Two of Australia’s most respected political leaders and advocates for democracy and equality have joined The Australian National University (ANU).

Former Democrats Leader and United Nations Treaty Expert Member Natasha Stott Despoja, and former Speaker of the House of Representatives Tony Smith have been appointed Professors in the Practice of Politics. Their ANU roles will be part-time.

Both will be based at the ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences, where they will undertake research, teaching and a range of engagement activities for the next three years.

ANU Professors in the Practice offer students and staff unrivalled access and mentoring from some of the nation’s leading practitioners and thinkers across a range of areas vital to Australia, including politics, policymaking, economics, defence and security, and technology.

Professor Natasha Stott Despoja (left) and Professor Tony Smith. Photo: Tracey Nearmy/ANU

Professor Stott Despoja is an independent expert on the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, a four-year appointment she took up in January 2021.

She is the founding Chairperson of Our Watch, which aims to eliminate violence against women and children, Australia’s former Ambassador for Women and Girls, and served as a South Australian Senator between 1995 and 2008 – the longest-serving senator in the party’s history. Professor Stott Despoja remains the youngest woman ever to enter the Australian Parliament.

Her many accolades include being made a Global Leader of Tomorrow by the World Economic Forum in 2001.

Professor Stott Despoja said: “It is an honour to re-join ANU as a professor, having spent five years on University Council. I have always been passionate about the higher education sector, and I treasure this national institution.

“I am committed to advancing women’s leadership, empowerment and equality across politics, economics and society.

“In politics, business and in wider society, we have seen a powerful movement to make sure that women and girls are given the respect, equality and opportunity they deserve.

“I look forward to furthering this work at ANU, as well as sharing what I have learnt with the current and next generation of Australians who are committed to these issues. I am excited to engage with some of the nation’s leading experts in this vital area.

“I can’t wait to get started and work with my former colleague Tony Smith.”

Professor Smith was first elected to the Federal Parliament in 2001 and re-elected at six subsequent federal elections.

In 2015 he was elected the 30th speaker of the House of Representatives, a role he was re-elected to in 2016 and 2019. He is only the second speaker to be elected unopposed by the House on three consecutive occasions, holding the role until he stepped down in November 2021. As speaker he was widely recognised for his commitment to bipartisanship and neutrality.

During his time in Parliament Professor Smith also chaired the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, among others.

In 2021, he won the McKinnon Prize in Political Leadership for his efforts to protect and maintain the integrity of Australia’s important democratic institutions.

Professor Smith is now CEO of the bipartisan Australian American Leadership Dialogue.

He said he was passionate about making sure Australian democracy was robust and resilient and that it served all Australians.

“Our democracy is one of the best in the world – but we must continually work to protect and strengthen it,” Professor Smith said. 

“It’s also vital we keep working to empower and mentor the next generation of Australians who continue to shape our democracy and take over as its custodians in the future.

“I look forward to helping do that here at ANU, and have had the privilege of seeing this great work first-hand during my time in Parliament through the University’s political internship programs.

“ANU is a university deeply committed to not only understanding our democracy but fostering it so that it continues to be one of, if not, the best in the world. I can’t think of a better place to continue this important work.”

Professors Stott Despoja and Smith commence their roles at ANU on 5 September.

Contact the media team

James Giggacher

Associate Director, Media and Communications

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