Born in: Sydney
Friends: John Howard
Foes: Christopher Pyne
Leader of the Right and keeper of the Howard flame, Nick Minchin is still regarded by some as the Liberal Party's spiritual leader.
"He's the Mullah Omah of the Libs," says one prominent party moderate, "a hero to the likes of Santo Santoro and Eric Abetz."
Tallish, thin, greying and bespectacled, the ascetic South Australian senator announced he was leaving full-time politics in June 2010 and left the Senate a year later. But he can still rally supporters to his cause, as he proved days before his departure, when he lobbied for Alan Stockdale to beat off Peter Reith's bid to grab the job of Liberal Party president.
"He's the only Liberal with the muscle of the ALP powerbrokers," says one party insider, who claims Minchin can count on the vote of a third of the Liberals in federal parliament. But the real question is: will his power survive retirement?
"It will just give him more time to devote to the game," says the party moderate.
"He's on the wane. His power will ebb away now he's gone," says a NSW MP who is among his supporters on the Right. "He got Abbott into the leadership in December 2009, but that was really his last hurrah. He got slapped down in the party room in May when he objected to the Libs opposing a $500 million revenue measure. And he doesn't even control his home state anymore."
Minchin has indeed lost control of the South Australian Liberal party to arch rival, Christopher Pyne, whom he loathes. But many people wouldn't be surprised if he lands a top party job in future. After all, he started his 32-year political career as a backroom organiser, was state secretary of the South Australian party in the 1990s, and there's no doubt the Liberals need his organising skills.
Minchin's parting advice to senators, in his farewell speech, was that they should seek the respect of their colleagues "for integrity, decency, passion, and commitment to ideals". And he certainly did that himself.
His politics may have been extra-terrestrial, Labor powerbroker Senator John Faulkner told The Power Index, "but his word was his bond. He was very honourable to deal with and a good operator."
A champion of low tax, small government and the monarchy, Minchin has always been a public admirer of Enoch Powell, the brilliant but barmy British maverick of the Right, who is famous for his prediction that "rivers of blood" would flow through Britain because the country had so many immigrants. It says something about Minchin's bravery that he would be proud to associate himself with such a man – but it also says a lot about his politics.
Like many conservatives, Minchin doesn't believe in man-made global warming, despite an army of scientists who do. He joked in his Senate valedictory that he would start up a group called "Friends of Carbon Dioxide", whose slogan would be "C02 is not pollution". This appeared to be based on his memory of chemistry lessons at school, because he certainly lacks a science degree. More worryingly, he has claimed – as has the esteemed climate denier Lord Monckton – that the entire scientific community is involved in a left-wing conspiracy to de-industrialise the world.
His inoculation runs deep. Back in the 1990s he was publicly sceptical of the dangers of tobacco, issuing a dissenting report from a Senate committee, in which he disputed the idea that passive smoking was dangerous and that nicotine was addictive. He also claimed that the tobacco industry was over regulated.
Such extreme views certainly put him right out there with Enoch.
As a politician, Minchin regarded himself as "unburdened by the ego and ambition" carried by many of his colleagues. He claimed he was pleased to be in parliament and delighted to be offered a seat on the front bench.
He made his decision to retire in March 2010 after his son Oliver was severely injured in an army training accident. "When something like that happens and when one of your children, quite frankly, has a near-death experience it does make you reassess your life and your priorities," he told the ABC. "I love politics. This is not an easy decision to make."
We'll see whether he really can keep away, or whether the lure of power and politics will bring him back.