Is The Australian the most influential voice in Canberra? Not quite …

Anyone who’s anyone in Canberra reads The Australian. But that doesn’t mean the paper is as influential as it says it is, according to at least one public servant.

A former prime minister to Rupert Murdoch’s left, the current prime minister to the right. Around the room were Ricky Ponting, James Packer, Kerry Stokes, Ian Narev, Frank Lowy, Richard Goyder and plenty more. Was it, as Daily Telegraph editor-at-large John Lehmann asked, “the biggest power room ever?”

Whatever it was, The Australian’s 50th birthday gala was a fantastic way to make an impression. Here was Prime Minister Tony Abbott tying the national paper to the very fabric of Australia. His speech was beamed on the ABC and on News Corp’s websites. A bigger display of influence and power would be hard to imagine. Who could doubt now that The Australian was the country’s most influential paper — the one more likely to shift governments and mark the country?

It turns out, plenty of people. This isn’t the piece your correspondent set out to write. As our only national broadsheet, surely the Oz had clout, and it would be more interesting to look at how it pursued and used its influence in Canberra rather than to question it. But asked if The Australian was Canberra’s most powerful paper, as is often claimed in its own pages, the political operatives Crikey spoke to hedged and equivocated.

A chief of staff to a high-profile Senator told us he never bothered much with the Oz — or any newspaper. “Today’s news is tomorrow’s fish and chip wrapper,” he said. The Oz wasn’t read widely by voters, so he tended not to worry about it. However, when pressed on what was the most powerful newspaper in Canberra, he “grudgingly” conceded it was the Oz after all, but not by a huge margin.

FREE membership to The Mandarin

Receive unlimited access, get all the latest public sector news and features, plus The Juice, our daily news update sent direct to your inbox.

The Mandarin is where Australia's public sector leaders discuss their work and the issues faced within modern bureaucracy. Join today to discover the latest in public administration thinking and news from our dedicated reporters, current and former agency heads and senior executives.