This week we're profiling Australia's most influential backroom operators, the spinners and advisers who shape how the powerful act – and how the public perceives them. Here, Matthew Knott presents the shortlist.
Anthony McClellan – Managing director, AMC Media
The former 60 Minutes veteran is now one of the most respected crisis management specialists in the country. Tough and competitive, McClellan represented Kristy Fraser-Kirk in her legal battle with David Jones and mine managers during the rescue operation at Beaconsfield.
Ben Hubbard – Chief of staff to Julia Gillard
He's likeable, he's experienced, he's got policy nous. And he's hired some heavy hitters – John McTernan and Bruce Wolpe – to add oomph to the PM's office. But is Hubbard capable of stopping HMAS Gillard from going under?
Ben Oquist – Chief of staff to Bob Brown
Oquist helped set up The Australian Greens in 1992 and has been a close confidante of Bob Brown since 1996. So far his ambitions to enter parliament have been stymied by the notoriously parochial NSW Greens who've reckoned him insufficiently interested in state issues.
Bruce Hawker – Managing director, Campaigns and Communications
Few political operatives can match this laid-back Laborite for longevity. Bob Carr's former chief of staff has stepped away from lobbying to focus on his true love -- campaigning -- but the political tide is turning against him. NSW Labor crashed and burned last year, and Queensland looks like going the same way.
Geoff Allen – Founder of the Allen Consulting Group and the Centre for Corporate Public Affairs
Regarded as the doyen of Australian corporate affairs, the silver-haired savant's influence is quiet, but it's real. CEOs ring him for advice, public servants pore over his reports and in-house operatives flock to his seminars at the Centre for Corporate Public Affairs.
Geoff Walsh – Special adviser to BHP Billiton CEO Marius Kloppers
Hiring the former diplomat, journalist and ALP National Secretary paid dividends for BHP in 2010 when Walsh helped kill off Kevin Rudd's mining tax. Originally BHP's head of public affairs, Walsh is now working part-time as an adviser to CEO Marius Kloppers.
John Connolly – Partner, John Connolly and Partners
The enigmatic PR veteran has no public profile – besides a gig moonlighting as a motoring columnist in the Weekend Oz – but boasts an unmatched reputation at the big end of town. BHP, the Murdochs, the Packers and ANZ have all called on the Bondi local for a dose of tough love over recent years.
John McTernan – Communications adviser to Julia Gillard
Originally brought down under as a South Australian "thinker in residence", Tony Blair's former adviser is now overseeing Gillard's long-term media strategy. Having only started his new job in November, it's too early to judge his impact. But we expect Gillard & co. to sell Labor's reform agenda – and bag Tony Abbott – more vigorously this year.
Mark Ryan – Group Director of Corporate Affairs, Westfield
Don't let his surname deceive you: the one-time adviser to Paul Keating is very much a member of the Lowy clan. He's not just a spruiker; he's been trusted adviser to the property mogul for almost 20 years. A member of Westfield's nine-person global management team, Ryan is also a director of the Lowy Institute for International Affairs.
Mark Textor – Managing director, Crosby/Textor
Pollster, lobbyist, sloganeer, strategist: Tex has all the dark arts covered. A key player in every Liberal Party election campaign since 1996, he's loathed by the Left – and more than a few Liberals too. But no one in politics or business doubts his brilliance.
Michael Smith – CEO, Inside Public Relations
The burly ex-editor of The Age has been a player in Melbourne media circles for forty years. Since heading to the dark side, Smith's spun for Japanese whalers, disgraced businessman Steve Vizard and Mexican fugitive Carlos Cabal.
Neil Lawrence – Founder of Lawrence Creative Strategy
The affable ad man isn't afraid of a fight. He helped get Kevin Rudd elected in 2007, then contributed to his downfall by designing the stunningly-successful campaign against the Resources Super Profits Tax. Qantas called him in last year to spin their international restructure – and now he's taking on the poker machine barons.
Olivia Wirth – Head of Corporate Affairs, Qantas
A former media adviser to Joe Hockey, Wirth played a crucial role in the dramatic Qantas grounding last October – fronting the media round the clock and advising CEO Alan Joyce behind the scenes. Many judged the decision a PR disaster, but Qantas is playing a long-term game.
Peta Credlin – Chief of staff to Tony Abbott
No one can match Peta Credlin when it comes to influence in Tony Abbott's office, not even her husband, long-time Liberal Party director Brian Loughnane. The "Queen of No" travels everywhere with Abbott, organises his diary, hires and fires staffers, and oversees his media appearances. Credlin and Abbott's communications adviser, Howard-era veteran Tony O'Leary, have run laps around Gillard's team over the past year.
Robert Hadler – General Manager of Corporate Affairs, Coles
Hadler's regarded as the Paul "Red" Adaire of corporate affairs: a master at putting out fires. A former prime ministerial adviser and journalist at The Australian, he has also spun for NAB, ANZ and AWB during the wheat-for-weapons scandal.
Sandi Logan -- National Communications Manager, Department of Immigration & Citizenship
Loquacious, ultra-accessible and tech-savvy, the Canadian-born public servant is not afraid of calling out reporters when he disagrees with what they've written. Logan says he's on a mission to "demystify" Australia's detention centre network. Journalists and editors – outraged at being forced to submit their cameras and tape recorders for vetting – don't see it that way.
Sue Cato – Principal, Cato Counsel
When the media pack is baying for blood, you want Cato in your corner. The corporate communications cognoscente is frighteningly-connected across politics, the arts, business and the media. In recent times, Gunns, Fairfax, Telstra, Pacific Brands and Gloucester Coal have called on the self-described "liberal pinko" to help spin their way out of trouble.
Tim Allerton – Managing director, City Public Relations
Known in the game as the "junkyard dog", the former journalist is good in a scrap. He specialises in reputation management for difficult blokes with big egos: Kerry Stokes, John Symonds, Nathan Tinkler, Lang Walker and Justin Hemmes are some of his clients.
Toby Ralph – Freelance marketer and adviser
Gruen groupies will recognise the self-described "marketing bloke and sometime propagandist" from last year's season of Gruen Planet. He's known in the trade as a "mercenary" and a "bounty hunter" for his willingness to go where others won't. Ralph has worked on four Liberal Party election campaigns, advised Big Tobacco, and has helped whip up outrage over the Murray Darling Basin Plan and the ban on live cattle exports to Indonesia.
Tony Douglas – Founder, Essential Media Communications
Douglas coined Kevin Rudd's successful, if overused, "working families" mantra and oversaw the communications strategy for the union movement's anti-WorkChoices campaign. More recently, his left-leaning polling and strategy firm has been marshalling community support for a National Disability Insurance Scheme.
Read the spinners and advisers category overview.