When the helium-driven investment bank Babcock & Brown collapsed into the arms of the administrator last Friday, the major political parties lowered their flags to half mast.

All of them have been greased with B&B donations over the years, but none more than the Australian Labor Party.

Phil Green and the boys made sure that they stayed on the friendliest terms with the ALP, with a lion’s share of their donations going to the NSW Branch. The Greens’ democracy4sale website shows the NSW machine received more moolah than the Federal ALP head office in Canberra.

According to its own declaration to the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) in financial year 2007-8, the counting house made donations totalling $223,100 to political parties.

Of this, $72,500 went to the federal Liberal party, $25,000 to the federal ALP, but easily the biggest of the state party recipients was the NSW Labor Party with donations amounting to $44,900.

AEC figures for the financial years 2003-8 confirm the company’s preference for donating to NSW Labor. In that period $281,200 went to the NSW state branch, $79,000 to the NSW Liberals, $94,500 to the federal Liberal Party and just $36,500 to federal Labor.

This covered the period when the Sussex Street general secretary was Mark Arbib, now a senator, and the coffers were brimming with campaign dollars from developers, publicans, the gaming, liquor and betting industries. All donors with strong emotional links to “working families”.

After 2005, when the Howard government changed the law, only donations over $10,000 were reportable. But state records from the NSW Election Funding Authority (EFA) show more detail.

Most of the B&B money donated to the state ALP went directly to the NSW branch, but it did include small donations of $500 or less to the constituency parties of three MPs:

  • Former Wollongong mayor and now Transport Minister David Campbell (Keira);
  • Former deputy premier and Transport Minister John Watkins (Ryde), now out of politics;
  • Former Strathfield Mayor and now Fair Trading Minister Virginia Judge (Strathfield).

The finance bank also spent $5,000 at an ALP fund-raising dinner in July 2006 and $15,000 at a Morris Iemma re-election dinner in March 2007, on the eve of the last NSW election.

Regrettably, that money is now down the drain — like the billions of dollars lost during the bank’s debt-loaded deal-making frenzy.

At future dinners, guests will be spared the obscene parade of Labor ministers pushing and shoving to find a seat at a table next to one of the money bags from B&B.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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