Former Speaker Tony Smith to lead diplomatic initiative with US

The former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Liberal MP Tony Smith, is to take a post-politics job as chief executive of the Australian American Leadership Dialogue.

After six years as a Speaker distinguished by his fairness in arbitrating between Liberal and Labor, Mr Smith will have responsibility for managing a 30-year-old non-governmental organisation that puts bipartisanship at its core.

Former Speaker Tony Smith is to take a post-politics job as chief executive of the Australian American Leadership Dialogue.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

The job would “enable me to continue my service to our democracy and our nation in this vitally important, unique, bipartisan, private sector diplomatic endeavour”, he said.

Bipartisanship on foreign policy was in tatters this week, with the Morrison government accusing Labor of being “weak on China”, but Mr Smith said he did not want to comment except to affirm that bipartisanship was vital to the Dialogue.

Mr Smith has participated over the past 20 years in many of the Dialogues’ signature annual gatherings that alternate between Washington and cities in Australia. Asked how he got along with Americans, Mr Smith said, “Pretty good, I think.”

Co-founder Phil Scanlan previously explained the Dialogue’s mission by saying that “Australia can never presume the permanence of the alliance with the US”.

The Dialogue has created long-standing personal relationships between senior US and Australian politicians, officials, business people, academics and journalists. Among its long-standing members are US President Joe Biden’s deputy chief of staff Bruce Reed, Vice-Chair of the US Federal Reserve Lael Brainard and her husband, White House Indo-Pacific Co-ordinator, Kurt Campbell.

Ministers in both countries have said that the Australia-US Free Trade Agreement, for instance, would not have been achieved without the Dialogue’s informal people-to-people network.

Mr Smith remains the member for Casey in Melbourne’s outer east, but is not contesting the election expected in May. He stood down as Speaker in November because, he said, he wanted to concentrate on his electorate.

He replaces the Dialogue’s outgoing chief executive, its other co-founder Julie Singer Scanlan, who remains a director. Mr Smith was chosen after a 10-month search in Australia, Asia, Europe and the US. He said that the Dialogue’s “mission in coming years is more critical than ever for Australia’s national interest”.

Labor’s manager of opposition business in the lower house Tony Burke described Mr Smith as “consistent, principled, and most importantly fearless”. His departure was “a huge loss to the house”.

Former treasurer Peter Costello, himself a long-standing Dialogue member, first brought Mr Smith to Canberra as his press secretary. He described Mr Smith as the “best Speaker in the last 50 years”.

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