We’ve called them megaphones, but we could have called them shit-stirrers, tub-thumpers or loudmouths. These are the people who rustle up controversy, spark debate and help set the tone of our national conversation and they make up The Power Index‘s latest list.

They needn’t be journalists, or even work in the media (although most of them do). And they needn’t be populist right-wingers (although most of them are). What matters is that they’re noisy, opinionated and provocative. Getting people talking and politicians reacting is the name of the game.

You may not like some — or most — of the people on our megaphones list. You may even loathe them. But it would be a big mistake to ignore them. While they don’t directly control the levers of power, they do wield a real –and growing — influence in our country.

What can the megaphones do?

  • Inject new issues into the national conversation.
  • Make people mad: heighten their fears, pander to their prejudices, super-size their outrage.
  • Mobilise the audience to take action — to protest, to phone their MP and complain, maybe even to shift their vote.
  • Champion their friends and fellow travellers when they’re on the up; defend them when they’re under the pump.
  • Bully, ridicule and attack those they disagree with — hopefully enough to make them give up. Or, if they’re really talented, stop them piping up in the first place.
  • Pressure politicians and other key decision makers in public and behind the scenes.

What makes them influential?

  • Reach. Numbers matter: without a large number of listeners or readers, your ability to influence debate will be limited.
  • Strident opinions. Being a megaphone is not about nuance or balance — it’s about good and bad, right and wrong. Leave doubt at the door if you want to cut it in this game.
  • Determination. The best megaphones understand the power of repetition and are willing to champion an issue to get their way.
  • Communication skills. Maybe they understand the power of the microphone; maybe they’re skilled at flinging flames in print. Having an opinion isn’t enough — you’ve got to know how to express it.
  • Independence. Strong political views are good but if people perceive you as a party stooge, then you’re in trouble.

No. 10: Phillip Adams

Phillip Adams is bearded, bald and undeniably brilliant. He’s got the longest-running column in the national broadsheet, the top-rating program on ABC Radio National, and he’s a perennial trendsetter. Adams embraced atheism at age five (despite being the son of a congregational minister), coined the term “corporate p-edophilia” and was one of the first Australians to warn of the threat posed by global warming. He sits on so many boards you’d have to chop down a forest to print his CV.

He’s doesn’t need us to tell him he’s influential.

“I always was astonished at how easy it was to become influential,” the left-wing crusader said in 2007. “I’ve never been powerful — that’s a different phenomenon, you’ve got to have your hands on the levers. But I’ve had almost half a century now of a degree of influence.”

He’s also got a potty mouth.

“I’m so f-cking tired I can hardly think,” he says when The Power Index rings for a chat — only to regale us with a dizzying stream of jokes, anecdotes and razor-sharp observations. It’s a shame he hates going to dinner parties: he’d be a bloody good guest.

*Read the rest of the profile here

No. 9: Dick Smith

He’s been called a hypocrite, a pest, an egomaniac and a shameless self-promoter. But also gutsy, generous and passionate about making Australia a better place. Dick Smith never sits still and never shuts up. He’s the wildcard in our pack of megaphones.

Unlike the other contenders, Smith doesn’t have a regular column or radio show to air his views. This means he sometimes struggles to influence the national debate.

“It’s so frustraaating,” he tells The Power Index in his scratchy singsong voice. “I have so little influence in what I’m trying to do.”

He says his latest book, Dick Smith’s Population Crisis, has been “the greatest flop in publishing history”. And no suitable young Australian has yet emerged to claim his offer of $1 million for coming up with a vision to wean Australia off its “growth addiction”.

*Read the rest of the profile here

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey