Whether they make our Top 10 or just miss out, Australia's political powerbrokers usually fit a profile. They're almost all men, for a start. But most of them also:
• have huge egos
• can charm for Australia
• can do menace just as well
• live their lives for politics
• have energy to burn
• never forget a favour
• never forgive a slight
• know how to network
• know how to deal
What can they fix?
But what power do they really have? Can they really affect what happens to Australia or are they just running protection rackets for their supporters? We reckon that Australia's best political fixers can:
• make and break policy
• determine who gets elected to parliament
• set a party's (or a government's) direction
• get plum jobs in government for themselves and their supporters
What makes them powerful?
As former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser told The Power Index, personality is key. Even if you're PM you can be "totally ineffective" if that's the sort of person you are. So if you want to get on, it helps if you're:
• gifted when it comes to the gab
• perceived to be powerful
The numbers game
As Arthur Sinodinos, former chief of staff to John Howard, told The Power Index, it's ultimately a numbers game. If you can deliver votes at party conference, at branch level and in caucus you can:
• control who gets key party jobs and committees
• control who wins key pre-selection battles
• influence key policy decisions
• influence or control who becomes leader and Prime Minister
The power of the factions
In the Labor Party especially, the power lies with the factions. Almost all MPs and would-be MPs belong, because going it alone in the ALP is the route to failure. You need to be in a faction if you want a party job. And if you want to get to the top, you'd better bow down to the Right. That's just the way it is. These are the rules:
• loyalty is all. Just like the Mafia.
• vote with your mates.
• show them your ballot paper, or let the faction fill it in.
• look after the faction, and the faction will look after you.
• if in doubt, say Yes. Obedience is valued.
The most powerful factions sometimes carve up the spoils between them. They're doing that now in South Australia, where they came together to knife premier Mike Rann, they're doing in the Victorian ALP, where hard Left and Right have joined forces to exclude their rivals; and they're doing it too in the NSW Liberal Party, where the Left has struck a similar deal with the 'Sensible Right'. But peace rarely lasts long. "Think of what's happened in Victoria as the Thirty Years War", says one Labor veteran: "Lots of meaningless battles, hundreds dead and absolutely nothing gained at the end".
Factions in the Liberal Party are generally based on personality rather than ideology—except in NSW—but that doesn't make the fights any less bitter. It just makes the armies less organised.
Stack, stack, stack
So where do the factions get their power? It's a numbers game, of course. And cheating is rife. All's fair in love, war and politics. There's hardly a powerbroker in Australia who hasn't benefited from branch stacking, where membership miraculously swells as elections draw near. Some of our Top 10 are masters of the art, although they'd hate to admit it. But in the Labor Party, the real power comes from the unions.
The power of the unions
It was the unions who started the Labor Party 120 years ago under a tree in Barcaldine. And even though they now answer for less than 10 per cent of Australia's workforce, they still call the shots. The unions have 50 per cent of votes at ALP conferences, and control far more in practice, because they also have members in local branches. So the union bosses appoint key Labor Party officials and get favoured sons (or just their sons) into the Senate and safe Labor seats. After that, the unions subcontract their power to the factional bosses—the ones in our Top Ten—who use it as they think fit. The biggest unions support the Right, which is why the Right gets the top party jobs and runs the Labor Party.
The power of money
The unions also fund the ALP, with multi-million dollar donations raised from an involuntary levy on their members.
Businesses give millions of dollars to both sides, but give more to the Liberals in the hope that they can get into government.
Nowadays, these big donors are more likely to spend their money on direct advertising, rather than rely on politicians to do their bidding. The ACTU spent $7 million on its Work Choices campaign in the 2007 election and played a huge role in making Rudd PM. Australia's mining companies spent $10 million on an ad campaign to kill the Resources Profit Tax, and played a huge part in bringing Rudd down.
So it's not just the factional bosses who have all the power.