A massive surge in donations couldn’t save the beleaguered Howard Government from defeat in November 2007.

Figures for political donations, released today by the Australian Electoral Commission, show the federal Liberal Party benefitting from a huge rush of donations as the Howard Government tried to stave off the threat of a resurgent ALP under Kevin Rudd. The Liberal Party reported more than $10.1m in donations in 2007-08, up from $3.6m the year before.

However, the ALP was also flooded with money, garnering $8.3m donations, compared to $2.4m in 2006-07, including from some names familiar from last year’s Beijing-Austchina revelations.

The figures for both parties include contributions from their State branches, although state branches report separately as well. The NSW and Victorian Liberal Parties between them gave the federal party over $3m. The federal ALP also received $1.8m in cash and in-kind donations from trade unions, with the CFMEU giving nearly $800,000 to the party. Trade unions were also unexpectedly generous to the Greens, with the CFMEU, the Electrical Trades Union and the AMWU together providing about $180,000.

Both sides also benefitted from the largesse of non-partisan givers like Inghams ($200,000 each and $100,000 to the Nationals); KBR ($15,000 each), the Ten Network, which gave both sides $75,000 (getting the best media policy money can buy) and even Richard Pratt (who gave $100,000 to the ALP as well as $200,000 to the Liberals).

The federal ALP, which overcame its Mark Latham-era distaste for donations from Dick Honan last year accepted, $164,000 from Manildra. It retains its unwillingness to accept tobacco-related donations, but the Coalition has no such qualms. The Liberals took $25,000 from BAT and $35,000 from Philip Morris, which also gave the Nats $15,000,

And both the federal ALP and the Nationals drew heavily on Chinese-sourced donations, which would be banned under amendments to the Electoral Act currently before Parliament. The Nationals received just under $50,000 from the Kingold Group, which was one of the happy sponsors of Kevin Rudd’s travel to China when in Opposition.

The Nats also received nearly $200,000 — by far their biggest donation — from Guangzhou-based Chun Yip Trading. The ALP also received $20,000 from Aust-China Investment and Development — an affiliate of Beijing Austchina, as well as donations from Aus-China Interchange and Hong Kong-based Lawrence Kung.

However, Labor returned a massive donation of just under $500,000 from Angela Leong, the wife of Macau casino mogul and long-time Labor donor Stanley Ho, and friend of Rudd’s.

To put the sheer volume of donated money in context, the ALP received $22m in public funding following the election, the Liberals $18m and $3m for the Nats, meaning the major parties are relying on donations for between a quarter and a third of their campaign war chests. If you ever wondered why parties might preach reform but exploit the current donations rules as far as possible, that’s why.

Expect plenty more stories over the next few days as journalists, lobbyists, NGOs and the parties themselves pore through the data.

Peter Fray

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