Our Sydney Top Ten is not a list of powerful people who just happen to live in the city. So you won’t find James Packer or Tony Abbott or a bunch of other famous Sydney dwellers who might loom large in an Australian hit parade.

Our list is about people who can change the face of Sydney, or have already done so; people who can change the way it looks, feels and works, and make it a better (or worse) place to live.

So we’re talking transport, traffic, jobs, housing, planning, architecture, shopping, culture, sport, media and entertainment. And let’s not forget safety, which we in Australia so often take for granted.

We haven’t selected people just because they can pick up the phone and demand to be heard. We’re not talking about people who think they’re important because everyone tells them they are. We’re talking about people who really make a difference.

Who’s out?

There are plenty of well-known names we’ve had to discard from the list. David Gonski, Sydney’s champion business networker, doesn’t crack our Top 10, despite being one of the best-connected people in the city: he has influence, yes, but how much real power? There’s also no room for David Gyngell or David Gallop, though each can claim a degree of power for what they do in sport. Neither is there a space for Cardinal Pell or Archbishop Jensen, despite their faithful flocks, or for Hillsong’s Brian Houston, whose church is growing daily. Nor are there any architects, artists, planners, sportspeople, doctors or scientists in the Top 10. Each deserves (and may get) their own list soon, but none of these people are strong enough (yet) to make the A-team.

Who’s in?

Most of Sydney’s key players pick themselves. You can’t go past NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell, whose government could be running the state for the next dozen years. Nor can you ignore the NSW Treasury, which holds the purse strings. Nick Greiner has to get a spot as head of Infrastructure NSW, which has the job of sorting out Sydney’s traffic mess. And Sydney’s lord mayor, Clover Moore, is another you can’t ignore: she may be just a CBD mayor but she gets closer to absolute power in her domain than almost anybody. Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione is another with unbridled power in an area that affects us all, and he’s doing something with it by cracking down on alcohol-fuelled violence. Shock jock Alan Jones shouts his way onto the list, because he’s a master of setting the agenda and seizing the debate. And Daily Telegraph editor Paul Whittaker is right up there alongside him. Harry Triguboff, the Meriton billionaire, has done more than most to change the way Sydney lives with the 55,000 apartments he has built over the years, and is not slowing down.

That just leaves two empty spots. We’ve given one to the CEO of Clubs NSW, Anthony Ball, who is running the bare-knuckle campaign against Andrew Wilkie’s proposed new pokie laws. And the last one goes to Cate Blanchett, co-artistic director at the Sydney Theatre Company, who waves the flag for the arts.

The rich and powerful

We probably should have tried to find a spot for Frank Lowy, whose Westfield shopping centres are such a big part of Sydney (and Australian) life, but most of the changes he wrought are now ancient history. And the same goes for Professor Simon Chapman, who was probably the key person responsible for getting smoking banned in Sydney’s pubs, clubs and restaurants. We would have liked to find space for a big pub owner — maybe John Singleton or Justin Hemmes or the lesser-known but very successful Bruce Solomon. And perhaps even for night-club owner and colourful Kings Cross identity John Ibrahim. But we decided not to go there — yet. We’ll keep that as a treat in store for later.

The shadowy elite

And we did search for the shadowy elite, that rich and powerful club which is supposed to run everything behind the scenes. But it was so well hidden we couldn’t find it. Call us old-fashioned, but we believe it’s the people with their hands on the levers who really run the city. But if you can show us otherwise, we’d love to hear from you.

Peter Fray

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