Canberra’s 15 most powerful people

Political power in Canberra has become harder than ever to effectively use, so who's got the skills, popularity and support to wield it best? We're currently counting down the Top 10 most powerful and influential people in Canberra. Here, Bernard Keane presents the shortlist.

Andrew Wilkie

With his deal to back Labor voided by Julia Gillard's pokies backdown, Wilkie is the most obvious victim of Peter Slipper's late-2011 move to the Speakership. But he retains a crucial vote in the House of Representatives that may decide the fate of key bills between now and the next election, and he's no longer constrained by any ties to the government.

Anthony Albanese

From student politics to Leader of the House, Anthony Albanese's rise inside Labor has not just been about marshalling the numbers for the Left in NSW but about his hard-hitting style. In a government that struggles to get its message across, Albanese is Labor's go-to man in parliament and a key part of its legislative success as a minority government. But he's also Infrastructure Minister in the first federal government to take seriously the Commonwealth's role in transport, with major long-term ramifications for the way Australia meets its infrastructure needs.

Bill Shorten

Since entering Parliament in 2007, Bill Shorten has been better known for his ambition than his achievements. But a promotion to Workplace Relations Minister and his successful landing of the Future of Financial Advice reform package has started adding substance to the claims of leadership material.

Christine Milne

The new Greens leader lacks the iconic status of Bob Brown but has the same depth of parliamentary experience Brown himself brought to the Senate in 1996. Indeed, Milne has worked in coalition with both Labor and Liberal governments in Tasmania, and was central to the development of the carbon pricing package. She now takes over Brown's mantle as the wielder of the Senate balance of power.

The Diplomats

Rarely seen by the public, the representatives of foreign governments swim elegantly through the sea of egos in Canberra, collecting information and seeking to influence politicians, the media and business in their countries' interests. And most influential of all is the American ambassador, the local embodiment of Australia's most deeply-embedded foreign relationship.

Ian Watt

The nation's most senior public servant, and head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, not only provides advice to the Prime Minister but oversees the 160,000+ Commonwealth Public Service and is critical to shaping its capacity to advise governments and implement policy years into the future. Less directly powerful than profoundly influential, Watt is a key figure in the current government, and will continue to play a role in governments of the future who rely on the Public Service.

Joe Hockey

Long derided as a policy lightweight, Joe Hockey has taken on the role of economic hard man in an opposition seen as populist and prone to bouts of Nationals-inspired irrationalism. Hockey will be key to the economic management of the next Coalition government.

Julia Gillard

With dogged persistence and a talent for negotiation, Julia Gillard has amassed a solid record of reform as Prime Minister – but at a profound cost to her political standing in the community. The key question facing Gillard is whether she can get voters to listen to her again, and convince them she has a vision for Australia and the capacity to deliver it. Labor's fate hangs on how she answers that question.

Kevin Rudd

Would he be Prime Minister now if he'd waited until after the Queensland election? Possibly, but Prime Minister of what is a good question, given how many ministers indicated they would refuse to work under him. The most savage political carpet bombing in generations smashed Rudd's credibility as a potential leader, but he still secured 31 Caucus votes and can now sit on the backbench and watch Julia Gillard's poll numbers. And currently, they're only going in one direction.

Peter Slipper

Surprisingly, Peter Slipper has gone from Coalition rat to the first genuinely independent Speaker since the 1940s and an effective one at that, having no qualms about sitting down the Prime Minister, kicking the Treasurer out and suggesting he'd like Question Time to at least vaguely live up to its name. While he has changed the numbers in a hung Parliament, Slipper may yet have a longer-lasting impact on parliamentary standards in a place that has long since devolved into poor-quality theatre.

The Independents: Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor

Since the 2010 election placed them at the centre of power in federal politics, the two rural independents have been crucial to the Gillard government's legislative agenda, and both have placed their political futures on the line by backing Labor.

Stephen Conroy

The government's deputy leader in the Senate has responsibility for its biggest legacy program, the NBN, and one of its most substantial reform achievements, the vertical separation of Telstra. Plus there's the small matter of media policy. The former "factional Dalek" has proven to be the government's most effective minister and is playing a key role in shaping one of the nation's most important sectors for decades to come.

Stephen Smith

Mentioned as a possible anyone-but-Rudd leadership contender, the urbane West Australian suffers from two key problems: his low profile outside Canberra, and the defence portfolio, which has chewed up and spat out half a dozen ministers over the last 15 years. Smith, at least, has got on the front foot in confronting the entrenched problems of the uniformed services, but not without inflicting damage on himself. But while Australia remains at war in Afghanistan, and our defence force culture and defence procurement processes remain under close scrutiny, Smith has a critical long-term policy role in his current position.

Tony Abbott

With his mastery of political tactics and communication, Tony Abbott has driven a strong, popular government to the edge of destruction and ensured the Coalition is well placed to win the next election. But he is a deeply-unpopular figure with voters and there remain significant questions about his ability to pursue a positive agenda.

Wayne Swan

From a nervous start to World's Greatest Treasurer, Julia Gillard's Deputy Prime Minister has handled a global financial crisis, a Eurozone meltdown, a mining boom and a tax rebellion in his time at Treasury but the criticism persists that Labor has been unable to sell its economic achievements. Nonetheless, the former party machine man, ministerial staffer and author will soon hand down Labor's riskiest and most important Budget since the GFC

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