ALP member of the Australian Senate and key player in his party's right faction
Born in: Chippendale, Sydney
Friends: Karl Bitar
Foes: Kevin Rudd | Morris Iemma | Joe Tripodi
Home Town: Sydney
Not so long ago Mark Arbib was Australia's No. 1 political powerbroker.
He was convenor of the Labor Party's ruling Right faction, member of the party's all-powerful National Executive Committee and a favourite of the prime minister who he helped ascend to the top job.
How times change. In June 2010, less than two years after riding Kevin Rudd's coattails to the pinnacle, Arbib was one of the key conspirators in the coup that brought Rudd down, having already made the PM's execution inevitable by destroying his standing in the polls.
And we all know what has happened to Labor's fortunes since then.
''Arbib should be totally fucked,'' says one veteran Labor powerbroker, ''but no one has gone after him. He's lucky to have survived.''
More than anyone else, it was Arbib and his mate Bitar who trashed Rudd's reputation as a man of principle and vision when they persuaded him to ditch the emissions trading scheme in early 2010. And more than anyone else, it is Arbib who exemplifies the Labor government's current malaise.
So it's no surprise Arbib does not appear as our No. 1 Political Fixer. The miracle is he still makes the Top Ten.
''Arbib has no beliefs, he stands for nothing except power," says one Labor insider. ''I've known him for a decade and I've never heard him express a view about history, philosophy, international affairs or anything political apart from tactics. Karl Bitar is the same. It's all about polling.''
''For both of them the most important thing is to be controlling things. Power for its own sake is at the centre of their decision making ... how it will affect them.''
''Robert Ray and Graham Richardson [famous Labor numbers men] may have been pragmatists, but at least they both believed in something.''
Arbib made his name as a machine man in the NSW Labor Right, which spawned Richo, John Ducker, Joe Tripodi and Eddie Obeid, and which has run NSW for decades.
In 2004, he was installed as NSW General Secretary, the same job that set Richo on his road to power. And against all the odds, he managed to unite the party's warring Left and Right factions into an even more powerful machine, that came to dominate federal Labor. He did this by making a deal with the hard Left's Anthony Albanese.
Arbib's enemies admit he has charm, energy and flair and treats people with respect. Most even confess to liking him, which is most unusual for such a powerful person. And that's how he managed to win support from both sides of the party in 2007 when he scored the No. 1 spot on Labor's NSW senate ticket. But few would defend his political record which has led to Labor's annihilation in the premier state and the prospect of a similar thrashing for the party at the next federal election.
Smooth and suave with sharp suit and shaven head, Arbib is the epitome of a modern ALP apparatchik. He has served his time as an organiser for the Transport Workers Union, but he's also university educated and is as comfortable in the boardroom as he is on the shop floor— perhaps even more so. His wife Kelli works for Macquarie Bank and he spent five months at stockbrokers Bell Potter Securities before taking up his Senate seat. He is said to have rejected the chance of a safe House of Representatives seat because he wasn't prepared to live in Sydney's western suburbs.
Arbib's father, Eric, was born in Libya and grew up in Italy before moving to Sydney in the 1960s, where he made money as a property developer. He drowned in the surf at Bondi in the early 1980s, leaving the 11-year old Mark to be brought up by his mother in Chippendale, in the city's inner west.
Young Arbib's epiphany came a decade later as a student working for Sizzler, when he organised restaurant workers in a fight for better pay. In 1992, aged 21, he joined Young Labor and began to learn the dark arts of vote winning. So smart was he that he made it to president within three years.
Back in those early days he drank with his fellow fledgling powerbrokers, Joe Tripodi and Karl Bitar, every week after Labor Council meetings. On the weekends he went door-knocking for the master, Morris Iemma, who was organising tirelessly to win the seat of Hurstville. The two men became friends on the hustings, spending more time with each other than they did with their families.
Arbib put Iemma into power as premier in 2005, ran a brilliant campaign to win the 2007 election, then dumped the NSW premier a year later when electricity privatisation and a string of scandals put Labor on the nose with the focus groups that Arbib set so much store by. He later repeated this make-and-break cycle with Rudd.
''He's always going to be the bloke who is bringing down a leader or making a leader,'' one ALP insider told The Sydney Morning Herald in 2010.
But will the party faithful listen to him again if the focus groups tell him to dump Gillard? And does he still have the clout?
Arbib is now Minister for Sport—sporting chinos and blazer—and claims to have forsaken factional games to concentrate on his career. ''He wants to be a serious player in government,'' says one Labor activist friend, ''so he doesn't want to be seen as a plotter.''
He packed in his job as convenor of the Right in September 2010 and gave up his seat on the national executive committee that runs the party. But he is said to be behind recent attempts to remove Daryl Melham and Robert McClelland from safe Labor seats in southern Sydney and find a place for the Australian Workers' Union's ambitious national secretary, Paul Howes.
In his maiden speech to the Senate three years ago, Arbib promised to leave ''no stone unturned'' in his ''efforts to benefit humanity'' . He spoke with feeling of his grandmother's struggles in the Great Depression, and the importance to Australia of education and reconciliation, which chimed in nicely with Rudd's agenda at the time. He also singled out climate change as an issue that couldn't be ducked.
''If there is a fight worth fighting,'' said Arbib, ''Australia always leads the way. And so it must be on climate change.''
Yet when it came to that fight, he was the first to retreat. ''He's not the sort of person you want in the trenches next to you as you fix your bayonet, because you'd find yourself going over on your own,'' one veteran Labor powerbroker told The Power Index. ''When you lose he's gone. He's stepped out of the battle at half time.''
''The only thing he's good at," he concludes, ''is not being blamed.''