When deciding who should comprise our Power 50, and how to rank them, The Power Index surveyed Private Media’s most experienced journalists, editors and publishers. As a combined group, the panel has decades of experience covering national affairs, business, culture and the media.

Together we came to the decision that the most powerful person in the nation could be none other than Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

That’s not to say we were all in agreement. The discussion was fierce; some considered billionaire mining magnate Gina Rinehart as a force to be reckoned with, while others believed RBA governor Glenn Stevens‘ role in the monthly interest rates circus gave him claims on No.1.

Some argued that Tony Abbott has wielded the most power from opposition, reflected by the Coalition’s strong polling numbers. Rupert Murdoch‘s name was also regularly brought up, particularly considering News Limited’s wider position of power in this country (four of his newspapermen also made the list).

Despite all this, Gillard has emerged holding the title as our most powerful person.

We understand many people don’t regard her as powerful. In fact, one of our own contributors Bernard Keane didn’t even rate the Prime Minister as the most powerful person in Canberra (let alone the country), preferring her deputy Wayne Swan instead.

But, in reality, no person has more power at their disposal right at this minute than her. However tenuous her hold on the leadership, or her party’s grip on power, may be, Gillard is still the one holding the keys to the Lodge.

What she has done with that power is up for debate. Labor has achieved some serious reform during her leadership, including the carbon price, mining tax and the national disability insurance scheme (although even getting COAG to agree to that has been a challenge to her power). Despite her abysmal performance in the polls, she has been able to pass significant legislation where her predecessor Kevin Rudd failed.

As Keane wrote for us in his profile of Gillard earlier this year:

“The defining characteristic of Gillard’s Prime Ministership has been her capacity to negotiate outcomes. That is how she secured power for Labor in the aftermath of an indecisive election. That is how Labor has secured a legislative record the equal of a majority government. The predictions of gridlock and chaos so common in September 2010 have quietly vanished.”

That’s not to say we believe Gillard will be our most powerful person in a year. By then, any potential leadership changes will have played out and, enormous political turnaround aside, Labor will be facing its eve of electoral destruction. As Keane notes, a 2013 bloodbath could undermine her legacy:

“As a consequence, Labor’s major reforms — the carbon pricing package, the mining tax, reforms to financial advice — are in danger of being reversed by a populist opposition positioned to win in a landslide. The reform task isn’t complete until reforms become embedded in the Australian economy.”

That is, unless she uses her power to turn things around.

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