Vice-president of the NSW Liberal Party
Born in: Sydney
Friends: Barry O'Farrell | John Fahey | Nick Greiner
Home Town: Sydney
Bouncy is the best word to describe Michael Photios, the Liberals' powerful kingmaker in NSW. But lively, likeable, and irrepressible would also do the trick.
Remember Tigger from Winnie the Pooh?
The garrulous Greek was once a salesman in the family business, which leads the world in the sale of feather boas and sequins, but he now devotes his energy to selling himself. And he does a wonderful job.
If you believe Michael Photios, he is by far the most powerful political fixer in the NSW Liberal Party: a brilliant strategist who has achieved dominance for the Left by splitting the Right and scattering his enemies. Not only does he tell heroic and amusing tales of his exploits, he is more than happy to share his secrets. "Charm, manage, lead," he proclaims. "Secure and reward talent and you will succeed. At the same time, exploit your enemies' divisions."
But the strange thing is, it appears to be true. One former enemy, now an admirer, tells The Power Index, "Photios is very clever; he understands people, and he won most of the recent pre-selection battles, which is why the majority of Liberals in state parliament are now left of centre".
"We go from success in the morning to success in the afternoon when we roll out pre-selections," Photios chirps cheerfully. And a quick parliamentary roll-call backs up this boast, with at least a dozen new NSW MPs indebted to Photios for their seats on the green leather.
Photios's faction—once known as "The Group"—was set up in the 1980s to counter ethnic branch-stacking by the religious Right. And since 2008 it has been firmly back on top, after almost a decade in which zealotry ruled the roost. Photios masterminded the fightback by making a deal with the self-styled "Sensible Right", which left David Clarke and his Opus Dei mates out on their own.
Yet somehow or other Photios managed to keep Clarke onside too, giving him a bear hug for the cameras at the 2008 state dinner. Once his bitter enemy, Clarke has recently described Photios as his "friend".
Like so many political powerbrokers, Photios has been at it all his life. He joined the party as a 15-year old while still at King's School, Parramatta, then persuaded his father to fund him into politics when he got bored with studying law. He became the youngest-ever president of the Young Liberals at 22, boosted membership fivefold and went on to set a series of records: youngest MP of his era, youngest Cabinet minister of his time and longest-serving member of the party's state executive, with his 30-year term beating John Howard into second place.
"It's a hobby," he says. "I've loved doing it. I'd have done it for nothing.
"I had no silver spoon, no pedigree, no political contacts, no university degree and a wog name, but I was able to become a significant political powerbroker."
Photios was already playing that power game when he came into the NSW parliament in 1988 at the age of 27. Four years later he helped bring down Nick Greiner and install John Fahey as leader. Since then he has made and/or broken another four Liberal leaders.
He is now a key member of Barry O'Farrell's kitchen cabinet and said to be one of the few people who is really close to the NSW Premier. This bodes well for his new lobbying business, Premier State, whose offices at the top of the MLC Centre—conveniently across the corridor from John Howard—boast million-dollar views across Sydney Harbour to North Head and beyond.
Photios wants his outfit to be the conservative version of Hawker Britton, selling unparalleled access to O'Farrell and his ministers and the next Liberal government, which he is convinced is coming down the road in Canberra. He's even offering a special two-year package so clients can ready themselves for the day Abbott takes over.
These lobbying activities have seen Photios sharply criticised, not least by the Sydney Morning Herald's conservative columnist, Paul Sheehan, who has likened him to the legendary NSW Labor powerbroker Eddie Obeid. And for those who live on Mars, that is not a compliment.
His clients include big four accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, which competes for state government contracts, and the Australian Hotels Association, which has been lobbying to stop the O'Farrell government from clamping down hard on pubs with a record of alcohol-related violence. At this stage, it must be said that Photios's efforts have done nothing to slow this down.
Now nearly 51, Photios has three children from two marriages, and is about to embark on his third, to a woman 25 years younger than him. Since he left his pregnant first wife in 1999 he has been universally derided in the tabloids and gossip columns as the "Love Rat".
The Daily Telegraph recently published a photograph of him partying hard with his new lover, which prompted him to reply: "There is too much mediocrity and boredom in politics ... we should all get a life ... If I've been known to go to a party or two, I'm happy to go to another. My advice would be for everyone to try it."
Most of his former enemies don't mind. According to Photios, half the Sensible Right are coming to his next wedding, in Thailand in October. Should be quite an event.