Party animals: Labor and Liberals most influential players

Governments come and go but behind the scenes are players pulling the strings and wielding influence unseen by the public.

In 2019, there has been a seismic shift in the landscape of Australia's power players, brought on by an explosive banking royal commission, a leadership spill, a shock federal election result and a foreign influence crackdown.

Today, News Corp shines a light on who is big behind the scenes and how they operate to influence our daily lives.

The Power Brokers list includes 100 of the country's most influential people in business, defence, health, the public service, politics and a raft of other fields.

It includes billionaires or business figures with extensive political contacts and influence such as Australia's richest man Anthony Pratt and Andrew Forrest.

It also includes Prime Minister Scott Morrison's closest advisors, the lobbyists who represent powerful interest groups or corporations, the groups that wine and dine politicians with gifts or tickets to sporting events and some of the country's biggest political donors.

The list was compiled by scouring politicians' interest registers, the Australian Electoral Commission's annual political donations disclosures, the lobbyist register and speaking to politicians, bureaucrats and Canberra watchers to compile the list.

Other individuals were selected for the influence they wield in other ways, such as former politicians, domestic violence campaigner Rosie Batty, AFL chief Gillon McLachlan or Donald Trump's man in Canberra Arthur Culvahouse.

 

PARTY PLAYERS: ADVISERS, INSIDERS, AND UNIONISTS

 

 

Scott Briggs is the head of Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s local Federal Electorate Conference. Picture: Kym Smith
Scott Briggs is the head of Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s local Federal Electorate Conference. Picture: Kym Smith

Scott Briggs

Scott Briggs is a mate and political ally of Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

Not only is Briggs head of Morrison's local Federal Electorate Conference in the seat of Cook but he is also a director of the PM's favourite NRL team, the Cronulla Sharks.

According to author Niki Savva, he was at Parliament House with Morrison during the leadership spill week when he became prime minister.

It was also reported he helped Morrison hit the phones last year to prevent a pre-selection challenge against outspoken Liberal MP Craig Kelly, who was not ruling out a move to the crossbench if he was toppled.

Briggs also has professional ties with Malcolm Turnbull after working for Turnbull's private investment firm from 2003 to 2005.

He was then Deputy Director of the NSW Liberal Party from 2005 to 2007.

His investment firm Pacific Blue Capital donated $53,500 to the Liberal Party in 2017-18.

 

 

Scott Morrison's Chief of Staff John Kunkel, who pulls the strongs in the PM’s office.
Scott Morrison's Chief of Staff John Kunkel, who pulls the strongs in the PM’s office.

John Kunkel

Behind the scenes, Dr John Kunkel is one of the most powerful people in Parliament.

He is Scott Morrison's chief of staff - the Prime Minister's closest adviser.

Before joining the PM's office last year, Dr Kunkel worked as the in-house lobbyist for Rio Tinto, representing the mining giant in Canberra.

He also previously worked as a speech writer and policy adviser for John Howard, as an economist and for six years as a senior figure with the Minerals Council of Australia.

As the PM's chief of staff, he is Morrison's right hand man and his advice will carry significant weight.

 

 

Yaron Finklestein was one of the masterminds behind Scott Morrison’s election strategy. Picture: Temple Executive Search
Yaron Finklestein was one of the masterminds behind Scott Morrison’s election strategy. Picture: Temple Executive Search

Yaron Finkelstein

One of the mastermind's behind Scott Morrison's election strategy was Yaron Finkelstein.

Before joining the Prime Minister's office as his principal private secretary, Finkelstein worked for 12 years for Liberal-aligned campaign, polling and strategic advice firm Crosby Textor.

He headed up the company as its chief executive for three years before making the switch back to politics (he had previously worked for Brendan Nelson as a media and policy adviser).

Finkelstein is one of Morrison's closest advisers and travelled with him on the road during the election.

 

 

Stuart Robert is the NDIS Minister. Picture: Luke Marsden.
Stuart Robert is the NDIS Minister. Picture: Luke Marsden.

Stuart Robert

One of Scott Morrison's closest mates in Parliament is Stuart Robert.

The duo were housemates in Canberra on sitting weeks, along with fellow Liberal MP Steve Irons, and are also members of a Liberal MP prayer group in Parliament.

Robert was one of Morrison's key backers during the week of the leadership spill to oust Malcolm Turnbull.

He has acknowledged speaking to his fellow Liberal MPs throughout the week to canvass support for Morrison.

In Morrison's first ministerial reshuffle, in the wake of the spill, Robert was made Assistant Treasurer.

Following the election and the Coalition's "miracle" win, he was promoted to a cabinet minister, holding the portfolios of Government Services and Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

As a minister he wields obvious power, but will also continue to be one of the PM's closest confidants.

 

 

Andrew Hirst became Federal Director of the Liberal Party of Australia in 2017. Picture: Liberal Party
Andrew Hirst became Federal Director of the Liberal Party of Australia in 2017. Picture: Liberal Party

Andrew Hirst

As one of the principal architects behind Scott Morrison's "miracle" election win, Andrew Hirst's star is only set to rise further.

Hirst became the federal director of the Liberal Party in 2017 when the Coalition looked to be heading towards an election wipeout.

The young gun director is credited with pulling together the campaign team that helped secure Morrison's victory, including hiring New Zealand-based ad agency Topham Guerin, running tight, targeted messaging and ramping up the party's use of online campaigning.

It's won him praise from senior party figures and secured his spot at the top.

Hirst came to the role after a brief stint at Liberal-aligned campaign strategy group Crosby Textor.

He had previously worked for four Liberal leaders, including John Howard, Brendan Nelson, Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott.

 

 

Christopher Pyne remains a powerful figure in politics. Picture: Mike Buron
Christopher Pyne remains a powerful figure in politics. Picture: Mike Buron

Christopher Pyne

In parliament, Christopher Pyne was one of the Liberal Party's most powerful figures.

He was leader of the federal moderate faction and rose to become the nation's Defence Minister before quitting politics at the 2019 election after a 26 year career.

Pyne also had a role in Scott Morrison being elected Liberal leader after he opted to throw the moderates' support behind Morrison over Julie Bishop, who he didn't believe could defeat Peter Dutton in a leadership ballot.

'The Fixer' is no longer in Parliament but he remains a powerful figure in the Liberal Party, particularly in his home state of South Australia.

Behind the scenes, Pyne was instrumental in helping the advancement of fellow moderates, including people who now occupy powerful positions such as his successor in the seat of Sturt, James Stevens, or Premier Steven Marshall.

He has taken up a defence consultant role with EY post politics, which became the subject of a Senate inquiry when crossbench senators suggested it didn't "pass the pub test".

He has also become a regular columnist for The Adelaide Advertiser.

 

 

Peter Costello remains highly influential as the chairman of the Future Fund. Picture: David Geraghty
Peter Costello remains highly influential as the chairman of the Future Fund. Picture: David Geraghty

Peter Costello

Peter Costello is still responsible for managing billions of dollars of taxpayers' money a decade after leaving politics.

The long-serving federal Treasurer isn't in the spotlight as much these days but he remains a highly influential figure charged with managing about $175 billion on behalf of the Australian Government as chairman of the Future Fund.

Costello joined the board of the sovereign wealth fund in 2009 after leaving politics and was appointed chairman in 2014.

The fund was formed by Costello as Treasurer in 2006 to safeguard and invest taxpayer money so it could cover the cost of the public service's superannuation payments from 2020, estimated to be about $7 billion a year.

Costello will remain at the fund's helm until 2024 after being re-appointed for another five year term in February.

As a respected former treasurer, his voice also carries weight when he speaks out on issues such as the country's economic management, superannuation or politics.

 

 

Hellowworld chief executive Andrew Burnes has strong ties to politics.
Hellowworld chief executive Andrew Burnes has strong ties to politics.

Andrew Burnes

Andrew Burnes recently stepped down as the honorary federal treasury of the Liberal Party in the wake of the Helloworld travel saga.

But the chief executive of the travel company and long-time Liberal still has friends in high places.

It was his close friendship with Mathias Cormann that sparked controversy in February, when it emerged Helloworld never charged the Finance Minister Mathias Cormann for flights for a family trip to Singapore.

Helloworld said it had mistakenly booked the flights on its "staff and family travel" account.

Burnes' friendship with Australian Ambassador to the US Joe Hockey also came under scrutiny after it emerged he set up meetings with Hockey and a Helloworld executive about embassy travel arrangements.

Burnes was honorary federal treasury of the Liberal Party from 2015 until he stepped down in June this year.

He was also Treasurer of the Victorian Liberal Party from 2009 to 2011 and worked at Tourism Australia at the same time Scott Morrison was the managing director.

 

Michael Photios is one of Australia’s most sought-after lobbyists. Picture: Tim Hunter.
Michael Photios is one of Australia’s most sought-after lobbyists. Picture: Tim Hunter.

Michael Photios

Michael Photios is a Liberal Party powerbroker and one of the nation's most sought-after lobbyists.

Telstra and Glencore Coal are just some of the major companies that employ his government relations firms PremierState and PremierNational to lobby both the federal and NSW governments.

Other major clients include the Australian Energy Council and the RSPCA.

Photios is also a power broker for the moderate faction of the Liberal Party in NSW, with influence over which candidates are pre-selected to run for the party in federal and state seats and which candidates are given prime spots on the party's Senate ticket.

It makes him an incredibly powerful figure in the state that gave Australia its last three prime ministers, Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison.

 

 

Brian Loughnane remains influential in the Liberal Party.
Brian Loughnane remains influential in the Liberal Party.

Brian Loughnane

Liberal Party heavyweight Brian Loughnane remains influential but in less obvious roles than previous years.

Loughnane, a former chief of staff to Alexander Downer and John Howard, was federal director of the Liberal Party director for an impressive 13 years before he stepped down in 2016.

Last year, he took up a role on the board of Liberal Party think tank, the Menzies Research Centre, which will continue to give him influence over the party's direction.

The Centre regularly publishes reports on key policy areas, including recently on 'Why sugar taxes won't work', 'Rebooting the National Energy Market' and 'A hidden carbon tax: How bad policy drives up the cost of electricity'.

Loughnane is married to Peta Credlin, Tony Abbott's former chief of staff.

Credlin's current role as a Sky News host might not have as much direct power as her previous job but her political commentary has been influential on the party, particularly her outspoken criticisms of Malcolm Turnbull's government ahead of last year's leadership spill.

 

 

Jeff Kennett is a powerful figure in sport and politics. Picture: Michael Klein
Jeff Kennett is a powerful figure in sport and politics. Picture: Michael Klein

Jeff Kennett

Jeff Kennett is a prominent public figure with a powerful role in the AFL two decades after quitting politics.

The former Victorian Premier and Liberal Party elder is currently the president of the Hawthorn Football Club.

It's his second stint in the role, after a break of several years in between.

He has also had a lasting impact on Australia as the founder of BeyondBlue, building it into one of the country's leading mental health and suicide prevention group.

Kennett served as the group's chairman for 17 years before he stepped down in 2017 to be replaced by former prime minister Julia Gillard.

Kennett is an outspoken commentator on federal and state politics and continues to be an influential figure in the Victorian Liberal Party.

He also sits on a number of boards, including as Chairman for The Torch, which runs a program helping incarcerated Indigenous Australians after their release.

 

New ALP National Secretary Paul Erickson is a key part of Labor’s future strategy. Picture: Twitter
New ALP National Secretary Paul Erickson is a key part of Labor’s future strategy. Picture: Twitter

 

Paul Erickson

Noah Carroll was one of the most powerful people in the Labor Party until about 9pm on May 18.

The knives were out after Labor lost the "unlosable" election and the National Secretary officially stepped down in July.

Paul Erickson became the new National Secretary of the ALP this month and will be a key figure in steering the party to a new direction after its election loss.

A wide-ranging review is already underway into what went wrong, which is being led by former South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill.

From here, the party will need to decide whether to dump or keep the policy platform it took to the election, including its policy to axe tax refunds for franking credits.

Erickson has been Assistant Secretary since 2014.

 

 

Linda White is influential in the unions and Labor as head of the Chifley Research Centre.
Linda White is influential in the unions and Labor as head of the Chifley Research Centre.

Linda White

Trade unionist Linda White is an influential figure in the Labor movement as head of the official party think tank, the Chifley Research Centre.

She is also a member of Labor's national executive and a senior figure in the Australian Services Union.

As Labor's official think tank, the CRC can put issues on the party's policy agenda or sway thinking on matters already being talked about.

It has recently issued papers on the gender pay gap and environmental policy.

In October, Labor's national president Wayne Swan flagged that he wanted to ramp up the output of the nation's progressive think tanks over concerns they were being "outgunned" by conservative think tanks.

White was appointed Chair of the Chifley Research Centre in 2015.

The body's executive director Brett Gale has also previously been a Labor staffer but most recently worked in government relations for Westpac.

 

 

Secretary of the ACTU Sally McManus is quite influential. Picture: Josh Woning
Secretary of the ACTU Sally McManus is quite influential. Picture: Josh Woning

Sally McManus

Sally McManus is one of the most powerful people in the nation as the face of the Australian union movement.

She rose through the ranks to become the first female Secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions in 2017 and has been one of the biggest targets for the Coalition government ever since.

Her rhetoric on 'cuts' to penalty rates and calls to increase the rate of Newstart and address low wage growth became key narratives the Coalition government had to confront under both Scott Morrison and Malcolm Turnbull.

Morrison turned her influence back on Bill Shorten during the federal election campaign, warning business groups McManus would "figuratively" be on the board of every company in Australia and the union movement "in control" of every business if Labor was elected.

McManus's firm stance in calling for John Setka to stand down as Secretary of the Victorian branch of the CFMMEU's construction arm has threatened to derail her leadership in recent weeks, with Setka's allies calling for her to step aside.

She is standing firm but the controversy remains ongoing as Setka challenges a push to expel him from the Labor party.

 



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