The question of who runs New Zealand is infrequently examined in the media (or even that much in our universities), but it obviously deserves the attention of anyone interested in understanding politics or wanting any kind of social change. Fortunately, for the last five years the Listener has been publishing its annual Power List in an attempt to do just this. Although it’s always more journalistic and celebratory than analytical and critical, the exercise does nonetheless always shine a light on the people involved in running New Zealand. And it indicates some significant trends. This year there has been some major changes to the list, partly representing the fact that the outgoing Labour Government’s favoured businesspeople, ‘thinkers’ and lobbyists are now out in the cold as a change of government brings about different influences, but also because the Listener probably wants to dazzle us with new faces that are supposedly wielding great undiscovered power. This blog post offers a critical summary of, and commentary on, the Listener’s list. [Read more below]
Defining and locating power in New Zealand
There will always be differences over the way that power and influence is defined and measured. The Listener simply defines ‘real power’ as ‘the ability to drive policy change, to shape public opinion, to lift the aspirations of a nation, to really make a difference’. This seems like a reasonable, albeit rather celebratory, definition.
More problematic is the question of ‘who does the choosing?’. The Listener says that it has brought together ‘a panel of eight New Zealanders with deep networks, specialist knowledge and finely tuned antennae’: Peter Foley, Lynn Freeman, Karl Du Fresne, Graeme Hunt, Jon Johansson, Jacqueline Rowarth, and Peter Williams. This choice of panel members is surely the most disappointing one yet, with only one or two of them really having impressive and insightful understanding of the powerful in New Zealand.
The format of this year’s Power List has been significantly altered by the Listener. Previously the rankings have simply taken the form of one list from 1 to 50, which has always been somewhat problematic because it meant fashion designers were compared against billionaire investors and so forth. In the fifth edition of the Power List, the Listener has ‘assessed power across a spectrum of [eight] categories to identify the five most influential people in each’ and also included ‘an overall Top 10 – a sort of “A” list of influence’, adding up, in theory, to a Power List of 60 (instead of the previous 50).
This does indeed make a bit of sense. However it also makes comparisons with the past lists problematic. The previous rankings don’t automatically translate, but you can still make some observations about the relative movement of some power listers.
Most notably in the latest edition, ’40 names in this year’s line-up have never appeared on previous power lists’. To put this in context, over the past four years of the Power List there has only been a total of 115 included. The fact that 95 of these individuals – and 30 of last year’s list – can’t find a place on the new expanded list shows what a dramatic change has occurred in this year’s list. Does this fluidity suggest that the ‘circulation of elites’ theory is well and truly alive in New Zealand? This pluralist concept was developed to show that the elite in society is always changing and therefore rises to that position by merit in a truly competitive and healthy environment.
More likely, it actually just suggests that the high-fluidity is a result of this journalistic exercise needing to, more than ever before, come up with some novel names and freshness. If the Listener instead published a truly rigorously analytical account of New Zealand’s ruling elite, the composition would be unlikely to change much from year-to-year, and this would not be nearly as sensational enough for the commercial weekly magazine. What’s more, one gets the impression that the Listener (or the panel) is desperately trying to impress us with their discovery of surprisingly unknown individuals wielding power. And it has to be noted that this year the Power List is being promoted – especially on the cover – in the most celebratory and sparkly way ever. The previous covers suggested a somewhat more sociological or critical approach to examining power, whereas the latest cover looks more like something from the Women’s Weekly or TV Guide.
The A-list Top 10
John Key is at #1 – no surprise there. But this is the fifth time that whoever is prime minister seems to be automatically placed at #1, which is interesting. And of course it means that ‘for the first time in five years, Helen Clark is not at the top’.
Bill English is at number 2, partly because as Finance Minister, the Listener reckons that his ‘driving obsession’ ‘will be to protect low-to-middle income earners from the recession’. It’s expected that he will ‘put his own, more centrist stamp on the portfolio’
It’s hard to see how Alan Bollard, the Reserve Bank boss, can be seen as jumping considerably up the rankings to #3. He has consistently been on the Power List since it started. His wife, venture capitalist Jenny Morel, no longer makes the cut (which means that there doesn’t appear to be any ‘Power List couples’ present this year).
A surprise entry is a #4, with Tumu Te Heuheu, the Tuwharetoa paramount chief, who has apparently been working on the formation of a Maori political council. But his inclusion is mainly due to the fact that he has just negotiated in only one year ‘the largest single Treaty settlement ever achieved’ – the ‘Treelords’ deal – a settlement that had eluded negotiators for 20 years.
Economist, adventurer and entrepreneur Gareth Morgan is at #10 on the A-List because this ‘maverick’ provides ‘plain-English analysis’ and ‘packs out halls with his chats on investment, economics, and motorcycle adventures’. However, Morgan has never even been on the list before, so it’s curious that he has now had a mega-elevation to the top without really doing anything new.
Business & economy
There are, by my rough count, 21 businesspeople on the lists – about 35% of the 60 power listers. This compares with a 50% proportion in last year’s list. So, are businesspeople becoming less influential? Hardly. The Listener now includes a special section for ‘Business & Economy’, which lists in order the most influential in this sector: Graeme Hart, Adrian Orr, Mark Weldon, Craig Norgate, and Jim Bolger.
It’s hard to see how Graeme Hart as #1 in this section matches with his overall placing of 29 last year. Hart has done nothing in the last year to justify the leap up the charts. But the Listener points out that he’s still ‘New Zealand’s richest individual. With a personal wealth of $6 billion’. He’s therefore listed as one of the richest individuals in the world. Hart is also the only businessperson to have been included on all five Power Lists so far.
Adrian Orr runs the Government’s New Zealand Superannuation Fund, investing $14.1 billion dollars of public money, so it’s unsurprising to find him on the list, at #2. The former Reserve Bank deputy governor is praised for keeping out of the public debate about John Key’s insistence on investing 40% of the fund in New Zealand business. He’s new to the list.
Mark Weldon, the NZX boss gets his #3 placing because he ‘can hector corporate governors and dealmakers’ and he recently ‘did much to steady investors’ nerves’ during the financial crisis. Weldon has skyrocketed up from 25 on the overall list in 2007.
Craig Norgate’s inclusion is also problematic. This ‘agribusiness dealmaker’ is indeed ‘a business strategist extraordinaire’, but in recent years he’s been fired from the top of Fonterra and stuffed up in his attempt to reorganize the meat industry, which the Listener admits ‘brought his legendary power-broking into question’. So why has he jumped from 27 on the overall list to #4 on the business list?
Jim Bolger is new to the list, and is correctly labeled by the Listener as ‘Labour’s acceptable Tory’. He is now chairman of KiwiRail, KiwiBank, and NZ Post. The Listener’s description of him is worth quoting at length:
Sam Morgan, the Trade Me founder, has totally dropped of the Power List, despite holding the incredibly high #4 spot on the overall list last year. Does the Listener no longer view him as not only rich and innovative, but as ‘young, hip’ and a social philanthropist?
Business advocate Phil O’Reilly is also conspicuous by his absence. The highest ranked political lobbyist correctly appeared on the list last year at #30 reflected the fact that Business NZ was still as the most influential business interest group in NZ. Perhaps Business NZ’s influence has now waned due to its championing of emissions trading and it’s good relationship with the previous Labour Government? Certainly O’Reilly was a part of a whole number of business sector people that the Labour Government favoured – also David Skilling, Stephen Tindall and Jeremy Moon – and had put on an array of boards and positions, but are now absent from the Power List. But of course, even if a new sway of business lobbyists now have the ear of National, the Business Roundtable is unlikely to be too welcome in Bill English’s office. And hence its not surprising that Rob McLeod, the chair of the Business Roundtable stays off the list for a third year in a row.
There are eleven MPs on the Power List this year (up from nine last year), of which five are in the Top Ten A-list: Steven Joyce, Pita Sharples, Rodney Hide, Helen Clark, and Michael Cullen.
It’s perhaps a bit surprising that the new parliamentarian, Steven Joyce is seen to warrant the #5 slot. But as the Listener points out, he’s an incredibly strong manager – or as they quote: a ‘bully’ and an ‘autocrat’. Sounds like a future prime minister then. But he’s more likely to be the Power Behind the Throne of the PM. Thus, in a sense he has replaced ‘Labour supremo Heather Simpson’ who has finally been knocked off the list.
Pita Sharples is next on the list due to his pragmatic approach; his ‘strong cross-over appeal to Pakeha’, the fact that he has ‘no threshold for bureaucratic process’ and that as Minister of Maori Affairs he ‘will get what he asks for’.
Rodney Hide has the surprisingly high position of #7 on the A-list. Despite his colourfulness, Hide is still more ‘the past’ than he is ‘the future’, and his influence on the new Government is being over-estimated by too many commentators. Therefore it isn’t surprising that the political scientist on the expert panel, Jon Johansson was apparently ‘dissenting strongly from the decision to put him on the Power List’ at all.
Helen Clark ‘remains on the list [at #8] because her legacy after nine years as PM is ineradicable’. This seems like a dodgy reason to keep her there, but if they hadn’t put her up, there would have been no women included in the A-List. It seems unlikely that she’ll be there again, however.
Michael Cullen’s inclusion is also a bit odd – #9 on the A-List. His influence has been waning for a long time. The justification by the panel, however, is that like Clark his legacy will remain due to the fact that he has ‘pre-spent so much money on Labour’s pet policies’ and therefore the new National Government is effectively carrying out ‘Cullen’s bidding well into the future’.
Three other MPs make it onto the Power List through the Environmental category: David Parker (#1), Jeanette Fitzsimmons (#2), and Russell Norman (#3). It’s not all surprising that the Greens get two places in the exercise, especially with the creation of this new category – it would be strange if they didn’t, even with their relative failure at the recent election. So it’s interesting that Norman has replaced Sue Bradford this year. In 2007 Bradford was judged as more influential than her leader Fitzsimons.
What does seem extraordinary is that David Parker is included, at #1 in this category. The Listener admit this: ‘Putting Parker at the top of the environment list will raise a few eyebrows – and, no doubt, a few expletives’. What’s more they’re aware of the unhappiness with his Emissions Trade Scheme that Labour took nine years to produce and then rushed it through in a few weeks:
However, the Listener panel seemed to like him and obviouysly think he will be judged well by history:
To me it would have seemed much more realistic to have ranked Nick Smith at #1 in this category – instead he surprisingly doesn’t make it anywhere onto the Power List. Regardless of whether Smith’s blue-green environmental politics are good or not, he’s very clearly a very well-researched and well-connected and competent environmentalist. What’s more he’s now Minister for the Environment, charged with creating an Environment Protection Agency, the minister in charge of climate change legislation, and the Minister for ACC! He’s a hard working politician and is going to be very influential over the next year.
There’s heaps of other politicians that perhaps should have been included, but the exclusion of Phil Goff is particularly interesting. Never before has the Leader of the Opposition be left off the Power List. This lends weight to those that consider Goff to be a ‘has been’ temporary leader of Labour. David Parker’s inclusion suggests who Goff’s replacement might be.
Another ‘has been’ MP, Jim Anderton is a controversial (or boring?) inclusion. He’s ranked as the fifth most powerful and influential New Zealander in the area of science and technology! Apparently Anderton ‘has put agricultural science back at the top of the agenda’, primarily through being ‘the driving force behind Labour’s Fast Forward fund’. Strange.
Other non-MP politicos on the list include Willie Jackson (Maoridom), Geoffrey Palmer (law), Jim Bolger (business), Annette Sykes (law), and Frank Brenmuhl (agriculture). Strangely excluded is Labour/EPMU boss Andrew Little (#40 last year) despite his obvious influence in politics and industrial relations. Therefore the Power List for the first time does not include any representatives of the labour movement – only business. Perhaps this isn’t totally surprising, as the organised labour movement is not in much better shape after nine years of Labour than before. Certainly it would be strange to include the non-impressive CTU president Kelly.
By my count there are 11 people on the list that appear to be Maori (18% of the total; which is up from only 12% last year). Obviously this shows that there are at least some Maori who actually have significant power in NZ. But it also reflects the inclusion of a separate power list for Maoridom this year, which includes Paul Morgan, Jim Mather, Wharehuia, Hinerangi Raumati, and Willie Jackson. It’s significant that most of these people can to some degree be categorized as Maori businesspeople.
Although Paul Morgan was only 46 on last year’s list, there’s no surprise that he’s #1 on the Maoridom list this year. Morgan is the CEO of the Federation of Maori Authorities, which controls assets of $5 billion. Last year the Listener said that Morgan had been ‘a significant irritant to the government’ due to his defence of ‘Maori property rights’. This year they point out that he has had his message heard by National. Apparently Morgan complained that Labour’s Emissions Trading Scheme ‘would wipe $2 billion off iwi balance sheets’. The Listener says that Morgan ‘is not just a well-connected lobbyist, but also a businessman, motivated by a desire to see the value of Maori assets unlocked’. To do this, Morgan is about to concentrate on Foma subsidiary, ‘Fomana Capital, which links Maori business with capital and opportunities’.
The Maori cultural renaissance is still very alive, but according to the #3 on the list, Tuhoe linguist Wharehuia Milroy, Maori language has been only ‘limping along’. Milroy has sought to help boost the language with his government-funded monolingual Maori dictionary, which was controversially launched this year with a $75,000 function. Milroy is a member of the Waitangi Tribunal, was an adviser to Labour’s Minister of Treaty Negotiations Michael Cullen, and formerly a professor of Maori studies at Waikato.
At #4, Tainui chief financial officer Hinerangi Raumati sounds like someone we will hear more about in the future, even though her’s is ‘Not a name recognizable to most’. According to the Listener, she is on the board of the largest land owner and milk-solids producer in Taranaki (and was the first women to be appointed). Furthermore in her role in Tainui as chief financial officer since 2002, she pulled the iwi ‘out of the financial quagmire it landed itself in after its 1995 Treaty settlement’. She is apparently ‘a rising force in Maoridom’ but ‘just how high her star rises may depend on whether this traditionally patriarchal society has dispensed with its glass ceiling’. Already, however, ‘here ability to bridge the Maori and corporate worlds has put her in hot demand’.
Other Maori figures included in other lists include: Annette Sykes, Dean Nikora, Derek Lardelli and Tumu Te Heuheu. Dropping off this year’s list are: MP Shane Jones and Judge Joe Williams.
It is interesting to note that New Zealanders who are not Maori or pakeha ethnicity do not seem to be very strongly represented on the Power List. Only Olympic shot-put champion, Valerie Vili stands out in this regard. Her parentage is Scottish and Tongan. However, Australian import rugby league star, Steve Price is also strangely included on the list, despite the fact the Warriors captain still plays for the Australian national team.
Geoffrey Palmer’s position at the top of this category is no surprise – and it’s a testament to the ‘behind-the-scenes power he has exerted in New Zealand’s political life’. As Law commission president he is incredibly powerful – or at least he was under the Labour Government. According to the Listener, ‘Palmer is considered by some to have been Labour’s de facto Minister of Justice and “Minister of Law Reform” during its third term’. He will, of course, be very influential in the review of the Suppression of Terrorism Act under National.
Also connected with the Suppression of Terrorism Act, is Solicitor General David Collins QC at #2. This high ranking is a bit more surprising, especially given his ‘undistinguished’ career prior to his appointment and his more recent failure with ‘his case against Fairfax for their publication of intercepted conversations relating to the raids’. The Listener comments that ‘his powers and willingness to use them qualify him for this year’s Power List.
Annette Sykes is an interesting activist/lawyer, but whether or not she has such great power in 2008 might be asked. The Listener notes that she is ‘regarded as being a sometimes polarizing rather than unifying force in Maoridom’. But her involvement in Treaty settlements and her strong advocacy of Maori property rights makes her a interesting mix of radical and conservative.
Greg O’Connor, the Police Association president is included for for the first time for strongly defended the police in a highly contentious year. The Listener calls the Police Association a “union” in quote marks and then makes the point that ‘O’Connor often has to fill a void left by the police hierarchy and ends up defending police operational actions, rather than simply representing the country’s 8000 sworn officers on industrial matters’. Another interesting insight about the modern police is one from O’Connor himself referred to here: ‘He told its recent conference that politicians and diplomats were increasingly using policy as “simply another tool of foreign policy”, deploying them in place like Afghanistan, the Solomon Islands and Timor Leste’. The Listener also reports O’Connor’s worry that police HQ are not doing enough ‘to defend the eroding stature of police in the eyes of the public’.
It’s not clear that agriculture warrants its own category in this list, apart from the agribusiness element, which sees the inclusion of Landcorp chief executive Chris Kelly and Fonterra chairman Henry van der Heyden.
Chris Kelly is ranked at #1 due to the fact that he ‘oversees the nation’s largest farming estate - $1.73 billion in assets, 111 farms and 878,000 animals’. He is not only ‘the most powerful person in his sector’ but also ‘at the forefront of the drive for sustainable farming’. The SOE chief has also opposed the Emission Trading Scheme, and is married to Fran Wilde.
Henry van der Heyden’s ranking of #2 might be questioned, due to Fonterra’s role in the China Sanlu poisoned milk scandal which was humiliating for van der Heyden. Yet he managed to pay out $9.1 billion to farmers last year.
Andy West at #3 is there because in his role as Agresearch chief executive ‘he is sought out by politicians on both sides for his advice on science policy’. Also, ‘In his four years running the country’s biggest Crown research institute, he has shifted the climate of opinion towards agriculture’.
Federated Farmers vice-president Frank Brenmuhl is at #4 because he’s ‘a force to be reckoned with in farmer politics, and has ‘a higher profile than his president, Don Nicolson’. Apparently we’ll see more of him soon, as ‘he is responsible for policy in the fraught climate change area’.
39 year-old Dean Nikora is the farmer at #5 in the list. He owns a $35 million dairy-farming business in Hawke’s Bay and last year won the BNZ Maori Excellence in Farming Award.
Health & Medicine
The most interesting two positions in this sector seem to be Deborah Powell and Ian Powell who share the #5 ranking. They share the same surname but are painted as polar opposites in health industrial relations. Deborah Powell is the general secretary of the Resident Doctors’ Association and runs a firm Contract Negotiations Services. An enemy of the last Labour Government (and CTU), she has been criticized ‘as representing 7% of the health workforce whose members were responsible for 90% of the sector’s strikes’. She is labeled as ‘a divisive personality’, a ‘skilled advocate’, but marked out as a ‘negative’ influence.
In contrast, Ian Powell is the executive director of the Association of Medical Specialists and is ‘strongly aligned to Labour’. His ‘major achievement in 2008 was helping to shape the contract agreement between district health boards and the senior doctors’ union’. His time has probably passed now.
At #1 on the list is Ron Paterson, the Health and Disability Commissioner. The Listener says, ‘Eight years after being appointed, lawyer and medico-ethics expert Ron Paterson gets the nod as the health sector’s most influential person’. Apparently, ‘Paterson has carefully managed to avoid stirring up more divisiveness in the health sector’.
Stephen McKernan is the Director-General of Health, and thus has a ‘spending budget of more than $9.6 billion’. He’s at #2 after having ‘undertaken a massive restructuring of the Ministry of Health – although some fear his efforts are leading to more unwanted bureaucracy’.
Arts, culture and entertainment
This section is dominated by administrators. Of the five power listers, there are two artists and three entertainment moguls. Flight of the Conchords are at #1 of course. More interestingly, Derek Lardelli is at #2. He’s responsible for composing the new All Black Haka, designing the logo for the 2006 Commonwealth Games uniform, designing the new Air NZ motif on staff uniforms, successfully leading the top kapa haka group, and being ‘a leading figure in the revival of traditional Maori art’, including moko tattoo artistry.
Campbell Smith of the Recording Industry Association of NZ is again on the list, as is Richard Taylor of Weta Workshops.
Dominion Post editor Tim Pankhurst deserves his ranking at #1 in the media list that is otherwise overrun by a ‘preponderance of administrators and executives’. Here’s why:
He was also prosecuted for publishing “The Terrorism Files” but was acquitted after arguing for the public’s right to know.
At #2 is Jeff Latch. As the Listener says: ‘Jeff who? You might well ask. Time was when the people who ran television were high-profile personalities in their own right’. This is now changed, and Latch is TVNZ’s Head of Television, and ‘may not be exciting, but he’s safe’. He’s on the list because ‘he has the final say on what 65% of the viewing population watches’.
The other administrators are Bill Francis of the Radio Network, John Fellet of Sky TV, and John Barnett of South Pacific Pictures. Mark Jennings of TV3 News seems to have dropped off. And so has Ian Wishhart.
Apparently ‘the panel did consider the bloggers, but was not convinced that any of those opinionated voices were yet having a marked influence on Main Street’. This isn’t entirely surprising. But it seems strange to have a whole Power List of 60 people and have no internet-related people on it at all. Surely it won’t be long before David Farrar is included. Or maybe even Russell Brown.
This has been a rough summary of the Listener’s Power List. I haven’t concentrated on the categories of Sport, Science, and the Environment, as I’m sure others will be more equipped.
At some point I’ll make some further points about some of the proportions and demographics. But briefly I’d mention that state employees make up a significant proportion of those that run New Zealand according to the Listener. By my rough count, there are 19 state employees on the list (not counting MPs), up from 7 last year. This is probably a fair representation of power in NZ. But interestingly, commerce watchdog Paula Rebstock has fallen off.
Last year’s commentary:
Previous Power Lists can be viewed on Wikipedia here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Zealand_Listener_Power_List