No.38: Ben Hubbard (chief-of-staff to Prime Minister Julia Gillard). Ask Labor insiders about Ben Hubbard and you’ll hear the same words again and again: organised, well-liked, calm, policy-focused.

While blokey and bawdy — a frequent dropper of the “f” bomb — he’s not bad-tempered. “I can’t imagine anybody not liking Ben,” says a former senior Gillard staffer. “It’s hard to think of a bad thing to say about him,” remarks a former ALP national secretary.

Hubbard helped the PM manoeuvre the carbon and mining taxes through a hung parliament — both legislative triumphs. And there’s no doubt he’s made Gillard’s office a smoother, more cohesive unit by setting up clear structures to deal with bureaucrats and ministers.

But Hubbard is not just an administrator, he’s the prime minister’s chief political adviser. And there’s no escaping the Gillard government’s political blunders. They all lead to one conclusion: Gillard is being given poor advice — or she’s receiving sound counsel and ignoring it. Just look at the failure to foresee the fury that Gillard’s decision to break her “no carbon tax” promise would unleash, or the Australia Day tent debacle.

Still, the PM, who convinced him to leave a plum job running the Victorian Bushfire Reconstruction Taskforce, trusts him implicitly. While she remains in power, he’ll be one of the most influential people in Canberra. — Matthew Knott

No.37: Greg Medcraft (chair, ASIC). Greg Medcraft’s attempt to fix all that’s wrong with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, and transform it into a competent regulator that can come out on the winning side of a big-end-of-town battle, has sent a clear message to the corporate world: be afraid.

It’s been a tough ask. Following a string of high-profile losses in the Federal Court before his tenure, Medcraft took the helm of ASIC at a time when he needed to prove to the business community that he’s willing to take on a fight. So far, he’s showing all the signs that he is.

Those who’ve been in his company and know his previous record expected nothing less. They say he’s a master technician: an operator and a networker who knows who to get involved, who to make feel involved, and who to simply leave out.

Medcraft spent 27 years at Societe Generale climbing from promotion to promotion, from continent to continent, and ultimately ending his career there as global head of securitisation.

He plays well in large organisations. He likes to hunt in packs. He’s on track to make ASIC relevant again. — Angela Priestley

No. 36: Clive Palmer (CEO, Mineralogy and executive chairman Waratah Coal). Crazy Clive Palmer is one of those colourful Queenslanders who made life such fun in the 1980s. Large, loud and litigious, he amassed millions in Gold Coast property before turning it into billions more recently with big bets in mining.

A lifelong supporter of the National Party, Big C once worked for Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen as his media adviser, and he has clearly adopted some of the old premier’s balmy ideas. According to Clive, the CIA has been conspiring to destroy the Australian coal industry by funding Greenpeace to attack it. You don’t say?

Palmer has also said recently he’s keen to set up his own Queensland newspaper, or join Gina Rinehart in Fairfax. Now that would be fun …

No one’s quite certain what Palmer is worth, because none of his coal and iron ore projects are up and running yet: BRW reckons he’s a $5 billion man, while Forbes plumps for a mere $795 million. But either way he’s rich enough to be the biggest political donor in Australia, giving nearly $3 million to the Coalition in the past three years (with the bulk going to Queensland’s LNP).

Palmer is close to LNP founder and president, Bruce McIver, but less so to the state’s new premier Campbell Newman. As to how much power that gives him, we’re not sure, but he might have more if he said less. — Paul Barry

Peter Fray

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