No.44: Peta Credlin (chief-of-staff to Tony Abbott). There’s no bigger control freak in Canberra than Peta Credlin. Tony Abbott’s chief-of-staff travels everywhere with the Opposition Leader, pulls Liberal MPs into line when they veer off message, and is driving the Coalition’s relentlessly negative agenda.

“She’s tough, she’s a player, she makes demands, she gives directions, she bawls people out,” says one Liberal insider. “She’s not afraid of stabbing someone in the front if she needs to,” says another.

At 182 centimetres tall, with a long face, and a mane of brown hair, Credlin’s an imposing figure with an imposing personality. Her authority within Abbott’s office is absolute — and extends far beyond it. She’s worked closely with Scott Morrison on asylum seekers and George Brandis on the pursuit of Craig Thomson.

An unabashed populist, Credlin’s from the Graham Richardson “whatever it takes” school of politics. Getting Abbott into the Lodge is her all-consuming passion.

“She’s not a policy-driven person,” says an adviser who worked closely with her in Brendan Nelson’s office. “She was too interested in playing silly buggers.”

In February, the 40-year-old was threatened with permanent expulsion from the House of Representatives for heckling Julia Gillard and Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese during question time (she called Albanese an idiot). — Matthew Knott (read the full profile at The Power Index)

No.43: Robert French (High Court Chief Justice). The Chief Justice of the High Court only commands one out of seven votes, but don’t let that fool you. Robert French is a man who gets his own way.

Since his 2008 appointment, the charismatic, curly-haired West Australian has dissented in only 2% of all cases and set records for achieving unanimous judgments. “French has had a bigger impact than expected — and a positive one,” according to constitutional law expert George Williams.

Although appointed to the bench by Kevin Rudd, French was a committed Liberal Party activist in his university days. A passionate republican, federalist and Aboriginal rights supporter, those who know him best describe him as a “small ‘L’ liberal” whose priority is applying the law, not rewriting it.

The French court’s significant decisions have included killing off the Australian Military Court, overturning the law requiring new voters to be on the roll by 8pm on the day the electoral writs are issued and — most memorably — declaring invalid the federal government’s proposed asylum-seeker swap deal with Malaysia.

Julia Gillard will be hoping French looks more kindly on her cigarette plain-packaging legislation when that case concludes later this year. — Matthew Knott

No.42: Paul Whittaker (The Daily Telegraph editor). Paul Whittaker is the boots ‘n’ all editor of Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, the paper politicians’ fear, and he’s just the sort of journo Rupert Murdoch loves.

With his blue-striped shirt, dark blue tie, steel-rimmed glasses and pale blond hair, “Boris” could easily pass for a bank manager. But he must have been crossed with a pit-bull somewhere down the track, because he sinks his teeth in and never let’s go. It has won him several Walkleys along the way.

And now he has the Daily Terror to attack with. With a circulation of 350,000 (150,000 more than rival The Sydney Morning Herald) and a readership of almost a million — out west where it matters — the paper has the power to swing votes, set the shock-jocks barking and keep our leaders in line, or so the theory goes.

They’ve even tried to goad the current NSW Premier into action, lampooning him as “Barrier O’Farrell”. Perhaps it worked: BOF has since embarked on a crusade to sell off the monorail, slash the public service and privatise the state’s electricity companies.

However, Whittaker has managed to upset federal Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, who has described the paper as “feral” and accused it of running a “jihad” against the government. Since then, and the arrival of new News Limited boss Kim Williams, the Tele seems to have been on a tighter leash, despite having so many tasty targets. — Paul Barry

Peter Fray

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