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Australia’s Most Powerful People Of 2017 Revealed

October 9, 2017 Business News No Comments Email Email

Malcom Turnbull and Lucy Turnbull top the Australian Financial Review Magazine’s 2017 Overt and Covert Lists of Australia’s most powerful people, out today in AFR Magazine’s annual Power issue and online at

The couple’s dual reign marks the first time in the 17-year history of the Power issue that a prime minister and his wife have simultaneously ranked #1 on the Overt and Covert Power lists.

The AFR Magazine’s 2017 Overt and Covert Power lists were decided by an independent panel of political, media and business experts.

Panellists included former Liberal Party federal director and coalition campaign director, Brian Loughnane, former Liberal immigration minister, Amanda Vanstone, Vice-chancellor and president of James Cook University, Sandra Harding, and former director general of security for ASIO, Dennis Richardson, among others.

For the purposes of constructing the Power Lists, ‘overt power’ is defined as power that largely comes as a consequence of a person’s position or standing.

Covert power’ is defined as individuals or institutions that have indirect power, bringing about change by using their ability to influence the people with overt power.


 The AFR Magazine’s annual Overt Power List ranks the 10 individuals in Australia who wield more power than anyone else.

Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull retains prime position on this year’s Overt Power List, beating out opposition leader Bill Shorten (#2) and Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce (#3).

Both Shorten and Joyce hold steady in their ranking positions from 2016.

The Power Panel determined that while Turnbull remains Australia’s most overtly powerful person due to his position in office, his power has taken a dent in 2017.

The panel put Turnbull’s loss of power down to an internal struggle in the Liberal Party between conservatives and moderates, as well as the unceasing challenges presented by a weak position in the Parliament.

They also cited Turnbull’s inability to both assert authority within his own party and project a clear agenda and leadership style to voters.

Shorten, on the other hand, was one of the few figures the panel determined had increased their overt power during the past year.

The panel reasoned that Shorten had successfully reinforced his authority within the Labor Party and the labour movement, as well as lifting the opposition’s primary vote in the polls and forcing the government to embrace some of Labor’s agenda.

The highest new entrant on the 2017 Overt Power List is Finance Minister and Deputy Government Leader in the Senate, Mathias Cormann.

Cormann debuts at #4 after emerging in 2017 as a stabilising force inside the government and as an effective negotiator with the Senate crossbench.

The panel assessed Cormann to be an “outstanding minister” that the government’s legislative program depends on.

The fact that Cormann has overseen more federal budgets than Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison was seen an additional key factor propelling him up the overt power ranks.

In a somewhat surprising inclusion, Tony Abbott returns to the Overt Power List for the first time since losing the prime ministership.

Abbot re-enters at #9, replacing Liberal leader and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, who slips off the list in 2017.

Abbott’s return to prominence as a thorn in Malcom Turnbull’s side, and as the voice of conservative discontent within the Liberal Party, convinced the Power Panel to return his name to the Overt Power List.

However, several panel members emphasised Abbott’s destructive, rather than constructive, use of power to disrupt the Turnbull government and hinder the Prime Minister’s ability to lead the country effectively.

“… I don’t think he has the chance to exercise power positively. But if you mean power by being disruptive of a major political party then, yes, OK. But if you mean the power to get things done, no,” said panellist Amanda Vanstone.

Notably, Abbott was the only person on the Overt Power List who declined AFR Magazine’s request to pose for the Power issue’s portrait photography series.

Secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions Sally McManus rounds out the 2017 Overt Power List at #10 – the only woman to make the list this year.


Lucy Turnbull’s ascent to #1 on the 2017 Covert Power List marks the first time a woman has topped the list since AFR Magazine launched the Power issue in 2001.

In the context of the Power lists, ‘covert power’ is defined as individuals or institutions that have indirect power, bringing about change by using their ability to influence the people with overt power.

The Power Panel assessed Lucy Turnbull’s power as deriving from her work in and for a cross-section of business organisations and community causes, and because of her role as chief confidante and personal adviser to the Prime Minister.

Another woman closely entrenched in Malcom Turnbull’s life, his Principal Private Secretary Sally Cray, rises to #3 on the Covert Power List.

Cray ranks a position below Duncan Lewis and the security agencies, who debut at #2 following the continued rise of national security on the political agenda both nationally and abroad.

Ray Hadley and populist right-wing media also debut on the Covert Power List at #8, while Paul Oosting and activist group for progressive policies GetUp! enter at #9.

The Power Panel perceived Hadley and right-wing media to have made the loudest noise in national affairs in 2017, with Hadley considered to be the most influential of the bunch.

Oosting and GetUp!, in contrast, made the list based on their left-progressive campaigning in opposition of right-wing populists.

In addition to overt and covert power, AFR Magazine’s Power issue ranks and reveals the key movers-and-shakers across culture, business, banking, property, sport, technology and education.


The makers of Australian Ninja Warrior, Carl and Mark Fennessy, are Australia’s most culturally powerful people, according to the 2017 Australian Financial Review Magazine Cultural Power List published today.

Endemol Shine Australia CEOs Carl and Mark Fennessy, the producers behind TV smashes MasterChef, Offspring, Australian Survivor and Australian Ninja Warrior, debut at #1 off the back of their pervasive influence across TV genres and channels.

In a time where video-on-demand platforms are at an unprecedented high, a total of 15 Endemol Shine shows were broadcast on free-to-air across Seven, Nine, Ten and SBS networks over the past year.

The company’s greatest ratings success for 2017 – Australian Ninja Warrior – averaged more viewers than the Rio Olympics and became the most-watched new TV show in five years.

Coming in at #2 on the AFR magazine Cultural Power List is the AFL Women’s League which, in its inaugural season, drew around 200,000 match-goers, 5.6 million combined TV viewers and made female players such as Erin Phillips household names.

Gold Logie-winner and social commentator Waleed Aly also features on the List at #4.

Aly’s ‘Something We Should Talk About’ editorials on Network Ten’s The Project and his ability to engage politicians and tackle current affairs in ways that resonate with Generation Y ensured his inclusion as one of Australia’s top cultural power brokers.

Rebel Wilson debuts on the List at #9 after her recent legal triumph over Bauer Media, while Megan Davis and the Referendum Council enter at #7 following the landmark Statement from the Heart in June 2017.

The 2017 AFR magazine Cultural Power List includes five women, two indigenous figures, YouTube stars, three actresses and one openly gay person.

Cultural power, for the purpose of the AFR Magazine’s Power issue, is measured by a person’s ability to define what it means to be Australian.

For the first time in the 17-year history of the AFR Magazine Power issue, a standalone, independent panel was assembled specifically to rank the Cultural Power List.

Up until 2017, one singular panel had decided Overt, Covert and Cultural Power lists.

Panellists included Oscar-winning actress, Rachel Griffiths, CEO of Screen Australia, Graeme Mason, Head of Strategic Events at University of NSW, Ann Mossop and Chief Creative officer of PwC, Russel Howcroft, among others.

The issue also features the first in-depth interview with former NSW premier Mike Baird about why he really left politics.

Baird, who has placed regularly in previous AFR Magazine Power lists, reveals how his children experienced bullying and social media threats regarding lock-out laws – and how his eldest daughter ended up moving to Port Macquarie as a result.

The full Power lists are online at, as well as inside the Power issue of AFR Magazine, available in the Financial Review today.

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