Lurking behind most important decisions are the political fixers. They are the unseen, largely unknown, backroom operators who garner the numbers, finesse, coerce or threaten the waiverers, make the ominous or bullying phone calls, distribute much of the largesse and sinecures, raise the money, grease the wheels of business, covertly manage the media – and set up, consummate or destroy the deals.
If you measure power by influence – the sort of influence that leads the national debate, and gets people talking and politicians reacting – then it's the people with the biggest megaphones who wield a lot of power.
You may not agree with their views, but it's hard to dispute their power to direct the information traffic, rustle up controversy, and consequently influence the Australian outcome.
Money talks, and the people who have the most impact on money, finance and economics are influential in the process that determines who gets richer and who gets poorer.
By setting interest rates, influencing economic policy, controlling the home loan market or financing corporate Australia, the most influential players in finance and economics wield a lot of covert power.
These are the government law enforcers, judges and prosecutors. Between them they exert considerable influence on the decisions that emerge from courts, on the settlements that don't make it to court, and on who does and does not get charged or prosecuted.
Sydney's most powerful shape the identity and future of Australia's largest city. They wield their influence over its culture, environment and economy, its planning, architecture, development, transport and infrastructure. They play a role in the safety, happiness and wellbeing of Sydney's residents.
In some cases, these individuals are the public 'face' of the city, but not always: often, Sydney's most powerful act quietly behind the scenes – for reasons of both public good and personal gain.
In a country where sports stars are feted like religious idols and the media saturated with athletic competition, sport has long since past the point where it became more than just a pastime.
But it's not out on the field where sport's most powerful compete. Behind the grandstands and up in the corporate boxes are the operatives who influence the outcomes of this multi-billion industry – the most powerful of which dominate with the same characteristic shrewdness demonstrated by any other captain of industry.
Creating and distributing information is easier than ever, as is participating in communities online. But such ease-of-use comes down to a small and select group of people with control over, or at least a say in, the distribution platforms that Australia's online users rely so heavily upon. These are the developers, producers, entrepreneurs and leaders tweaking at the ways in which the masses manage their online communities and consume information.
These are the people who lobby -- mostly behind the scenes, but sometimes in full view -- to advance their personal and organisational interests. They use persuasion/intimidation/donations to get their way.
They own media empires or just run them. They tell journalists what to write, or they don't. But one thing's for sure: Media Maestros hire the executives, editors and producers who bring us our news and views. And they set the culture of the TV networks, newspapers and magazine groups that we tune into.
They're the people the politicians want to get onside, the people who can bend the rules in their favour and the people who determine what sort of media Australia has and whether it survives.
Melbourne's most powerful shape the identity and future of Australia's cultural capital. They wield their influence over its culture, environment and economy, its planning, architecture, development, transport and infrastructure. They play a role in the safety, happiness and wellbeing of Melbourne's residents.
In some cases, these individuals are the public 'face' of the city, but not always: often, Melbourne's most powerful act quietly behind the scenes – for reasons of both public good and personal gain.
This is Australia's Ideas Central. The place where highly intelligent, articulate and public-minded people use their skills to attempt – often successfully – to influence the public debate and policy outcomes. Some are academics, some run think tanks and policy organisations, others are writers and public thinkers. What they have in common is high prominence on the public stage of ideas and the ability to be taken seriously by other powerful people. A kind of knock-on power and influence.
Although they don't possess power in their own right, there are thousands of public relations and corporate or government affairs practitioners whose advice and counsel guides the way power works in Australia. These are the spinners (aka spinmeisters) who carefully plot the actions, words, body language and strategies of CEOs, chairmen, politicians and other public figures. Although their names are hardly known, and they maintain deliberately low profiles, they are crucial to framing the way power is wielded.
These are the rich Australians who use some of their considerable personal wealth to influence the public debate. They don't just make passive political or philanthropic donations, they use money to actively facilitate debate or action on political or ideological subjects they believe are in the public interest. If money is power, according to cliche, then actively direct money is a way to exercise real influence.
The arts have disproportionate influence on society when compared to the size of their patronage. That's as it has been for centuries, partly because the arts are an important public platform for wealthy Medicis, partly because powerful people like to be judged by their artistic endeavors, partly because most arts power-wielders are very articulate, persuasive and well-connected, and partly because ideas flow in the culture sector and ideas attracts attention.
In a city stocked with the country's most powerful politicians, senior bureaucrats, diplomats, journalists, political staffers and lobbyists, who wields the most influence – and why? How does the ecosystem of power in Canberra work? Who are the people, and what are the offices, that have the greatest impact on the exercise of governmental and political power and influence? And not just the individuals, but the networks and connections; the places where influence resides; the hands that manipulate the levers of national power.
Although fewer than one in five Australians belong to one, trade unions can still flex serious political and economic muscle -- especially when Labor is in power. Union bosses organise strikes, negotiate pay rises and working conditions, lobby for policy changes and are key factional players in the ALP.
If you believe the old saying 'money is power', then the most powerful business people would be measured purely by wealth. But it doesn't work that way.
Sure, money can buy an awful lot of power and influence, but there are other factors that make some businessmen (and women) more powerful – which often means more feared or respected – than others who have a higher net worth. It's how you use your money or position, or how big or important the organisation you run, that determines real clout in business.
The decisions about what stories are given what level of prominence, which issues and people are promoted (and which ones are trashed), about which talent is put on show, about who goes on the 'enemies list', these are critical decisions in directing the Australian information flow. And the traffic cops who direct that traffic are mainly the editors and executive producers whose hand is behind every front page and every important news decision.