Throughout July, Paul Barry and The Power Index team will be counting down the most influential people in the nation from business, media, politics, sport and culture …

No.50: Sam Dastyari (NSW Labor Party general secretary). A flashy, even spivvy, dresser who likes French Champagne, Sam Dastyari brings back memories of the ALP’s famous Boy from Bankstown, except he’s polite, well-mannered and doesn’t yet think he’s God.

The pocket-sized former refugee, who was born in a small town in northern Iran and came to Australia when he was five, got the job as NSW Labor’s general secretary in March 2010 at the tender age of 27. But despite his youth and inexperience, he’s already making his mark.

For a start, it was his idea to get Australia’s new Foreign Minister, Bob Carr, a senate seat. But he’s also been leading the battered party’s push to reform.

It was Dastyari who persuaded the factional bosses to trial primaries in NSW, so the public can have a say in picking candidates. He has also boosted party membership, which hit rock bottom in 2011, with bizarre offers of dinner with Bob Hawke for recruits, which snared a record 400 people in the first half of April.

Dastyari is hailed as the Graham Richardson of his generation, and has the gig that set Richo on the road to power. But he does not seem like a cynical machine man. “There’s no point in winning government,” he told The Power Index, “if you don’t do something with it”.

With his matinee idol looks and shiny dark hair, Dastyari resembles a very young Omar Sharif. And he is almost as smooth. He is also charming, funny and so full of ideas he can hardly complete his sentences. “He has undiagnosed ADHD,” says a friend. “He just can’t sit still.” — Paul Barry (read the full story at The Power Index)

No.49: Noel Pearson (lawyer, academic, activist). Noel Pearson has unrivalled influence over indigenous Australia, despite the fact many of his own people say he doesn’t speak for them.

An impressive intellect and dynamic orator, you only need to see the powerful people lining up to support what Pearson’s doing in Cape York to know how much authority he’s got. Tony Abbott, John Howard and freshly minted Queensland premier Campbell Newman are all admirers.

“He has tremendous influence, prime ministers of all political persuasions have flown to the Cape to have a chat with him,” indigenous leader Warren Mundine told The Power Index.

But inside the indigenous community debate continues to rage over who Pearson speaks for. It hasn’t helped that his ideas for combating disadvantage in indigenous Australia, such as the Cape York Welfare Reform Trial, have been so controversial.

Still, there is a belief among those in Canberra that Pearson has carte blanche to influence indigenous policy-making on both sides.

As independent MP Rob Oakeshott once told Parliament: “We continue to see both sides of the chamber wanting to get close to Noel Pearson in Cape York because of some perception that, if you are close to Noel Pearson, you have the voice of Aboriginal people in Australia.” — Tom Cowie

No.48: Andrew Scipione (NSW Police Commissioner). Skippy, as he’s affectionately known, runs the fourth-largest police force in the Western world. But it’s his personality, popularity and performance — not just his position — that makes him so powerful.

He’s the first NSW police chief in two decades to be appointed by both sides of politics and has even managed to win over the tough-on-crime tub-thumpers at 2GB and The Daily Telegraph. After all, there’s not much to whinge about when crime rates in all major categories are stable or falling, as they have been under his watch.

“He’s a top cop, a good cop, and a straight shooter with strong ethics,” former premier Morris Iemma told us.

A teetotaller and devout Christian, Scipione has been the driving force behind the crackdown on alcohol-fuelled violence and the corresponding drop in assault rates.

More controversially, he’s overseen the roll-out of Tasers to general-duty police. NSW ombudsman Bruce Barbour has recently spoken out about the increasing use of the electroshock weapon — a phenomenon highlighted earlier this year when Brazilian student Roberto Laudisio Curti died after being Tasered in the Sydney CBD. — Matthew Knott

Peter Fray

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