No.7: Stephen Conroy (cabinet minister). Stephen Conroy may look like a nerd, a guy who gets sand kicked in his face. But he’s tough, smart, determined, and a bit of a Superman. So it’s fitting that he’s minister for telephone boxes, or broadband, communications and the digital economy, as they call the job nowadays.

In the past couple of years, the one-time “factional Dalek” has pushed through the $35 billion National Broadband Network, forced Telstra to hand over its cables for public use, set up two major media inquiries, and savaged The Australian and Daily Telegraph for running a “campaign of regime change” against the Gillard government.

He’s also boosted the ABC’s funding, changed the way ABC board members are chosen, handed back millions of dollars in licence fees to commercial TV stations, and tried (unsuccessfully) to censor the internet.

Last year, he overruled his own public servants to snatch the Australia Network from Sky TV — part-owned by Murdoch’s BSkyB — and give it to the ABC in perpetuity.

But most of all, perhaps, he’ll soon be responding to the government’s Convergence Review, which has urged him to scrap Australia’s cross-media laws. That should get him noticed.

Not so long ago, Conroy was a powerful warlord on the ALP Right: his ShortCon faction (named after him and Bill Shorten) still rules the roost in Victoria. And while Conroy’s too busy being a cabinet minister to do much stomping himself, he’s still god at getting his way.

The Power Index suggests he’s a bovver boy at heart, and he laughs. “I call it as I see it,” he retorts: “I’m prepared to say what I think”.

And when it comes to the Murdoch papers, he certainly does, telling The Power Index, “The Australian and The Daily Telegraph have shown no balance. They’ve denigrated the government every single day; they’ve breached their own code of conduct repeatedly.” — Paul Barry (read the rest at The Power Index)

No.6: Gina Rinehart (executive chairperson of Hancock Prospecting). If money talked, Gina Rinehart would have easily the loudest voice in Australia. But Wayne Swan’s just about the only one’s who’s listening, because all she ever tells us is to be nice to miners like her; they make Australia rich.

Sad to say, we’re all much more interested in the mining giant’s battle with three of her four children over $4 billion left to them by their grandfather, Lang Hancock. The kids want Gina dumped as their trustee because she’s starved them of money and told them all to get a job.

Rinehart and her lawyers have busted a gut to keep the gory details secret, but all they’ve done is generate more publicity and ensure every juicy morsel is gobbled up by the papers.

Still, Rinehart has the largest pile in the country and looks willing to use it. If Gina understood the media better, she might get more mileage from her $29 billion fortune. But even though she could afford to buy all of Australia’s newspapers, magazines, commercial TV networks and radio stations, she’ll never be a Murdoch. Her ongoing raid on Fairfax Media — she now owns about 15% — has won her a seat on the board (long-time supporter Jack Cowin), but there’s no sign that will change the papers’ editorial stance. And while she’s done better with her 10% of Network Ten, where her good friend Andrew Bolt has been given his own show, she’s lost half her money in the process.

Rinehart hates the carbon tax and mining tax, and is happy to put her money where her mouth is, funding the 2010 speaking tour by climate change denier Lord Monckton. But she is proof that money can’t always buy love or power. — Paul Barry

Peter Fray

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