No.20: Martin Parkinson (Treasury secretary). Treasury boss Martin Parkinson is steering Australia through the murkiest global economic conditions seen since the Great Depression. It helps that he’s one of the most well-credentialed purse-string holders we’ve ever had.

With a pHD from Princeton (where he studied under current Fed chief Ben Bernanke) and degrees from the University of Adelaide and Australian National University, Parky certainly has the smarts to provide frank and fearless policy advice to Wayne Swan.

And having inherited the keys to the coffers from Ken Henry, whose work during the GFC prompted Julia Gillard to laud him as “one of the greatest”, he’s also got a hard act to follow.

But it’ll be how Parkinson deals with the fresh economic turmoil that dictates how his era ends up being judged. As the fallout flows from the eurozone debt crisis and the US continues to stutter, Treasury must be keeping all its fingers and toes crossed that the little economy that could keeps on powering along.

Because Australia’s numbers are good. Unemployment is the envy of the developed world at 5.2% (despite a small recent rise), inflation is 1.6% and growth is 4.3%. That picture has led Parkinson to urge Australians to shake off their “boom with the gloom” mentality and realise we’re not Greece.

Still, a lot of Australia’s prosperity depends on resources and demand within our region. If, as numbers are starting to suggest, China slows down, Parkinson could be in for a few sleepless nights. — Tom Cowie

No.19: Ted Baillieu (premier, Victoria). The Premier of Victoria should be the most powerful figure in Melbourne, if not the entire state, by pulling significant levers that shape the city’s economy and culture.

But the observers we spoke to for our Melbourne power list were not so sure if that’s the case with Ted Baillieu, and that’s why he doesn’t feature right up the pointy end of the Power 50.

The problem is Baillieu lacks a sense of urgency. Insiders tell of cabinet proposals sitting in limbo for months before being signed off with hours to spare. They talk of the party losing $5 million from donors while Baillieu failed to bed down fund-raising guidelines that should have taken a week.

And a leader that once promised “no secrecy, no spin” is now so paranoid that even the simplest of FOI (freedom of information) requests take months to process.

While Baillieu’s quietly bedding down modest reforms with little or no fanfare, it may not be enough to prevent him from becoming a “oncer” — the first since David Tonkin’s disastrous effort in South Australia in 1982. — Andrew Crook

No.19: Kerry Stokes (chairman, Seven West Media). Kerry Stokes is one of our last old-style media moguls, with controlling stakes in Australia’s top TV network and its second-largest magazine group via the Seven Media Group, plus Western Australia’s only daily paper, The West Australian.

But the one-time street kid and TV repairman has never been interested in throwing his weight around politically Packer or Murdoch style. And as he told The Power Index, “I don’t believe I have power. If I did, I might be tempted to use it.”

Nevertheless, “Little” Kerry has had his moments, like in 1996, when Channel Seven pulled a Today Tonight expose of Victorian premier Jeff Kennett’s share dealings, minutes before it went to air. Stokes protested he knew nothing about the decision, but later dismissed journalists responsible for the story, which Channel Seven’s managing director claimed could do the network “enormous damage in Victoria”.

More recently, in 2007-8, Kerry flexed his muscles at The West Australian by buying a 20% stake and gaining control of the board, which then sacked editor Paul Armstrong. “The West Australian seemed to be at war with everyone,” Stokes told The Power Index, “its suppliers, distributors and readers, and the public service.” Stokes says it was about “bringing the newspaper back to a standard we want it to be in this state”.

Others wish he’d raise standards at Seven’s Today Tonight, which has been described as “cancerous”, “amoral”, “sensationalist”, “sordid” and a “disgrace”. But it clearly makes too much money for Stokes to interfere. — Paul Barry

Peter Fray

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