No.26: Jay Weatherill (premier, South Australia). With Labor out of power in all the major states and flailing federally, Jay Weatherill is the best thing the ALP’s got going for it.

Despite fears he would be seen as a puppet of the right-wing powerbrokers who installed him as South Australia’s premier, the left-wing ex-lawyer has proved to be a shrewd, pragmatic and decisive leader since replacing the more colourful Mike Rann last July.

Under Weatherill’s watch, SA Labor has steamed ahead of the Liberals in the polls and notched up some significant policy wins — including the creation of an Independent Commission against Corruption (an idea long-derided by Rann). He’s also legalised public holiday trading on Christmas and New Year’s Day and shaken up economic policy by announcing he will prioritise infrastructure spending over maintaining the state’s AAA credit rating.

Meanwhile, environmentalists have been delighted by his threat to launch a High Court challenge unless more water is returned to Murray-Darling Basin.

It’s a long time until the next election in 2014, but he has a strong chance of taking Labor to a fourth term. — Matthew Knott

No.25: David Gonski (chair, Future Fund). David Gonski is corporate Australia’s Mr Teflon: nothing sticks for long, like the controversy over his appointment to run the Future Fund. It helps that he’s smart, humble and Australia’s most well-connected businessman.

Grey, bespectacled and balding, Gonski is the fixer and negotiator favoured by the big end of town. Listed companies, major not-for-profits and governments of all persuasions ask him for advice, to headhunt board members or chair inquiries. He’s thick as thieves with famous business dynasties the Packers, Murdochs and Lowys, chairs an investment bank and works as a highly sought-after company director.

Most recently, he delivered the long-awaited Gonski review of school funding for the federal government. It’s the first inquiry into education spending for 40 years, with the report recommending a $5 billion injection into schools.

But you don’t rise like Gonski has without an element of ruthlessness. Big business deep throats liken him to a kind of ‘Mafia Don’, who does favours for you but always gets something in return.

“He does things for people. He becomes people’s consigliere, if you like,” offers one associate when asked by The Power Index how Gonski has become so powerful. “Everyone wants to use him or talk to him and he rations it out as a quid pro quo thing,” says another, adding that the IOUs collected by Gonski are rarely for his benefit but for others. — Tom Cowie

No.24: Colin Barnett (premier, Western Australia). Four years ago, Colin Barnett was a political has-been on the verge of retirement. Today, he’s sitting pretty as premier of the nation’s most prosperous state, Western Australia. Few of his predecessors could match him for clout. If resource-rich WA was to stop digging, the national economy would take a big hit.

But that won’t happen under Can-do Colin’s watch. He’s on a mission to make sure his state capitalises on a once in a generation — perhaps once in a lifetime — mining boom. He’s championed Woodside’s plans to build a $30 billion gas hub at James Price Point, despite opposition from some traditional owners. He’s angered business lobby groups by flagging plans to create a sovereign wealth fund. And environmentalists, and the Gillard government, will never forgive him for his doggedly anti-mining tax, anti-carbon tax stance.

All signs, however, suggest the sandgropers love it. Polls have regularly shown Barnett, who leads a minority government, to be the most popular premier in the land. That’s no surprise when you peruse his state’s economic stats. WA’s unemployment rate is at 3.7%, by far the lowest in the country, and its budget is in surplus.

Not that Barnett has got everything he wants. He’s railed against his state’s declining share of GST revenues, but so far Canberra hasn’t given ground. He did, however, succeed in scuttling Kevin Rudd’s ambitious health deal in 2010.

Although the recent departure of his Treasurer, Christian Porter, was a blow, you’d be brave — foolhardy even — to bet against him winning re-election in March 2013. — Matthew Knott

Peter Fray

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