Power in Melbourne, as interviewee after interviewee tried to convince The Power Index, is quiet and amorphous, lurking behind every deal and decision but never fully revealing itself.
“It’s a bit like Chinese Guanxi,” reckoned Lord Mayor Robert Doyle, in reference to the Sino approach to business reciprocity.
Infrastructure and major events tsar Sir Rod Eddington agreed: “People line up. They might argue about what the right thing is but once they agree they get behind it.”
Compare Melbourne to somewhere like Sydney — with its poisonous cocktail of corrupt property spivs, Tory shock jocks and egomaniacal Eastern Suburbs fixers — and you’ve got an altogether more mature city.
Some say power in Melbourne hasn’t been singularly embodied ever since Jeff Kennett was forced from power in 1999. Bracks and Brumby, while dominant, never aspired to the same full-spectrum control, and Ted Baillieu struggles to show up on the radar at all.
In fact, some say Kennett retains the real power behind the throne via his regular interventions on Neil Mitchell’s 3AW morning show, his well-read Herald Sun column, his beyondblue bully pulpit and, until December, his presidency of Hawthorn.
(Kennett denied any lingering influence when we contacted him: “I’ve been out of it for so long now, I’m just a pensioner, just a humble little man who doesn’t know anything. If I remember I’m going to change my mobile number, thanks for calling.”)
Still, there are some Melbourne individuals hidden in plain view that, while not commanding control of the panopticon, are at least patrolling the perimeter.
The Power Index agrees that Jeff’s a mere minnow. And we think that other football “identity” Eddie McGuire is mostly a TV host (albeit one with his fingers in half-a-dozen pies).
Far more influential are those in actual positions of executive strength, such as AFL chief Andrew Demetriou and Eddie’s Major Events chairman Sir Rod Eddington. Despite failing to distinguish himself, Baillieu still makes the list.
The public service, operating behind the scenes, can also impel change. In a year of executive meandering, it’s been the state’s senior public servant, Helen Silver, who has kept an eye on the big reforms.
Then there’s the restauranters who determine what appears on Melbournians’ plates. In food-obsessed Melbourne, they wield real cultural power and play an increasingly important role in the city’s economy.
Want to get something built in bleak city? Then you’ll almost have to cut a deal with associates of Bill Oliver’s Construction, Forestry Mining and Energy Union, arguably Australia’s most militant and successful union.
In the media, Herald & Weekly Times chief Peter Blunden can still whip up outrage, perhaps with the help of Neil Mitchell. But it’s really self-described former “fat man” Harold Mitchell that holds the purse strings via his billions in media buying power, his philanthropy and his leadership on numerous cultural boards.