The 2007-08 political donations data shows a massive surge in business donations to the ALP prior to the 2007 election, compared to prior to the 2004 election.

In 2004-05, the federal ALP garnered just over $6.1m in donations in the lead-up to the Mark Latham-led ALP’s campaign against the Howard Government. History shows Latham went down in a screaming heap, but prior to Election Day plenty of commentators thought the ALP were a strong chance. In his diaries, Latham bitterly complained about the lack of ALP advertising in the last weeks, when the Coalition was concentrating its firepower on claims about interest rates and economic competence.

In contrast, last year the ALP attracted $8.3m in donations. Bear in mind that under the Howard Government’s amended disclosure requirements, the reporting threshold is now above $10,500, meaning the later figures do not include donations between $1000-$10,500. Clearly the ALP dramatically lifted its fundraising capacity.

The ALP benefited from the happy coincidence of having a new, attractive leader to sell to the corporate sector (and one who, unlike Latham, did not despise business) and the growing perception the Howard Government was on its last legs. As a consequence, some sectors sought to jump on the Labor bandwagon.

The private health industry, in particular, plunged heavily on Labor. The traditionally Liberal-aligned Australian Health Insurance Association contributed to both parties in roughly equal amounts. The Australian Private Hospitals Association, which traditionally donated exclusively or preponderantly to the Liberals, gave $25,000 only to Labor. Health insurer Australian Unity — traditionally a donor to the Liberals and Peter Costello — gave more than $30,000 to Labor and only about $25,000 to the Liberals. The Health Insurance Restricted Membership Association of Australia, which previously only gave to the Liberals, favoured Labor as well.

Given the health insurance rebate measures in the budget (remember those?), this investment by the private health funds seems to have been somewhat misplaced.

Private health weren’t the only ones. Citigroup, which previously only gave to the Liberals or gave the ALP token donations, gave $85,000 to Labor. Manildra gave heavily to federal Labor as well as the NSW and Queensland branches (where both Labor governments have established biofuel mandates). Developer and construction firm Billbergia heavily favoured the ALP. The ASX — the very epicentre of free market capitalism — shifted from giving $25,000 to the Liberals in 2006-07 to giving the same amount to the ALP.

Labor also attracted substantial donations from Chinese interests — and not just the usual suspects. In addition to contributions from Ian Tang’s Austchina Investment and Development ($20,000), Federal Labor also received $100,000 from Tianda Resources, $10,600 in in-kind donations from Hong Kong businessman Vincent Lam and $54,000 from Sydney-based Chinese group Aus-China Interchange. That’s in addition to “Dr” Stanley Ho’s $200,000 gift to the NSW ALP and Hong Kong-based Anthony Chan’s $100,000 contribution to the same.

The probity of foreign donations remains problematic as several overseas contributors, according to the AEC website, failed to lodge donor returns. Aus-China Interchange, Austchina Investment and Development and Vincent Lam did not meet their obligations under Australian law to advise the AEC of their donations.

However, they’re not alone. A number of local ALP donors appear to have broken the Electoral Act in not lodging returns by 17 November. The largest is National Australia Bank, which gave both the Liberals and Labor $150,000. NAB says it has lodged a return in recent weeks. Others who according to the AEC website have lodged returns include Sydney consultants GAP ($15,000), Shed Enterprises ($90,000) and Michael Easson-chaired property advisory group EG Property ($12,000). They might want to get their skates on, or a letter from the AEC might be heading their way.

The ALP also — to its credit — disclosed all donors to its Budget Night event back in May, as it promised at the time. The event wasn’t quite as remunerative as we suggested at the time. But the ALP still earned $422,600 for one evening’s work. How much the ALP made from its anniversary dinner last November won’t be revealed — under present laws — until this time next year.

Peter Fray

Fetch your first 12 weeks for $12

Here at Crikey, we saw a mighty surge in subscribers throughout 2020. Your support has been nothing short of amazing — we couldn’t have got through this year like no other without you, our readers.

If you haven’t joined us yet, fetch your first 12 weeks for $12 and start 2021 with the journalism you need to navigate whatever lies ahead.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW