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Canberra's top 10 power couples revealed

The Prime Minister and his accomplished wife may sit clear at the top of this year's list of Canberra's power couples, but they share with the large majority of the pairings the thread of government work.

Professional couples with a direct link to the public service – including the public broadcaster – account for seven of the remaining nine positions.

But the days of lifelong appointments in the higher ranks, at least in the one department, are gone, reflected by new listings for five of the duos.

Australian National University Emeritus Professor John Warhurst, who was provided the names of the 10 couples to rank, said it was a "very Canberra list" with an emphasis on bureaucracy and lobbying, and a relative absence of business in a way which would not be seen in Sydney and Melbourne.

"Implicit in my rankings is the belief that politics ranks above the bureaucracy and that media, lobbying, advice and education-culture follow in that order," he said.

Couples were given a chance to comment.

News. The Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his wife Lucy arrive at the Prime Minister's Lodge for their first night since the residence has undergone a refurbishment. January 23rd. 2016
The Canberra Times
Photograph by Graham Tidy.

1. Malcolm Turnbull, Prime Minister, and Lucy Turnbull, corporate director.

Australia's 29th prime minister has succeeded on a grand scale in most pursuits he has turned his mind to over the last four decades, from the court room to the investment bank and the board room.

But it took him until a month shy of his 61st birthday to convert the skill and drive into the ultimate in Australian political power.

Lucy Turnbull, his wife of 36 years, walks as his equal in the corporate world, and according to a senior Coalition source is the most influential partner of any Australian PM.

While briefly the Lord Mayor of Sydney, Mrs Turnbull's business reputation sees her serve as board chairman for biotechnology giant Prima Biomed (fresh from a deal worth up to $400 million last week), on the board of the influential (and often Labor-leaning, such as on negative gearing) think tank the Grattan Institute, and as chief commissioner of the powerful planning authority, the Greater Sydney Commission.

"If they were inclined to be like the Clintons, there's no reasons to think she couldn't be prime minister," the source said.

The Coalition insider said an election victory, even with a reduced margin, would make the PM far more powerful.

"He'll be an elected PM, the Abbott era will be over," he said.

The Turnbulls' business connections are without equal among the political class, although their estimated $200 million investment portfolio does not make them the wealthiest couple to call the Lodge home, with Therese Rein's international success taking the Rudd family higher.

Political power is rarely so permanent, and the polls give no certainty their four-month stay in the renovated Lodge will be extended.

For all the achievement, the Australian public will decide in six weeks whether Mr Turnbull will be doomed to be remembered as the shortest-serving prime minister to lose power at an election.

Warhurst: The Prime Minister, clearly the most powerful person on this list, has enormous political power to influence the lives of Canberrans and his wife has always been his most trusted adviser.

20 February 2010, LYN MILLS SOCIALS, Prom Concert, Jeff and Becky Bleich with Martin Parkinson and Heather Smith SPECIAL 15

2. Martin Parkinson, Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary, and Heather Smith, Department of Communications and Arts secretary.

This unique couple have both served at high levels in the prime minister's central policy advice portfolio, and are the only couple each leading a federal department.

Sacked by then-prime minister Tony Abbott from his position as secretary of the Treasury in January 2015 after 3½ years in the role, Martin Parkinson became the nation's most senior public servant when he began in the PM&C top job in January this year.

He reports directly to Mr Turnbull and is ultimately responsible for ensuring the 150,000-strong Australian Public Service is meeting its role of professionally advising the government and implementing its agenda.

In addition to being a critical source of policy advice and playing an all-of-government co-ordinating role, the PM&C secretary advises the PM on secretary appointments and re-appointments across the other 17 departments.

Dr Heather Smith was a Deputy Secretary in PM&C until Mr Turnbull appointed her to head Communications and Arts on January 11, avoiding an obvious conflict of interest in having her newly-appointed husband as her direct boss.

She had headed the PM's taskforce on innovation and led work on public data policy, and was awarded the public service medal for her performance as Australia's sherpa, or lead personal representative, for the G20 meeting in 2014.

Her role is now as the key adviser to government on television, radio, internet, phone, post, and the changes in digital technologies, including with high-level oversight of the NBN.

Warhurst: PMC is one of the most powerful insider departments and Communications is also an influential department, with a key brief in modern society, so this couple have an abundance of bureaucratic power.

Department of Finance Secretary Jane Halton with her husband the Deputy Australian Statistician Trevor Sutton, inside Halton's new office in the new Finance bulding on Canberra Ave. 
20 May 2016
Photo by Rohan Thomson
The Canberra Times

3. Jane Halton, Department of Finance secretary, and Trevor Sutton, a deputy Australian statistician.

For this long-serving public service power couple, it's all about the numbers.

After 12 years as secretary of the Department of Health, Jane Halton was appointed to head Finance in July 2014.

The critical role makes her responsible for supporting the delivery of the federal budget (as well as updates, such as the Pre-Election Fiscal Outlook released with Treasury on Friday) and the ongoing management of the government's non-domestic property portfolio and key asset sales.

"I have always said that the Health portfolio touched every Australian every day," she said on Friday.

"Finance is far more internal to the activities of government, but given our work serving the Expenditure Review Committee, we clearly affect all government spending."

An adjunct professor at both the University of Sydney and University of Canberra, Halton first came to national attention as the convener of the People Smuggling Taskforce in the Children Overboard Affair more than a decade ago.

Her husband is Trevor Sutton, one of three deputy Australian statisticians at the Bureau of Statistics.

Having been responsible for the preparation of this year's census, Sutton now leads the Statistical Business Transformation Group, tasked with running a $256 million investment program that will "transform the way the ABS collects, processes, analyses and disseminates information and related statistics".

"The ABS is committed to extracting the greatest value from Australia's statistical assets and we are creating more cost-effective means of collecting and integrating data from a range of sources," he said.

"It is critically important that the ABS replaces its ageing and fragile systems and processes."

The couple each serve on international panels and advisory groups.

"We've shared interests since university days, but when we get home after a day at work, our priority is our home and family life and our shared interests outside work," Halton said.

Warhurst: They are another exceptionally powerful bureaucratic couple, with Finance ranking among the top central departments and the ABS underlying good economic policy.

Australia's immigration chief Michael Pezzullo and his wife, Deloitte Canberra managing partner Lynne Pezzullo.

4. Michael Pezzullo, Department of Immigration and Border Protection secretary, and Lynne Pezzullo, Deloitte Canberra managing partner.

Immigration and refugee policies have been hotly disputed throughout this decade, and behind the political arguments no-one has been more heavily involved in the rollout of the government agenda than Michael Pezzullo.

Appointed by Labor as ongoing chief executive of the then Customs and Border Protection Service in 2013, Tony Abbott promoted the son of Italian migrants to the head of the immigration department in October 2014.

Pezzullo has accepted the scrutiny which followed.

"A modern secretary must be completely conscious of the fact that our advice is going to be impacted, and properly so, by contested views."

Pezzullo said the merger of Customs and Immigration last July was challenging, and survey results revealed this week show he and the Border Force commissioner have the confidence of only 30 per cent of a 14,000-strong workforce.

He said the results reflected "legitimate concerns" of his staff but the benefits of the merger were already being seen.

His wife, Lynne Pezzullo, also provides extensive advice to the government. Now overseeing several hundred staff as Deloitte Canberra managing partner since 2011, she regularly delivers reports to the departments of Health and Social Services as Deloitte Access Economics' national lead partner for health economics and social policy.

Her advice extends internationally, advising those in Latin America on preventable blindness and cardiovascular disease.

The challenges for Mr Pezzullo continues: on Thursday it was reported a network of Australian border security officials was allegedly working for organised criminals, including drug and tobacco smugglers. "I know the vast majority of our staff are committed to our mission and share my absolute rejection of the few who seek to engage in criminal activity," he said.

Ms Pezzullo said the parents of four, who like the outdoors and plan to complete a charity trek of the Kokoda Track in September, are conscious of the potential for conflicts of interest.

"I don't do any work in immigration and border protection and Michael will conflict himself out of any procurement decisions for professional services from the Department," she said.

Warhurst: Michael Pezzullo heads the public service's most politically controversial department at the present time and Deloittes' economic consultants have for a long time been among key private sector economic advisers to government, the political parties and large NGOs.

News. At their Yarralumla home, Gai Brodtmann, Member for Canberra and
broadcaster husband, Chris Uhlmann. May 2nd. 2014 Canberra Times
photograph by Graham Tidy.


5. Chris Uhlmann, ABC's political editor, and Gai Brodtmann, shadow parliamentary secretary for Defence and member for Canberra.

From leadership challenge nights to election campaigns and everything else federal politics throws up in between, Chris Uhlmann is one of a small number of faces trusted to break the news for the ABC into loungerooms across the nation.

The ABC politics editor's wife of 19 years, Gai Brodtmann, represents the large geographical majority of the ACT, including Parliament House where the couple spend much of their professional life.

Running to win a third term in the safe seat of Canberra, Ms Brodtmann stands to become parliamentary secretary for Defence, her now shadow role, if Labor is elected.

Theirs is one of the capital's most obvious conflicts of interests, but it's nothing new, with Brodtmann saying the couple had lived with a clear line on what work matters were discussed at home throughout their 24-year relationship, which began when she was a media adviser to ACT chief minister Rosemary Follett and he the Assembly reporter for The Canberra Times. "We don't know life any other way," she said.

Uhlmann was elected president of the National Press Club last year.

Not content with covering the often dramatic moments of the last six years of politics, Uhlmann created his own political fiction with The Marmalade Files and The Mandarin Code novels, co-written with fellow journalist Steve Lewis. These have now been converted into TV drama series Secret City, shot in Canberra and starring Jackie Weaver and Anna Torv, which will premiere on Foxtel on June 5.

Brodtmann confirmed the extended election campaign means an extra busy time for the Yarralumla pair.

"Chris normally works 12 to 14 hours a day five days a week, I normally work the same hours and up to six days a week [but] we're now both working seven days," she said.

Warhurst: The combination of media and political influence with a special Canberra focus makes for a most influential and quintessentially-Canberra couple.

Sunday Times.  Fairfax chief political correspondent Mark Kenny and ABC TV news presenter Virginia Haussegger at home in Griffith. 24  May 2014 Canberra Times photo by Jeffrey Chan.

6. Mark Kenny, Fairfax's chief political correspondent and Virginia Haussegger, ABC TV presenter & corporate director.

One of the nation's leading political commentators and his broadcaster wife have continued to be at the core of public debate since their 2014 listing, sometimes more than expected.

Fairfax Media's chief political correspondent Mark Kenny has continued to deliver influential reporting and commentary during years of leadership challenges and elections alike, and is now read by more than 10 million people each month, including as a fixture on the front of The Canberra Times, Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

His exclusive piece on the faltering progress of the NBN under the Coalition government was the catalyst for AFP raids on a Labor senator's office and Labor staffer's home on Thursday, chasing the source of the apparent leaks.

Kenny was found by a Federal Court judge to have acted responsibly in preparing an opinion piece relating to campaign funding for Joe Hockey last year, after a case brought by the former treasurer in which Mr Hockey was awarded damages for a related Fairfax poster and tweets.

In February, his wife, ABC TV Canberra's lead presenter Virginia Haussegger, made her own headlines with a personal opinion piece, published by Fairfax Media, attacking the "bimbos" on the Sunrise breakfast program who in her words "made a mockery of a UNHCR global ambassador and overlooked the organisation's outstanding work to prevent violence against women".

Ms Haussegger is in-demand in the corporate world, joining the boards of SnowyHydro Southcare and the ACT government's Cultural Facilities Corporation in the last two years, as well as being appointed patron of the Canberra Rape Crisis Centre.

The host of ABC Canberra's 7pm news bulletin since 2001, the city's only locally-presented edition, she has been on the board of UN Women Australia for six years.

Warhurst: Both Kenny and Haussegger are well-known and influential media and public voices on the issues of the day, both in Canberra and well beyond the city.

The Australian Medical Association's secretary-general Anne Trimmer and her well-connected lobbyist husband, Jeff Townsend, on holiday at Lake Como.

7. Anne Trimmer, Australian Medical Association secretary-general and Jeff Townsend, lobbyist and Endeavour Consulting principal.

One deals entirely behind the scenes, the other heads an organisation quoted almost daily, but each works for interests on a national scale.

The sway of the Australian Medical Association, representing about 30,000 doctors, is again on display this election, and Anne Trimmer is the secretary-general (think chief executive) behind the campaign against freezing doctor's rebates.

"The freeze that's been in place since 2013 is clearly having an impact on practices; while the bulk billing rate is going up, it means doctors are having to absorb the extra cost rather than bill their patients and there's only so long you can stretch that capacity," she said.

The campaign won backing from the Labor opposition last week, who have committed more than $12 billion over a decade to wind back the freeze on Medicare, a promise labelled as unaffordable by the government.

Jeff Townsend, her husband, is the only remaining founding principal at the non-partisan, Manuka-based firm Endeavour Consulting, which provides government relations advice to billion-dollar entities including Rio Tinto, Shell, the Seven Network, Google and Coca-Cola.

"Basically what we do is handle ongoing relationships," he said.

"People like Kerry Stokes, they hate being surprised by things. If you maintain a dialogue you don't get suprised."

Townsend was once a Labor staffer, including for two years as a senior private secretary to prime minister Bob Hawke.

The pair are often in different cities for work.

"It's unusual to be at the same dinner table, but when we're on the phone it's all family, friends and grandsons," Townsend said.

Warhurst: Canberra is a lobbying and influence-brokering city par excellence and both Townsend and Trimmer are close to government and speak for a range of always influential and sometimes powerful clients.

Tony Hedley, chairman of the Canberra CBD Ltd board and one of the capital's most significant individual commercial property investors, with his wife Harriet Elvin, is the CEO of the Cultural Facilities Corporation, for Canberra's Top 10 power couples list
Date: May 19 2016
The Canberra Times
Photo: Elesa Kurtz

8. Tony Hedley, Canberra CBD Ltd board chairman, and Harriet Elvin, Cultural Facilities Corporation CEO.

If you've gone out for dinner in Civic before seeing an event at the Canberra Theatre Centre, you've been playing on this couple's turf. And that's just the way they want it.

Tony Hedley's role as chairman of the Canberra CBD Ltd board means he has an important say in where the $1.7 million annual city charge revenue is spent.

He said he was "extremely reluctant" to discuss his roles, but the city charge collected from CBD businesses went about half-half to capital works and marketing for the city, promoting events such as Skate in the City, the curry festival and the multicultural festival. A capital project worth half a million dollars should be approved by the progressive CBD group in coming months, he said.

One of the capital's largest family-owned commercial property investors, Hedley has been on the board of the Property Council of Australia ACT since 1989, and served six years as president. He said the council's biggest success had been changing government attitudes to embrace greater urban density.

His wife, Harriet Elvin, the inaugural chief executive of the Cultural Facilities Corporation since 1998, has responsibility for managing The Canberra Theatre Centre including the Playhouse, the Canberra Museum and Gallery (CMAG), and the historic properties of Lanyon Homestead, Calthorpes' House and Mugga-Mugga.

She led the team behind the Civic library and Link Project, which delivered a new front of house area connecting the theatres, and is now coordinating the push for a new, 2000-seat theatre (up from a maximum of about 1250 seats today). "That could accommodate the full range of shows that Canberrans deserve to see, from major musicals and popular music concerts through to opera and ballet," she said.

Warhurst: Both property and culture hold a special place in Canberra life and Hedley and Elvin wield considerable local advisory, lobbying and managerial influence.

Canberra Power Couple, Brian Schmidt and Jenny Gordon
The Canberra Times
Date: 19 May 2016
Photo Jay Cronan

9. Brian Schmidt, ANU vice-chancellor, and Jenny Gordon, Productivity Commission principal adviser research.

Your view on personal power may be put into some context when you have helped discover the universe's expansion is accelerating, but Professor Brian Schmidt stepped into one of Canberra's key positions of authority when he became ANU's vice-chancellor in January. As president and chief executive, it is his job to put into policy and practice the strategy set by the governing council, of which he is a member, making him the most influential figure in the day-to-day running of the nation's No.1 ranked university.

The ANU's established advisory and training channels to the federal government and network of international partnerships, as a top 20 institution globally, ensure its influence extends far beyond the 22,000-plus students studying each year.

The Montana-born scientist, the joint recipient of the 2011 Nobel prize for physics, has been tested early as final decisions loom on job cuts and restructures in several areas. On April 19 he announced a maximum of 15 positions would be "affected" at the College of Asia and the Pacific, which he said had been spending beyond its budget.

He is in Canberra after he met his future wife, Australian Jenny Gordon, at Harvard, where he was completing a PhD in astronomy and she a PhD in economics. Dr Gordon is the principal adviser for research at the Productivity Commission, the federal government agency tasked with in-depth analysis used to guide economic policy making on issues from industrial relations to childcare. She was formerly a director and partner at the Centre for International Economics.

"We are best friends and bounce ideas off each other day and night not just about work, but about all aspects of what is going on in the world," Professor Schmidt said. "We start each day with a walk to feed our horses and chickens, and to walk the dogs, and you'll regularly find us working together around the farm [at Sutton] on weekends."

Warhurst: The ANU is a Canberra icon and Brian Schmidt, supported by his researcher wife, is one of the best things the national capital has going for it at the moment in terms of demonstrating the city's potential to attract international high-flyers in the powerful world of ideas.

Canberra Times - Sunday - June 4 2014
Power couple Clint and Andrea Hutchinson, respectively the managing director of Zoo advertising and managing director of Haus Models, and the co-founders of Fashfest
Photo Elesa Kurtz

10. Fashfest co-creators Clint Hutchinson, managing director of Zoo advertising agency, and Andrea Hutchinson, managing director of Haus Models.

There's not a clothes designer or model in town who doesn't know their work, and Canberra's youngest power couple continue to shape the capital's fashion and advertising scene.

The Hutchinsons, founders of the game-changing Fashfest, will hold the fourth annual event in September, with an increased number of designers expected as the showcase for local, interstate and international talent moves to an expanded six-show format.

Mr Hutchinson, 40, has been the managing director of the Zoo advertising agency since 2010, the firm behind ads for leading corporate clients as diverse as Colgate, the ACT Brumbies and law firm Maliganis Edwards Johnson.

Zoo also does an extensive amount of work for the federal government and regular ACT government marketing.

His Swiss-raised model wife Andrea, 30, has been managing director of the Haus Models agency since it was founded by the couple in 2013.

Ms Hutchinson will have some difficult choices to make on Sunday when 500 aspiring and established models go down the runway in a model call for the chance to appear at Fashfest, an event which has attracted 4000 people.

Mr Hutchinson, who also sits on the board of the Salvation Army and Electric Vehicle Council, said the pair's ambition was to take the Canberra event and replicate it overseas.

"We're looking at New Zealand and Singapore," he said.

The couple, who had their second child last year, also plan to launch a foundation by the end of 2016 focused on addressing homelessness in the capital.

"Andrea and I really complement each other, you juggle and you pick things up here and there, but we're driven in the same way," he said.

Warhurst: The Hutchinsons represent the power of innovation, creativity and culture in a modern city with real pretensions to be a growing fashion and life-style hub.

Canberra's 10 most powerful couples – 2016

Malcolm Turnbull and Lucy Turnbull

Martin Parkinson and Heather Smith

Jane Halton and Trevor Sutton

Michael Pezzullo and Lynne Pezzullo

Chris Uhlmann and Gai Brodtmann

Mark Kenny and Virginia Haussegger

Anne Trimmer and Jeff Townsend

Tony Hedley and Harriet Elvin

Brian Schmidt and Jenny Gordon

Clint Hutchinson and Andrea Hutchinson

Canberra's 10 most powerful couples – 2014

Peta Credlin and Brian Loughnane

Mark Kenny and Virginia Haussegger

Jeff Townsend and Anne Trimmer

Ian Watt and Lorraine Watt

Jane Halton and Trevor Sutton

Chris Uhlmann and Gai Brodtmann

Clint Hutchinson and Andrea Hutchinson

Michael Costello and Christine Wallace

Stephen Parker and Rhian Parker

Chris Faulks and John Faulks