribution to Australia.

The leader recognised as the McKinnon Emerging Political Leader of the Year is also eligible for a $20,000 scholarship to further their education and professional development in public service.

Read more about past recipients.

Prize criteria

In each prize category, nominations are evaluated by the Shortlisting Committee and then the Selection Panel, against the same criteria.

The criteria ensure leaders are recognised for the right reasons.

The criteria reflect a leader’s ability to put their country’s needs first, their vision, and their capacity to collaborate and embrace non-partisanship to deliver positive outcomes.

The criteria are:


The nominee has demonstrated innovative, farsighted, and practical thinking to identify and resolve important public policy problems.

Ethical Behaviour


Great leaders are adaptable, collaborative, and forward thinking, they transcend party politics and learn from different perspectives to the betterment of Australian society.


The McKinnon Prize was first awarded in 2017. Since then, each year two outstanding elected representatives (one established, one emerging) have been recognised for their leadership and positive impact on Australia.



The Hon Tony Smith MP

McKinnon Political Leader of the Year 2021

The Hon Tony Smith MP was awarded the 2021 McKinnon Prize in Political Leadership for his work in consistently and impactfully upholding parliamentary standards and ensuring bipartisan accountability within the parliament.

Read More >

Councillor Teresa Harding

McKinnon Emerging Political Leader of the Year 2021

Councillor Teresa Harding was named the 2021 McKinnon Emerging Political Leader of the Year for her work in improving transparency and public accountability in political institutions.

Read More >

Watch the 2021 recipients of the McKinnon Prize in Political Leadership discuss their work and the role of political leaders.



The integrity and credibility of the McKinnon Prize is predicated on the expertise, diligence, and guidance of a diverse collective of esteemed Australians, each who champion the value and values of good political leadership.

We would like to thank the 27th Prime Minister of Australia, the Hon Julia Gillard AC, and the 44th Premier of New South Wales, Hon Mike Baird AO, who each take on a new role this year as inaugural Patron of the McKinnon Prize.

Both Julia and Mike have been long-time supporters of the McKinnon Prize program and their leadership, advice, and insightful participation in the Selection Panel over the years has been invaluable. We look forward to the continuation of our relationship with our Patrons moving forward.


Hon Julia Gillard AC

27th Prime Minister of Australia

Julia Gillard was the 27th Prime Minister of Australia and the first, and only, woman to serve in that role. Since leaving office, she has dedicated her time to advocacy, governance roles, and writing. In 2021, Julia was appointed Chair of Wellcome, a global charitable foundation based in the UK, which supports science to solve urgent worldwide health challenges. Julia is also the founder and inaugural Chair of the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at Kings College London and Chair of its sister Institute at the Australian National University. GIWL strives for a world where being a woman is neither a barrier to becoming a leader in any field, nor a contributor to negative perceptions of an individual’s leadership.

In 2014, Julia joined the Board of Beyond Blue, one of Australia’s foremost mental health awareness bodies, and has served as Chair since 2017. As a life-long advocate for increasing access to education, especially in developing nations, Julia was Chair of the Global Partnership of Education from 2014 to 2021. She now leads the Royal Commission into Early Childhood Education and Care in South Australia.  Julia wrote ‘My Story’, a  memoir based on her experience as Prime Minister.  Her second book, ‘Women and Leadership: Real Lives, Real Lessons’, co‑authored by Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, explores the challenges women face in leadership. Her third book, Not Now, Not Ever – 10 years on from the misogyny speech, was released on in October 2022.


Hon Mike Baird AO

44th Premier of New South Wales

Mike Baird was the 44th Premier of New South Wales from 2014 to 2017, representing the electoral district of Manly in the NSW Legislative Assembly.

Mike is the CEO of HammondCare, an independent Christian charity providing health, palliative care, dementia and aged care services. Prior to commencing at HammondCare, Mike was a member of the National Australia Bank executive leadership team from 2017 to 2020. He is Chairman of the Australian Business Growth Fund and sits on the Boards of Surfing NSW and Cricket Australia.

Mike entered NSW state politics in 2007. He held a number of shadow ministries before serving as Treasurer from 2011 to 2014, and then as Premier from 2014 to January 2017, when he retired from politics.