McKinnon Emerging Political Leader of the Year

Senator David Pocock

Senator David Pocock of the ACT has been named McKinnon Emerging Political Leader of the Year 2023 for his values-driven approach to handling his balance of power position in the Senate and commitment to genuinely listening to and appraising competing perspectives.  Senator Pocock was also shortlisted in 2022 for McKinnon Emerging Political Leader of the Year. 

Senator Pocock has made a serious impact on Australian politics in an impressively short period of time. The Selection Panel was impressed by his articulation of a new kind of collaborative politics, and his dedication to these principles in practice. They particularly noted his effective use of his position on the Senate crossbench to pursue a broader vision for the community as a whole, rather than a relative narrow set of goals, or a solely partisan focus. The Panel also agreed his continued leadership and behaviour has shown alignment with the wider values of the Prize.  

In a short period of time, Senator Pocock has achieved considerable legislative impact, from climate change and emissions reduction to government integrity, industrial relations, cost of living, and supporting the most disadvantaged. He has demonstrated he is able to work across the political divide to secure changes to important Government legislation, taking advice from a cross-section of interests.  

Before he took his seat in the Senate, Pocock was known for community activism, particularly on environmental issues. During the election campaign, he held regular community meetings and conducted policy forums to gauge community views. Since his election, Pocock has quickly established himself as savvy, hardworking and not afraid to seek changes and negotiate with the government to enable the passage of legislation. 

In his brief Senate career, Senator Pocock’s vote has helped the Federal Government pass its Climate Change Bill with a 43 per cent emissions reduction target, while also securing four amendments to strengthen the integrity of the legislation. Senator Pocock has also secured more state-like legislative rights for Australian territories, and, in return for supporting the Government’s centrepiece industrial relations legislation, secured amendments to ensure smaller businesses were not unfairly wrapped into agreements unsuitable for them as well as an annual review of support payments such as JobSeeker prior to each federal budget. With the Greens, Pocock also negotiated for increased financial incentives to encourage sales of electric vehicles and to make the Government’s proposed national anti-corruption commission more publicly accessible and transparent. 

Born in South Africa, Senator Pocock grew up in Zimbabwe and migrated to Australia as a teenager. He played rugby union professionally from the age of 14 in Western Australia, debuting for the Wallabies in 2008, before becoming Captain in 2012, and Vice-Captain of the Brumbies in 2015. In 2008, the year he made his Wallabies debut, Pocock co-founded EightyTwenty Vision, a charity focused on improving maternal health, food, and water security for underprivileged communities in Zimbabwe. For his services to rugby and establishing the charity, Pocock was named WA’s Young Australian of the Year in 2012.  

After studying Authentic Leader Development at Harvard Business School, Pocock co-founded two more charitable organisations: FrontRunners, which mobilised Australian sports athletes to demand improved emissions reduction targets; and Rangelands Restoration Trust, which partners with rural Zimbabwean communities to secure space for wildlife and improve degraded landscapes.  

Senator Pocock was elected to the Senate for the Australian Capital Territory in May 2022. He is the first independent Senator to represent the ACT since the Territory began to elect Senators to Parliament in 1975.  

Senator Pocock has consistently worked towards his vision to “put people ahead of vested interests, [and] restore integrity to politics”. The Selection Panel agreed his leadership style was a perfect example of genuinely listening to stakeholders and attempting to balance competing interests in good faith.