09 October 2007

Power in Australia

The Australian Financial Review released its lists of who's powerful in Australia on the Friday before last. It was a timid exercise, gutlessness in the face of far-reaching change. The AFR congratulated itself on how diverse the panel was, yet what struck me was the opposite: the cabin fever, the attempts to mask deep insecurity on the brink of change, a real reluctance to let go of people who've hung around for too long.

The Panel

Of the panel, 11 came from Sydney (yes, including Brett Sheehy - he's only camping out in Adelaide) and two from Melbourne. None lacked university qualifications or extensive experience with AFR, and so what you got was an echo-chamber, an exercise in groupthink. This fits Gideon Haigh's recent article for The Monthly on the desperate mutual reinforcement of boards irrespective of performance.

  • Shouldn't have been there: Carla Zampatti

  • Should have someone like them there, but not them particularly: Mark Burrows, Roger Wilkins

  • Should've thought about: Someone with a strong scientific and commercial career, someone under 40 who isn't a hack, someone who'd migrated here recently enough to feel the immigrant experience (but not so recently they don't know what's going on), someone with a career in NGOs (other than trade unions), a Queenslander and a Western Australian (or two)


  • The omission from Julia Gillard showed that having her on the list last year was an exercise in tokenism. She's the most interesting Labor figure since Bob Hawke, and even though she's done all the media training she's not a papier-mache politician-from-head-office like Morris Iemma, or Jenny Macklin. Wayne Swan should have been further up the list.

  • Peter Costello has been left out of every single debate this year - water, terrorism, APEC - you name it, he hasn't been there. John Kerin wasn't this much of a farce as Treasurer. He's no closer to the Prime Ministership than he was eleven years ago. Belongs toward the bottom if at all.

  • The shrill joke that is The Australian, the focus of tabloids on state issues and the fact he has his mind on other things also ought to push Murdoch down this list. When the game of musical chairs began in the Australian media, Murdoch was missing in action and still is.

  • Peter Beattie - yeah, great timing AFR. John Brumby should have been there as Bracks' spine, but again toward the bottom of the list if at all.

  • Shoulda been there: Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull, both for their portfolios and for their almost-but-not-quite tap on Howard's shoulder after APEC. Both will spend the Christmas period picking up the pieces within the Liberal Party.

  • Sinodinos' take on Howard as the nation's opposition leader was telling because a) it shows how petty Howard's field of vision is, and b) it hasn't worked.


  • Ken Henry shouldn't have been there, or nothing like #2 anyway. See Costello above: left out of the biggest spending plan in decades, on water; nowhere on the handouts to unproductive farmers and horsey people. The leaked speech was a cry for help. What is the link between skills shortages, the tight labour market and WorkChoices? There isn't one, and it's his fault.

  • Jeanette Howard should have been #2.

  • Loughnane and Gartrell are second-rate: both should be further down the list.

  • Textor and Crosby should have been further up the list, ahead of Loughnane and Gartrell. Labor are shit-scared of them.

  • Hartigan? Probably. Pemberthy? No, a hack.

  • John Gay owns an entire state, for goodness' sake. Same with Burke & Grill.


  • "Creative diaspora", what a wank! Is Cate Blanchett part of that or not?

  • Coonan hasn't set out a vision and has been repeatedly rolled and shirt-fronted. A transactional hack.

  • Stand up Australia and cheer that Alan Jones is no longer on this list.

  • Russell Crowe should be on this list if only he'd made a decent film recently. His work with the Rabbitohs should count for something. The only actor other than David Wenham who can consistently (That's you out, Sam Worthington) and convincingly play average Aussie males.

  • No musicians? Not even The Wiggles?

  • No chefs, no foodies? Really?

  • No fashion or other designers? Good old Carla has smoothed the pillow over the fresh young faces of a generation which passed her long ago and is starting to make a genuine global presence in this industry.

  • "E-interaction"? What an absolute cop-out. The lack of specifics (as with "creative diaspora" is patronising and testament to a lack of understanding. Get people on this panel who understand this stuff.

  • Frank Lowy's role as head of Westfield is underestimated. Sure, Westfield funds the Lowy Institute and soccer and all that, but those malls are the place where suburban Aussies go to watch movies, buy clothes and food and other units of cultural consumption. Westfield is as Aussie as Vegemite and the Hills Hoist.

Next year the AFR will almot certainly go through this exercise again - no new blood, no boat-rockers, no preparation at all for an environment where the challenge is not who has power but what they do with however much they have. It doesn't help readers understand where we're at and where we're going: it was a circle-jerk of the intellectually tired and the socially insecure. The AFR has no excuse for failing to do this exercise better.

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