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Who wields power in Australia?

Nick Bryant | 05:07 UK time, Thursday, 13 May 2010

A bit of fun. In the month that Time magazine published its annual power list, and the British electorate could not quite decide who should be the most powerful Briton, a simple question: who wields the most power in Australia?

For what it's worth, here is a possible Top Ten:

1. Kevin Rudd: At a time when Australian politics is becoming increasingly presidential, and when more power is flowing towards Canberra, Kevin Rudd is the most powerful man in the country. His micro-management, relentless work ethic and reluctance to delegate decisions to his Cabinet ministers means that he has accrued even greater powers. But arguably his decision to shelve the emissions trading scheme, after vowing to take the global lead in green diplomacy, has made him a less consequential figure abroad.

2. Glenn Stevens: the Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia, and thus one of the most influential voices in the monthly meeting of the bank's board which decides the cost of borrowing. A key figure in the economic success story often called the "wonder from down under".

3. Rupert Murdoch: he may have taken American citizenship but he is, at heart, an Aussie. He continues to exercise massive influence here through a stable of newspapers, which includes The Australian, The Sydney Daily Telegraph and the Melbourne Herald Sun. It is estimated that his company, News Limited, controls almost three-quarters of metropolitan newspaper circulation. Ahead of his election in 2007, Kevin Rudd worked assiduously to woo Rupert Murdoch. Arguably, he should be higher up the list.

4. Ken Henry: Ken who? I hear you ask. He's the most powerful public servant in the country because he occupies the most powerful non-political post at the Treasury. True, normally the second most powerful person in Australia might be the Treasury Secretary himself. After all, past incumbents have included Paul Keating, John Howard and Peter Costello. But the present Treasurer, Wayne Swan, does not wield anywhere near the same influence, nor command the same confidence in the financial community. So his top public servant, Ken Henry, is often called the de facto Treasurer. This month, he unveiled his proposals for tax reform, the landmark Henry Review. Had more of his recommendations been adopted by the government, he might have been higher up the list.

5. Julia Gillard: the deputy prime minister, and the acting prime minister while her boss is away on foreign service. Her policy portfolio includes education and workplace relations, and she is arguably the government's most effective spokesperson. Morepopular within the Labor party than her leader, she has to be Australia's most powerful ever female politician.

6. Gail Kelly: she is the first woman to become the CEO of a major Australian bank, Westpac. Forbes magazine also named her the 18th most powerful women in the world, ahead of Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama.

7. Frank Low: the 79-year-old businessman is one of Australia's richest men, and the founder of the Westfield group, one of the biggest shopping centre companies in the world. Lowy has helped change the way Australians shop. He's also heading up the Australian World Cup soccer bid, and set up the influential foreign affairs think-tank, the Lowy Institute.

8. Noel Pearson: the aboriginal leader, land rights activist and founder of the Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership. Arguably, the most innovative, creative, and original indigenous voice in the country. His geographical isolation in Cape York in northern Queensland might have lessened his influence, but he has been compared with the Reverend Dr Martin Luther King Jr.

9. John Coates: the head of the Australian Olympic Committee is arguably the most powerful man in Australian sport, although Andrew Demetriou, the boss of the AFL, Aussie Rules, might not agree. Coates has created a medal factory in Australian, which has been copied all over the world. He is also one of the most powerful figures in the International Olympic Committee, and if Kevin Rudd freezes the funding for elite sports, Coates will do his damnedest to make him pay a political price.

10. Cate Blanchett: Surely, the saintly Cate is Australia's leading cultural figure, not only because of the brilliance of her acting but through her directorship of the Sydney Theatre Company. The one-woman answer to the cultural cringe.

Here are a few more Australian powerbrokers who almost made my cut. Mark Scott, the ambitious managing director of the ABC, the national broadcaster, who wants to make "Auntie" more of a global and regional player. Jamie Packer is still one of the richest men in the country, but wields nowhere near the influence of his late father, Kerry. Some might like to see the Governor-General, Quentin Bryce, on the list. You could argue that Andrew "Twiggy" Forrest is one of the dominant economics players, because he runs one of the country's big resources company Fortescue. In 2007 and 2008, he was Australia's richest man. He is also a key player in promoting indigenous employment.

Over to you......


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