Vonda Malone has been named the McKinnon Emerging Political Leader of the Year, for politicians with less than five years in office, for her outstanding leadership as Mayor of the Torres Shire Council.
The award recognises courageous political leaders who are visionaries in their public service roles.
Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard was a part of the award selection panel, and said Ms Malone was recognised because she decided to use her talents to be a community grassroots leader, even though she had many other options.
“Winning the award is something that I totally did not expect – and it was very timely because it provided me with the confidence that I may be on the right track in relation to leadership, particularly in the Torres Strait,” Ms Malone told NITV News.
“There are always the bad things that are portrayed throughout Australia about Indigenous peoples.
“We need more Indigenous leaders to work with governments, to work with stakeholders who try and look at things a little bit differently to make changes in relation to meeting closing the gap targets,” she said.
University of Melbourne Vice-Chancellor Glyn Davis chaired the McKinnon Prize for Political Leadership selection panel, alongside former Prime Ministers Julia Gillard and John Howard, as well as distinguished business, political, education and sporting leaders.
Ms Gillard said the McKinnon Prize recognised quality political leadership and would generate community understanding of the dilemmas of politics.
Mr 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,” Mr 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,” he said.
As well as being a leader in her community for the Torres Strait Islander peoples, Ms Malone is a fellow of the Australian Rural Leadership Program, and the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner's Indigenous Fellowship Program
A tireless campaigner for Indigenous people, Ms Malone has also received the Centenary Medal and the NAIDOC Award of Excellence.
Senator Smith was named the McKinnon Political Leader of the Year for tackling vital issues of public policy, overcoming adversity and achieving real change for the public good.
Ms Malone and Senator Smith will each deliver keynote speeches at the Prize in Political Leadership Oration on 15 March, where they will be awarded a trophy of recognition.
The McKinnon Emerging Political Leader will also receive a $20,000 financial prize for professional development.