New South Wales

Aug 18, 2009

Barry O’Farrell sticks his neck out on donations reform

Barry O'Farrell has stuck his neck out on political donations reform, lobbyist activities and election expenditure in an attempt to make ground on Premier Rees. But his own political fundraising is under question, writes Lee Rhiannon.

NSW Liberal leader Barry O'Farrell has stuck his neck out on political donations reform, lobbyist activities and election expenditure in an attempt to get ahead of Premier Rees in the eyes of the electorate. It's a courageous move, as Sir Humphrey Appleby would say, given the growing disquiet about over development in Mr O'Farrell's own electorate of Ku-ring-gai and his personal record on accepting donations from developers and lobbyists. The Greens' project has uncovered numerous examples of corporate fundraising by Mr O'Farrell in his electorate that he has not disclosed to the Election Funding Authority. It is not possible to produce exact figures on Mr O'Farrell's fundraising success, as he has adopted the Liberal Party's reporting system of funnelling all donations through the party head office. Donations can only be sourced back to the Liberal leader when they appear on a donor company's disclosure form. Take for example the developer Leighton Holdings, who disclosed precise records of its largesse to the major parties in the lead up to the last election. Leighton Holdings has numerous large development projects in NSW, including the Royal North Shore Hospital re-development. On 3 March 2006 Leighton Holdings paid $1500 for a table of 10 people at the Ku-ring-gai Business Breakfast with Barry O'Farrell. They donated $595 to the NSW Liberals again on 11 July and 2 November 2006 via a Gordon post office box. Then on 19 January 2007 they donated a further $1500 to the NSW Liberals via a Turramurra post office box. This is just one developer we know of who attended one of Barry O'Farrell's electorate fundraisers. Other donations disclosed directly to Barry O'Farrell's electorate campaign fundraisers include donations from Insurance Australia Group ($120), the Commonwealth Bank ($250) and Laundy Trading Pty Ltd, a large hotelier ($1490). We know that other property developers with big projects in Ku-ring-gai also give generously to the NSW Liberal party, possibly at Mr O'Farrell's own fundraisers. Johnson's Property Group, which is re-developing the controversial SAN Hospital site in Wahroonga, has donated $150,200 to the NSW Coalition in the past few years. Rosecorp, which built a massive retirement village in an inappropriate fire-prone location adjacent to Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, has donated $32,000 to the NSW Liberals. Mirvac, which has built high-rise apartments on the Pacific Highway, have given the NSW Liberals $163,200. Stockland, which recently purchased land in Gordon for $24 million to build 140 apartments, has donated $200,000 to the NSW Liberal party. Local developer EK Nominees, who are massively expanding the St Ives Shopping Centre, has donated $30,000 to the NSW Liberals. Mr O'Farrell's rhetoric on lobbyists also rings hollow. Since 1999 the NSW Liberals have accepted well over $3 million in donations from members of the powerful property developer lobby group, the NSW Urban Taskforce. Donor's disclosure forms submitted to the NSW Election Funding Authority (NSWEFA) after the 2007 election revealed that the lobbyist deals between Mr O'Farrell and his party colleagues extended beyond the property development industry. The NSWEFA election donor disclosure dated 12 February 2008, lists Barry O'Farrell amongst nine key Coalition MPs who accepted 24 donations directly from the lobbyist group Clubs NSW, presumably for fundraisers in their electorates. Clubs NSW declared donating $5000 directly for Mr O'Farrell's campaign. They gave a total of $280,409 to the NSW Coalition party head offices and nine MPs during the 2007 election campaign. For years the NSW Liberals have funnelled donations to the campaigns of individual MPs and local government councillors through head office so their major donors are hidden from public scrutiny. Under Barry O'Farrell's leadership the Coalition has always voted with Labor to block the Greens' attempts to increase transparency of political donations disclosure. The big question now is will O'Farrell be able to break with his party's donations culture and take the critical step of banning all donations to the NSW Liberals from corporations and special interest groups? Lee Rhiannon is the Greens' donations spokesperson

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8 thoughts on “Barry O’Farrell sticks his neck out on donations reform

  1. Kerrie Piper

    Barry O’Farrell’s record of defending his own electorate against rampant over-development is shamefull, in fact it is non-existent! The residents of Kur-ring-gai are not against development, but the destruction of heritage items, protected bluegum forrest and the over-development destroying amenity in all areas is beyond all common sense and reasonableness.

    A landmark development proposal is before the Commission at this very moment, the site of which (1574 Pacific highway, Wagroonga) is not 200metres from O’Farrell’s own electoral office. This is for a 5 storey block of units, which are to be built on a 2(c)2 zoning (houses only) AND a heritage site! If this is approved, it is a major vicyory for developers – council zoning and heritage listings mean nothing!! No doubt O’Farrell is too busy banking the political donations to be bothered making a submission!

    Kerrie Piper and concerned residents of Gilda Ave, Wahroonga.

  2. michael james

    Lee Rhiannon seems motivated more by malice than by common sense. She protests that donations from Insurance Australia Group ($120), the Commonwealth Bank ($250) and Laundy Trading Pty Ltd, a large hotelier ($1490) will buy a green light for these organisations.

    I am sure there are individuals who have donated more than this to support a local politician.

    I am also sure that as a Greens member, she has received significant funding from organisations such as Greenpeace, and other such environmentalist / titular green groups.

    I doubt their funding was as paltry as the funding levels listed above, perhaps Ms Rhiannon would like to disclose her financial donations, both directly to her and to her party?.

  3. Russell Edwards

    I used to be quite favorably disposed to the Greens until they started concentrating all their efforts on this sort of mud-slinging.

    They are coming across as a bunch of prim, thin-lipped school spinsters, always telling us NOT to do this and NOT to do that and how we must to say NO to everything.

    I attended a anti–Metro rally at Rozelle at the weekend, and Ms Rhiannon’s foot soldiers were out in force. One had a placard which read “Smell the stench of developer greed” That was about a train station!

    They’re even opposed to public transport projects. As well as housing anywhere near where they live – in leafy Ku-ring-gai!

  4. Bogdanovist

    @Michael James: There is a big difference between getting funding from a corporation and getting it from an activist group. The very purpose of Greenpeace and other NGO’s is to lobby for environmental issues, so if they channelled some money to politicians engaged in the same issues, that seems completely reasonable. Greenpeace are not a ‘company’, they don’t trade anything.

    You can’t compare Greenpeace etc to a bank or a property developer, which are organisations that exist for profit (not that there is anything wrong with that) rather than political ends. There is no good reason for a corporation to be giving money to politicians. If they weren’t getting anything for their cash they wouldn’t pay it, and if they do get something for it is is corruption.

    @Russell: Regardless of what you think of the Greens more broadly, it’s hardly mud slinging to be keeping everyone to account on such a crucial issue. Political donations, especially to state politicians, is the huge Woolly Mammoth in the room of Australian Politics.

    Because it has been the system for so long that political parties are supported via corporate donations, we seem to just accept that this is the system. If you step back from it for a moment though, it really makes no sense and changes need to be made. This is just one reform we need to ensure we can have good governance in NSW in the future.

  5. Ailie Bruins

    If Barry O’Farrell is to keep his word he will have to bite the hand that feeds him and his party. Will Mr O’Farrell have the guts to put the party hacks, stacks and fat cats on a diet? If Mr O’Farrell does not keep his word then NSW is destined to have more of the same – government by property developers, public relations consultants and large corporations; and not government for the people by the people. And thanks Lee Rhiannon for your fantastic website Democracy 4$ale, collating these declared political donations, a job the NSW Electoral Funding authority does not seem to manage.

  6. gianni

    I used to be quite favorably disposed to the Greens until they started concentrating all their efforts on this sort of mud-slinging.

    They’re even opposed to public transport projects. As well as housing anywhere near where they live – in leafy Ku-ring-gai!

    There was a Russell Edwards who wrote the following less than empathetic letter to the Sydney Morning Herald on July 15.

    Rozelle whingers can sell

    Those “bad vibrations” in Rozelle are actually signals that it is a good time to buy property in the area (“Locals don earmuffs as suburb rocks to bad vibrations”, July 14). Some of those whingers with water views might like to sell. When all the projects such as White Bay and the busway are finished, but especially the Metro line, residents will be sitting on a goldmine. But no doubt they, like the Mayor, Jamie Parker, will find something else to complain about.

    Tough luck for local residents if the drilling and excavation associated with the CDB Metro’s construction will force them from their homes. Drummoyne, incidentally is just on the other side of the Iron Cove Bridge, and won’t be troubled by tunnels.

    While Mr Edwards’ letter could have been written by Michael Costa while off his meds, the local Rozelle ALP branch joined with the Greens in opposing the duplication of the Iron Cove Bridge that Mr Edwards embraced.

    Unlike the Russell Edwards of the SMH letter, the local ALP branches in the seat of Balmain would actually like to retain the seat for the ALP, instead of handing it over the Greens, and aren’t very keen on the Metro either.

    They can’t see the point of spending $5.8 billion dollars for a useless tunnel to Rozelle that, as well as causing local disruption and resentment, will force everyone travelling into the city from the west on the CityRail network to change trains at Central. This is because the only way for the NSW government to avoid the CBD Metro being a complete financial and planning disaster is to disrupt the rest of the CityRail network and force commuters onto the Metro.

    For Labor voters living west of Central, and there are rather a lot of them, this bizarre decision isn’t something that will engender much of a sense of gratitude and affection towards ALP. But as Russell Edwards helpfully suggested, if they don’t like it, they can move somewhere else. The CBD Metro strategy document has to be the most expensive suicide note ever written.

  7. Russell Edwards

    I wonder what sort of person writes anonymously on a web site, and yet keeps month old letters published in the Herald on file?

  8. John Ryan

    Lee I can only admire your research, but you have it dead wrong about the Liberal Party’s policy on donations. I should know, I used t be a Liberal Party MP. Long before it was necessary to report political donations; the Liberal Party had a policy of requiring its MPs to have nothing to do with receiving donations. Donations could only be received by a party official and all donations were to be channelled through a bank account held by the Liberal Party and ideally through head office to guard against donors exercising improper influence on MPs. Additionally this procedure was strengthened after 1988, to prevent a reoccurrence of what was famously called “Community Polling”, where the Parliamentary Party had a campaign fund which was independent of the Party organisation. By sending donations to head office, Barry is following long standing Party practice that was established long before political donations had to be disclosed.

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