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September 13, 2018

The flipside of Power: SA’s top 20 most influential people

Typical notions of power and influence are counterbalanced in our list, which seeks to reveal the truth about who needs to be involved if things are going to change around here.

The Hon. Steven Marshall
Premier of South Australia

The classic embodiment of power, Steven Marshall is our number one public servant, the 46th Premier and leader of our state. Arguably the most powerful Liberal leader in a long time (well, at least in 16 years) Steven comes to the role with confidence after a decisive election victory that saw off the threat of the X Factor. In presidential style, Marshall was quick to wield his newly won power and executed several high-profile axings across government departments. We’re in a new era; one Marshall has warned will steer clear of zany ideas and will instead bring change through teeny tiny improvements every day.

Wayne Eagleson
Former chief of staff to John Key

If the Premier is powerful, then consider the power of those who advise him. Marshall has made no secret of his deference to former New Zealand PM John Key. Marshall has made three trips to New Zealand since 2014 and somewhere along the way picked up some excess baggage in the form of Mr Key’s former chief of staff, Wayne Eagleson. Dubbed New Zealand’s ‘most influential unelected official’ Wayne Eagleson was embedded in the Premier’s office during the first 100 days of the Liberal Government. Wayne is broadly believed to have had a strong hand in helping structure and shape the newcomers’ approach to power.

Melvin Mansell
Editorial director SA, WA, NT & TAS News Corporation

As the editor of the north, south and western half of the colony, Mel Mansell’s opinions on things hold considerable sway over the News Corp mastheads in those states. Mel edited The Advertiser from ’99 to 2012 and capably prosecuted one of the toughest jobs going – editing a daily newspaper. The Advertiser plays a crucial role in affecting the emotional stability of our state with its reporting, headlines and editorial focus. In a one-newspaper town, this often mutates the idea of objective reporting into a myopic for-and-against narrative, where each new day brings a new directive. On Monday we must support ‘our’ entrepreneurs. On Tuesday we’re railing against government handouts they receive. It’s no coincidence that The Advertiser sells newspapers on both days.

Shit Adelaide
Anonymous Instagram account

“Featuring the good shit, the bad shit and the weird shit” – if you read it on the – then chances are you double-tapped it an hour earlier on Shit Adelaide. The editor(s) of this Instagram account have their finger on the pulse of what they might lovingly refer to as the living corpse of this city. Their beguiling misanthropy has plugged directly into the full, DC undercurrent of the state’s self-loathing. It’s important to laugh at yourself, but after watching Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette – we’re inclined to ask whether they’re okay or not? Shit Adelaide and its 135K-strong following is powerful. We just hope it ends well for them/him/her/they/it/us.

Houssam Abiad
City of Adelaide Councillor

The City of Adelaide’s most effective backroom dealer and coalition-builder, Houssam Abiad is arguably its most powerful elected member for impact on public policy. The central ward councillor and businessman who is closely aligned with the Lord Mayor, Houssam rarely finds himself on the losing side of a vote. He lobbies colleagues effectively behind the scenes and positions himself on the winning side of almost every contentious issue before it makes it to the chamber. If he can’t win the vote before it happens, Abiad proposes a compromise on-the-fly to break the most bitter council stalemates. If he and Anne Moran agree on something, it’s nearly unstoppable.

Anne Moran
City of Adelaide Councillor

Anne Moran is the City of Adelaide’s best-known, longest-serving and most divisive member – and arguably its most powerful public face. Considered by some to be the most prominent symbol of NIMBYism in Adelaide, and a hand-break on Adelaide’s progress, Moran is nonetheless a formidable advocate with a deep connection to her North Adelaide voter and power base. Her sometimes reckless public statements and take-no-prisoners rhetorical style make her a constant fascination of the media, wielding extraordinary influence over the image of the council and the identity of Adelaide.

Nici Cumpston
Artistic director, Tarnanthi Festival

Nici’s appointment as artistic director of Tarnanthi is not just a big deal for the curator but a big deal for our state. Under her careful and caring direction, Tarnanthi has grown into one of the most authentic and exciting expressions of contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander power and Australian culture. With a gift for $17.5 million from chief sponsor BHP, Tarnanthi is secure for a minimum of five festivals and will no doubt change the lives of both the artists and audience who participate in the festival under Nici’s leadership.

Major ‘Moogy’ Sumner
Ngarrindjeri elder

Uncle Moogy, whose full title is Major Lancelot Sumner, AM, has lived in Findon for more than three decades, but he grew up in community at Raukkan — which means “meeting place” in Ngarrindjeri language. He gained broader recognition after contesting the Mayo By-Election for The Greens and wielded a new and authentic form of power under that particular political banner. However Moogy’s main ability to influence South Australia comes through his teaching and educating the next generation to live both in the modern 9-5 world and the traditional world of Aboriginal culture.

Diana Ramsay
James and Diana Ramsay Foundation

Many political leaders are obsessed with the idea of their legacy, but when Diana Ramsay passed away at the age of 91, she had already lived to see the impact of her work. James and Diana are incredible philanthropists. We use the present tense because even though both have died, their estates will continue to endow the living for generations to come. The Ramsay Art Prize will be awarded every two years (a prize worth $100,000) to a contemporary Australian artist under the age of 40 – forever!

Don Dunstan
Former premier of South Australia

He wore short shorts. He built many of the institutions we revere today, and he made South Australia attractive – so much so that people moved here from interstate. Don Dunstan’s legacy lives on and the power of his image and his example will likely haunt premiers of this state well into the future. Don’s power possibly reached its peak when, in 1976, he single-handedly held back a tsunami at Glenelg. Google it!

Sanjeev Gupta
Executive chairman – GFG Alliance

The British Billionaire and industrialist is a man with a plan and it seems South Australia is part of that plan. With his acquisition of Arrium and Zen Energy, Sanjeev is making moves to shift the balance of power in manufacturing from developing nations back to the developed world. His plan to group industries and energy consumers around low-cost renewable sources of energy and coordinate manufacturing outcomes with symbiotic partners is a vision only made possible by great wealth and broad experience.

Rob Stobbe
Chief executive officer – SA Power Networks

Every time a billionaire tech entrepreneur rides into town with a battery, someone has to bloody well plug it in. That someone isn’t literally Rob Stobbe – the CEO of SA Power Networks – but Rob is in a key position to build and prepare South Australia’s grid for the coming renewable revolution touted by the likes of Zen Energy (pp. 30-31 of our print edition – out now!). SA Power Networks are the poles and wires guys – the people that effectively turn your electricity back on after a blackout. Rob will no doubt be watching Sanjeev Gupta’s moves very closely over the next three years.

Simon Kardachi

Press, Melt, The Pot, Proof, Maybe Mae, Shobosho, Bread & Bone, Osteria Oggi… the list goes on. Simon Kardachi has changed what Adelaide expects from a restaurant. Not only do Simon and his collaborators change the interior of a building, but cause a whole perception shift in a neighbourhood. More than all the trees the City of Adelaide is planting, a great restaurant or bar has the power to bring people to a street and give it the true vibrancy our governments seem so preoccupied with. The impact Osteria Oggi has had on that sad little section of Pirie Street is phenomenal, and you can see the pendulum shift wherever Simon decides to set up shop.

Emma McCaskill

Balancing Simon’s obvious power and influence on Adelaide’s dining scene, Emma McCaskill – head chef at The Pot – symbolises the strong partner network that underpins Kardachi’s hospitality empire. Emma stands out among the collaborators as a role model for women in the industry. Men traditionally dominate kitchens and Emma’s presence not only in the industry but on the name of the restaurant is an important and influential signifier to women and girls in Adelaide that there’s a place for them in restaurants if they want it.

Eddie Betts
Adelaide Crows forward

There’s no doubt Eddie Betts has the ability to electrify a crowd and even win esteem from the opposition for his fair and at times miraculous play. Eddie is symbolic of the best sportspeople in our community and their ability to raise the hopes of a population and dash them the very next week. His calm demeanour throughout, however, is a true testament to his character. We don’t know him personally but – in that age-old pub test of character – we sure would like to have a beer with him.

John Haysman

The first time you went to a test match at Adelaide Oval, John Haysman was probably there too: leotard, tutu, white gumboots and all. A larger-than-life character and unique to Adelaide, John’s appearances in public gathering places has a powerful impact on his audience. Unafraid of conventional identity norms, John flaunts his personality in a way that feels like freedom personified. Seeing him walk by ‘The Hill’ at Adelaide Oval and through a shower of plastic beer cups without flinching is a lasting image of power in our minds.

Heather Croall
Director of Adelaide Fringe

Although Heather Croall isn’t deciding what goes in and what gets cut from the Adelaide Fringe, her stewardship of this behemoth of a festival gives her great power and clout in South Australia. Heather may as well be the Queen of Mad March, as everyone confuses the various festivals for the one with the biggest beer garden – Fringe. Heather continues to pursue record ticket sales and record numbers of acts each year, but we wonder whether she might also be a great reformer for the festival too and make its business model work for the artists as well as it does for the beer companies.

Hitaf Rasheed
Executive Director, Events South Australia

Under Hitaf’s leadership since 2008, Events SA has upped the ante across its portfolio of landmark events in South Australia. As well as the big ones like Santos Tour Down Under and Adelaide [nee Clipsal] 500, Hitaf’s Midas touch can be seen in the reinvigorated events, Tasting Australia and Adelaide Fashion Festival. Both festivals have an air of elegance not usually associated with government-led events. Hitaf has found a niche in public service where style and flair are seemingly rewarded – this in itself is a powerful achievement.

Deborah White
Director of Cancer Research and Deputy Cancer Theme Leader, SAHMRI

The flipside of our universities’ administrations and business models are the researchers they’ve got on the frontline. These brave nerds hold the pointy end of the stick that defends the very concept of civilisation. Deborah White works with cancer and the human genome inside that magnificent building on North Terrace – SAHMRI. Her research is personalising cancer treatment and moving society away from the one-size-fits-all chemotherapy approach. Deb is a world-leader in her field and will continue to influence and discover better outcomes for people suffering from cancer every day.

Peter Rathjen
Vice-Chancellor University of Adelaide

Earlier this year there was a lot of talk and photo-ops with the two vice-chancellors of UniSA and the University of Adelaide as talks of a merger between the tertiary institutions broke out. A merger of this scale would send shockwaves through the South Australian community, realigning our culture and even our identity. I mean what are we going to do without our “glorified TAFE”? The shock of this merger will be good and bad for South Australia, but Peter Rathjen has the power to affect whether it’s more one than the other.


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