The annual deluge of political donations data was dropped by the AEC at 9am today and as usual it contains a stack of interesting revelations that requires many hours of sifting.

However, the cynical decision by Wayne Swan and Kevin Rudd to drop the latest Intergenerational report at lunch time today means, as usual, the campaign finance disclosures won’t receive nearly the attention they deserve.

Readers are encouraged to go searching but here are a few key highlights:

Federal Labor: $6.2 million in total receipts but $6.96 million went out the door and total debts have now hit $7 million, the largest lick of which is $4.5 million owed to government guaranteed Westpac. The list of donations completely dwarfs the Liberals running to 12 pages, largely because former minister John Faulkner clearly encouraged better disclosure by revealing everything above $1000, when John Howard’s yet to be repealed threshold is now up to $10,900. Labor’s voluntary additional disclosure catches a lot of those fund raisers and we even have $1650 donated by K Rudd, which seems a set figure for most MPs. On the corporate front, Westfield is top of the pops with $100,000, although Labor’s love affair with mysterious Chinese figures continues as Lawrence Kung gave $100,000 federally. There’s the usual unknown vehicles to ponder — who is behind Toga Pty Ltd, which donated $60,000? While Labor remains tobacco free, it continues to be the party of choice for gambling donations, which topped $1 million across the country, led by the hefty $502,266 from the Canberra Labor Club to the ACT branch.

Federal Liberal: Tobacco money continues to flow with $25,000 from Philip Morris and BAT. Labor’s one time media buyer Harold Mitchell handed over $50,000 but there weren’t that many big cheques from Rich Listers with $50,000 from the Inghams, $25,000 from Baills Myer and $20,000 from David Darling. The yawning gap was left by the late Dick Pratt, who gave millions over the years but nothing after his cartel struggles. Westfield topped the corporate list with $100,000 followed by ANZ, which is chaired by Liberal fundraiser Charles Goode, with $50,000 and the David Gonski-chaired Coca-Cola Amatil with $40,000. At least the Liberals are making something out of their software company Parakeelia, which contributed $150,000 in a lean year when only $3 million came in the door and a rather hefty $5.63 million was expended. On the debt front the Federal Libs owe $3.75 million of their total debt of $4.22 million to the Greenfield Foundation, interest free thankfully, plus $59,400 to Crosby Textor and $39,400 to Michael Yabsley & Associates.

Queensland Labor: Clearly the most asset-rich division in the country as the investment arm Labor Holdings was able to kick in $4.2 million for Anna Bligh’s re-election campaign in a year when the party received $14.3 million and spent $15.8 million. No wonder Labor stayed in office in Queensland but lost in WA where they only received $4 million in 2008-09 and spent $4.5 million. The union movement was also good for more than $2 million for Queensland Labor whereas public funding only came in at $1.57 million.

LNP on debut: The first LNP annual disclosure shows the party received $12.37 million with Clive Palmer’s Mineralogy topping the lists with almost $300,000. However, the party did quite well on the corporate front matching Labor with many players such as the Woolworths pokies division ALH, which gave $20,000 to both parties.

Disclosure reform

Coalition opposition in the Senate means that not too much has changed on the campaign disclosure front. The figures are still released up to 19 months after the event, there are no consolidated balance sheets, no detailed breakdowns of spending and no restrictions on who can donate. Foreign dictators could pour millions into an Australian political party. Indeed, the Singapore Government gave $20,000 to both major federal parties through Optus, a business whose fortunes are particularly vulnerable to federal laws and regulations.

While searching the individual party returns is interesting, it is also worth delving into the actual returns of major donors to see which functions the cash is spent at.

For instance, Clubs NSW handed over almost $200,000 in 2008-09 and you can see the 25 functions listed in its return.

Peter Fray

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